Jesus said, “If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross daily, and follow me” (Luke 9:23). To deny oneself in today’s culture might simply mean to practice a little self-control, perhaps to eat a little less, or to be more diligent with one’s personal devotions. But this word (arneomai) carries a much heavier responsibility than doing a little exercise. It means to renounce oneself (Tit. 2:12), to refuse oneself (Heb. 11:24), to disown, disclaim, and to even ignore oneself. This is a striking invitation by our Lord and one, I am sure, that the disciples were not expecting. A man didn’t pick up a cross with a little self-control. No, he gave up his own life and walked to his death. And the disciples of the Lord are invited to take this cross daily and follow Jesus to the same place where He might go.
We have learned that Jesus is our Lord, God in the flesh now exalted at the right hand of God. But have we learned that we are His slaves? Have we found out that the Christian life is one of complete surrender to Him and one of bearing a cross? This is not to discount all the joy and peace that comes from following Jesus. We talk about that all the time and it is true! But the reason we don’t talk about this other part of the Christian life is because it is not as pleasant. Yet Jesus Himself said that if we are to follow Him at all, this service, this slavery of cross-bearing must be ours too.
Some years ago British author and pastor, Handley Moule, in writing about our walk with God, gave three introductory facts that should be considered as we begin this difficult path.1 The first he called Aims. Since we are bought with a price and have surrendered completely to His will, we aim, or determine, to walk in complete obedience to Him. This must be our desire for Jesus commands it. He doesn’t ask us to give Him 50% of the day. We are to be perfect, as God in heaven is perfect!
The second he called Limits. I will let Moule speak for himself:
I mean, of course, not limits on our aims, for there must be none, nor limits in divine grace itself, for there are none, but limits, however caused, in the actual attainment by us of Christian holiness. Here I hold, with absolute conviction, alike from the experience of the Church and from the infallible Word, that, in the mystery of things, there will be limits to the last, and very humbling limits, very real fallings short. To the last, it will be a Sinner that walks with God.2
The third is Possibilities. Though admitting that we are sinners and will sometimes fail, it is possible that we will not. We didn’t have to commit that sin. It was not beyond our ability as a Christian to avoid it. We have an Advocate Who forgives but forgiveness always comes “if” we sin. “My little children, these things write I unto you that ye sin not. And if any man sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous” (1 John 2:1).
So with those reminders, let us go on to the plain truth, Jesus Christ is our absolute Lord and we are His absolute servants. We know that following Jesus brings joy and satisfaction to our already difficult lives. That joy comes out of obedience because He is sovereign over us and omniscient about our needs and true desires. To follow Him, then, whether we understand or not, is the best way for us to go. Yes, we know that. But, the “easiness” still comes from a yoke, and the “lightness” still comes from a burden. It is His yoke and His burden that we share being servants that are inseparably tied to Him. Where He goes we go. What He suffers we suffer. His cross is our cross. Paul still yearned for this identification in his later years, “That I may know him, and the power of his resurrection, and the fellowship of his sufferings, being made conformable unto his death” (Phil. 3:10).
Therefore, let us reflect again on His right to be Lord over us and on our privilege to be His servants. We don’t submit to this position because it will bring us glory. That is not what Jesus meant when He said, “Whosoever will be great among you, shall be your minister” (Mark 10:43), as if we submit to this servanthood so that He is obligated to exalt us. The servanthood itself is the greatness. The submission is the exaltation when Jesus is our Lord.
Jesus is our Lord
Richard Baxter is often credited with saying that we should take ten looks at the Savior for every one at ourselves. It is because Isaiah saw the Lord high and lifted up that he testified, “Woe is me! for I am undone” (Isa. 6:5). John fell on his face as dead when he saw the Lord in His resurrected glory that Sunday morning on the Isle of Patmos (Rev. 1:17). We of course see Him through eyes of faith rather than sight, believing all that the Scripture pictures of Him. Here are seven titles given to Jesus as our Lord.
Lord (kurios). This is the most common term for Jesus in the New Testament appearing hundreds of times. The primary meaning is that He is supreme above all else. First, to claim to be Lord in the New Testament meant that He was Jehovah, the I AM, of the Old Testament. “Holy, holy, holy, Lord God Almighty” (Rev. 4:8). This is a prerequisite for salvation under the gospel, “That if thou shalt confess with thy mouth the Lord Jesus” (Rom. 10:9). “No man can say that Jesus is Lord, but by the Holy Ghost” (1 Cor. 12:3). Second to that is that Jesus is the Lord of our lives as believers, “I therefore, the prisoner of the Lord” (Eph. 4:1).
Because Jesus is Lord, He has sovereign right over any part of His creation. He can create and He can destroy. He can relinquish the sinner to eternal fire, He can welcome the saint to eternal rest. He can say to His servant, go, and he will go, or come, and he will come. The only choice is to obey or disobey.
Master (epistatēs). The root of this word (ephistēmi) means to stand by or, more specifically, to stand over. It appears only six times and each time in the book of Luke. Two times it is in the context of fishing. When the seas were raging they cried, “Master, Master, we perish,” yet when Jesus commanded the wind and waves to stop, they confessed, “what manner of man is this! For he commandeth even the winds and water, and they obey him” (Luke 8:24-25). On the mount of transfiguration Peter had to confess, “Master, it is good for us to be here” (Luke 9:33). What person who calls himself a servant could disobey One Who has such power in life and in death and in creation itself?
Potentate (dunastēs). Dunamis is “dynamite” power and the dunastēs is the One with the power. It is used only once of the Lord, “Which in his times he will show, who is the blessed and only Potentate, the King of kings, and Lord of lords” (1 Tim. 6:15). In other uses, Mary said, “He hath put down the mighty from their seats” (Luke 1:52). The Ethiopian eunuch was said to be “of great authority” (Acts 8:27). Our Lord is the Authority, the Mighty Power in our lives, the Potentate above all other masters.
King (basileus). The title of king appears often in the New Testament because of the various kings who appear there. Jesus was proclaimed by Herod and Pilate to be “The King of the Jews” (Matt. 2:2; 27:37). Paul called Jesus the “King eternal” (1 Tim. 1:17). John recorded that He is “King of saints” (Rev. 15:3) and King of kings (17:14). Jesus will be King of His kingdom when it comes to earth, but He is our King even now individually as we are His realm in which He rules.
Despot (despotēs). We include this word though it is not so translated in English. It connotes a master especially of slaves. It is used ten times in the New Testament, five times translated “Lord” and five times translated as “Master.” It can be used of human masters over slaves (1 Tim. 6:1-2) but is also used of Christ as Lord (Rev. 6:10) and Master. So in 2 Tim. 2:21 we can read, we should be “sanctified and meet for the Despot’s use.” English dictionaries equate Despot with Autocrat, someone with absolute power and authority. No wonder Paul instructed young Timothy, “If a man therefore purge himself from these, he shall be a vessel unto honor, sanctified, and meet for the master’s (despot’s) use, and prepared unto every good work” (2 Tim. 2:21). We are clay vessels in His hand to be used in whatever way He pleases.
Teacher (didaskalos). This is a common word used in various forms for teaching and instructing, and the noun form is often “Master” or “Teacher.” When Mary Magdalene saw Jesus after His resurrection she called Him, “Rabboni, which is to say, Master” (John 20:6). John keeps the Aramaic equivalent but translates didaskalos for us as “Master.” Rabboni is also Rabbi, a term used often by the disciples for Jesus.
Jesus said to the disciples, and yet to all of us, “Ye call me Master (didaskalos) and Lord, and ye say well; for so I am” (John 13:13). Paul said, “But ye have not so learned Christ; if so be that ye have heard him, and have been taught (the verb didaskō) by him, as the truth is in Jesus” (Eph. 4:20-21). We call Jesus our Teacher because we sit at His feet as pupils and servants and learn.
Owner (“A Son over His own house” Heb. 3:6). In the previous verse Moses is described as a servant (therapōn, a resident servant) in the house but the house itself belongs to Jesus. We will see in the next section that we are both household and resident servants to Christ Who owns us and the whole house besides. In fact, “Whose house we are” verse six continues. That is, all believers are resident servants as members of His body, the church. “For every house is built by some man; but he that built all things is God” (Heb. 3:4). Jesus said that He would “build” His church (Matt. 16:18) and we have become part of it by faith in Him. As we gather together in our local churches, we therefore ought to know how to behave ourselves “in the house of God, which is the church of the living God, the pillar and ground of the truth” (1 Tim. 3:16).
There are many other descriptions of Jesus that portray Him as our Friend, High Priest, Author and Finisher, and more, as I listed in the last article. I have listed these seven because they uniquely describe Jesus as One Who has absolute authority over servants. We may have come to Him first as Savior but then we found that we owe Him our souls, our lives, our all. It is a grateful obligation. “O to grace how great a debtor daily I’m constrained to be! Let thy goodness, like a fetter, bind my wandering heart to Thee.”
We are His Slaves
Jesus our Lord, Master, and King has told us to deny ourselves. We may desire such obedience but how is it accomplished in this sinful person that I am? To “deny,” as we have seen, means to ignore oneself, to give up our rights and acquiesce to His commands. To do this we must understand our position as mere servants. Here are seven titles the New Testament gives us as His followers in this regard.
Bond slave (doulos). This is the most common word for slave, usually translated “servant,” appearing over 150 times in the New Testament. Of all the words for slave, this denotes the lowest kind, one who gives up all rights to the will of another. “For when you were the servants of sin, ye were free from righteousness. . . But now being made free from sin, and become servants to God, ye have your fruit unto holiness, and the end everlasting life” (Rom. 6:20, 22). In this sense even the creation itself is “in bondage” (douleias) of corruption (Rom. 8:21), unable to be delivered until the curse is lifted. In these verses Paul makes it clear that we are either a servant to the flesh or to Christ. If to Christ, He has sovereign right over us.
Prisoner (desmos). This description, though used far fewer times, is very graphic. It means one who is literally in bonds. The root deō means a band or chain. After Paul was captured in Jerusalem and delivered to the Roman guards, the centurion said to the chief captain, “Paul the prisoner (desmos) called me unto him” (Acts 23:18). Paul had become a “custodia militaris,” one in military custody. He was chained to a centurion who took him all the way to Rome. While there, he wrote an epistle to the Ephesians as, “Paul the prisoner (desmos) of Jesus Christ” (Eph. 3:1). Later, in the prison, he asked Timothy not to be ashamed of Jesus Christ, “nor of me his prisoner” (2 Tim. 1:8). The writer of Hebrews asked that the church pray for “them that are in bonds” (Heb. 13:3). Thousands, if not millions, of Christians have found themselves chained prisoners for Jesus’ sake. In any case, the believer should see himself captured and chained to the Lord Jesus and under His custody for life.
Under-rower (hupēretēs). A fairly common word appearing over 20 times is this word usually translated “minister.” It originally meant a ship’s slave who rowed from under the deck but later was used generally for an attendant or minister. In a few places it is translated “officer” for the one who kept the prison (Acts 5:22). Jesus said, “if my kingdom were of this world, then would my servants fight” (John 18:36). Luke describes young John Mark as Paul’s and Barnabas’ minister (Acts 13:5).
In the beginning of the Scottish Reformation John Knox was taken prisoner at St. Andrews and was forced to row on a French galley ship for 18 months. He too knew what it meant to be Christ’s under-rower. Paul said to the Corinthians, “Let a man so account of us, as the ministers of Christ” (1 Cor. 4:1).
House servant (oiketēs). This word for servant is only used four times in the New Testament and means a household servant. Cornelius “called two of his household servants” (Acts 10:7). Peter used this word to admonish some servants to be “subject to their own masters” (1 Pet. 2:18). But Jesus most graphically declared, “No servant can serve two masters” (Luke 16:13). The believer is one who lives in the Lord’s house and waits on Him continually.
Resident servant (therapōn). Coming from the root word for healing, this is an attendant or nurse who lives in the residence. As was noted, Moses is described with this word in Hebrews 3:5. Jesus said, “Who then is a faithful and wise servant, whom his lord hath made ruler over his household, to give them meat in due season?” (Matt. 24:45).
Child servant (pais). This is usually translated “servant” but carries the idea of a younger and inferior servant. This is the root for pedia and pediatrics. David is described with this term (Luke 1:54, 69; Acts 4:25) and Matthew uses this term to describe Jesus from Isaiah’s prophecy (Matt. 12:18). We are often described as “children” of our heavenly Father.
Deacon servant (diakonos). We usually identify this word with the office of deacon and rightfully so for he is a servant of the church. This word is often used to describe believers in general who are servants of Jesus Christ. Pheobe was a servant of the church (Rom. 16:1); Paul was “made a minister” (Col. 1:23); Timothy was “a minister of God” (1 Thes. 3:2); and “who then is Paul and who is Apollos but ministers” (1 Cor. 3:5). Jesus said, “whosoever will be great among you, let him be your minister (diakonos)” (Matt. 20:26). In this sense we are all “deacons” in that we serve the Lord Jesus Christ.
And So . . .
When we realize that Jesus “Who, being in the form of God . . . made himself of no reputation [i.e., He emptied Himself] and took upon him the form of a servant, and was made in the likeness of men” (Phil. 2:6, 7), how can we do less who are described in so many ways as His servants? As believers in Him we have given up our personal rights to His will. According to these descriptions we are His slaves.
This cannot sound very inviting to a lost person who has no personal relationship with Jesus Christ. But once a person has entered into that relationship and knows the Lord in a personal way, yielding to His will becomes not only easy but delightful.
As Handley Moule wrote years ago,
It is no unconditional thing. Right or left, the highway of holiness has its edge, its limit, its sine qua non. On the one hand, the Lord, and childlike trust in Him and in His words. On the other hand, among other things, but supreme among them, self-denial and the daily cross.3
Yet Jesus said, “Come unto me all ye that labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me; for I am meek and lowly of heart; and ye shall find rest unto your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light” (Matt. 11:28-30).
- Handley Moule, The Surrendered Life (London: Christian Literature Crusade, nd) 11-15.
- Moule, 13.
- Moule, 17.