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The Image of a Doulos

When Paul refers to a Christian as being a doulos (Greek) of Christ, which is usually translated as slave or bondservant, what image springs to mind?

For years I imagined someone passively, reluctantly, in chains. Not very inspiring, from any point of view. But often a doulos in Roman culture was far from that—he could be a man of leadership and responsibility under the authority and ownership of another greater than himself. Doesn’t that fit the relationship the rest of the Bible portrays as our service to God?

Thinking of this image of a doulos, two movie images immediately came to view:

Ben-Hur—seeing Charlton Heston as the rugged devoted slave of the Roman general Quintus Arrius, whose love for this slave leads him to adopt the him as his son. (as God adopts us out of His love)
The other more recent image is Russell Crowe in Gladiator—seeing Maximus as a man of honor, integrity, and power, willingly bowing his knee under the authority and allegiance of his emperor, willing to sacrifice his life for others.
These are images I can fix in my mind as I live as a doulos of my Lord.

Adopted as Sons

As Christians, we have many blessings bestowed on us by God, such as forgiveness of sins, having Christ’s righteousness accounted to us, eternal life, and the indwelling of the Holy Spirit.  Each of these aspects of our salvation stands on its own in that God could have chosen to give us some, but not all, of these blessings.  For instance, God could have chosen to forgive us our sins, but not to give us the additional blessing of the indwelling of the Spirit. 

Each individual blessing of our salvation shows God’s love and grace and mercy and glory more sweetly.  One blessing that continually astounds me, that makes me marvel at God’s great grace, is that He chose to Adopt us, to declare that we, rebellious sinners, are now children of God.  And so Adoption is the A in our continuing acrostic theology series on how we are C.H.A.N.G.E.D. by God.

For anyone who saw or read Ben-Hur, you remember how Judah’s life was changed when he was adopted by the Roman general Quintus Arrius.  He went from being a slave, locked in chains and darkness to having unrivaled wealth, power, and influence. Judah’s physical transformation from his physical adoption prefigured his spiritual transformation from his (and ours) spiritual adoption as children of God.

God was not compelled to adopt us by some good that we did or deserved:

Having predestined us to adoption as sons by Jesus Christ to Himself, according to the good pleasure of His will.  (Ephesians 1:5)

As the verse above states, God chose before time began that through Jesus he would adopt a people to Himself, purely because of His love and mercy, by “the good pleasure of His will..”

And how do we receive this adoption?  How do we become children of God?  Purely through receiving Christ by believing Him as Savior and Lord:

But as many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God, to those who believe in His name. (1 John 1:12)

So what difference does this make in our lives?  How are we changed because of our new identities as children of God?  Let’s briefly look at our new privileges, new responsibilities, and new inheritance as children of God:

New Privileges:

Being an adopted son of God means we have the privileges of calling God our Father, of God calling us His children, of God blessing us as His children, and of God disciplining us as His children:

We may call God our Father:

In this manner, therefore, pray: Our Father in heaven (Matthew 6:9)

For you did not receive the spirit of bondage again to fear, but you received the Spirit of adoption by whom we cry out, “Abba, Father.”  Romans 8:17)

To be able to address the infinite creator of the Universe as our “Abba”, literally “Daddy” or “Papa”, is an incredible privilege and joy.  Yes, He is our God, our Lord, our Master, our King, and yet He also condescends to be our Papa as well.  Incredible! 

God calls us His children:

and I will be a father to you,
and you shall be sons and daughters to me,
says the Lord Almighty.”  (2 Cor 6:18)

See what kind of love the Father has given to us, that we should be called children of God; and so we are.  (1 John 3:1)

What more tender way could we be addressed, what more hopeful name could we be given, than to be called the children of God?  In every trial and storm, we should be able to look up and hear God lovingly call us His children.

God blesses us as His children:

What man is there among you who, if his son asks for bread, wil give him a stone?  Or if he asks for a fish, will he give him a serpent? If you then, being evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask Him!  (Matthew 7:11)

All of God’s gifts to us come from the heart of a perfectly loving Father.  We never have to doubt or be concerned about whether we will receive a stone or a serpent— no, our Father only has our good in His heart.

God disciplines us as His children:

For the Lord disciplines the one he loves, and chastises every son whom he receives.” It is for discipline that you have to endure. God is treating you as sons. For what son is there whom his father does not discipline?  If you are left without discipline, in which all have participated, then you are illegitimate children and not sons.  Besides this, we have had earthly fathers who disciplined us and we respected them. Shall we not much more be subject to the Father of spirits and live? For they disciplined us for a short time as it seemed best to them, but he disciplines us for our good, that we may share his holiness. For the moment all discipline seems painful rather than pleasant, but later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it. (Hebrews 12:6-11)

The Lord loves us enough, loves us as His own children, to discipline us.  He will not leave us in our selfish immaturity, but will do whatever is necessary, even trials, even suffering and pain, to strip away our self-centeredness until we can perfectly love and enjoy and obey Him.

New Responsibilities:

Along with our new privileges, sonship entails new responsibilities.  As sons of our Father we have the honor to obey, imitate, and represent our Father.


as obedient children, not conforming yourselves to the former lusts, as in your ignorance; but as He who called you is holy, you also be holy in all your conduct. (1 Peter 1:14-15)

As any Father, God expects our loving obedience to His commands.


Therefore be followers of God as dear children.  (Ephesians 5:1)

All of us have stories of children picking up the mannerisms of their parents.  So should it be with us: as we spend time in God’s presence we should come to resemble our Father ever more closely.  Notice that this is more a heart transformation than mere outward obedience; a rebellious child will still sometimes obey to get what he wants or avoid punishment, but as “dear children” we desire to be followers of God.


Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works and glorify your Father in heaven.  (Matthew 5:16)

…children of God without fault in the midst of a crooked and perverse generation, among whom you shine as lights in the world.  (Philippians 2:15)

And what is the goal of our obedience?  That we represent our glorious and loving Father, that our good works reflect His grace and transforming power to others.

New Inheritance:

Lastly, we can rejoice that as children of God we have a new inheritance.  We have this new inheritance because God predestined it for us, because we are children of God, and because we are joint heirs with Christ.

Because God predestined it for us:

in whom also we have obtained an inheritance, being predestined according to the purpose of Him who works all things according to the counsel of His will,  (Ephesians 1:11)

Because we are children of God:

But when the fullness of the time had come, God sent forth His Son, born of a woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, that we might receive the adoption as sons. And because you are sons, God has sent forth the Spirit of His Son into your hearts, crying out, “Abba, Father!”  Therefore you are no longer a slave but a son, and if a son, then an heir of God. (Galatians 4:5-7)

Because we are joint heirs with Christ:

The Spirit Himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs—heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ, if indeed we suffer wtih Him, that we may also be glorified together. (Romans 8:16-17) 

The Nature of our Inheritance:

And what sort of inheritance has God bestowed on His children?  O, we have caught the barest glimpse so far, but the Scriptures promise that is is a kingdom, that it is eternal, and that is will be glorious:

Then the King will say to those on His right hand, “Come you blessed of My Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world:” (Matthew 25:34)

…that those who are called may receive the promise of the eternal inheritance. (Hebrews 9:15)

and if children, then heirs— heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ, if indeed we suffer with Him, that we may also be glorified together.  For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us.  (Romans 8:17-18)

May you live as a child of God today, rejoicing in your privileges, mindful of your responsibilities, and looking forward to your inheritance.