Jesus calls said we are adopted into the family so why does Paul call us slaves?

In John 8:31 - 47 is it rather hard lesson for those who Jesus is speaking to about who their real father is; Satan. He speaks of both Abraham and God as being fathers.

In verse 33 they retorted that they are descendants of Abraham so then in 34 Jesus replies that they are a slave to sin. He also says that a slave is not a member of the family but a son is a family member forever.

In later books Paul talks about us being adopted into the family of Christ. Thus making us a son; not The Son but a son as referenced in John 8:35.

Paul also teaches and refers to himself as a slave of Christ. (Please forgive the lack of scrip references to these exact teachings)

How can we be both?

If I am a member of the family how am I a slave as well?

(I am a believer and love Christ, asking the following questions to help me answer as an apologetic might)

  • Why would this be appealing?
  • What would the difference be between being a son (adopted and being a slave)?
  • If I am a slave, how can I believe I have the authority to call on the name of Christ?

Thank you
Troy Manzi

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Slaves to sin and slaves to righteousness

Romans 6:16-23
Don’t you know that when you offer yourselves to someone as obedient slaves, you are slaves of the one you obey— whether you are slaves to sin, which leads to death, or to obedience, which leads to righteousness? But thanks be to God that, though you used to be slaves to sin, you have come to obey from your heart the pattern of teaching that has now claimed your allegiance. You have been set free from sin and have become slaves to righteousness. I am using an example from everyday life because of your human limitations. Just as you used to offer yourselves as slaves to impurity and to ever-increasing wickedness, so now offer yourselves as slaves to righteousness leading to holiness. When you were slaves to sin, you were free from the control of righteousness. What benefit did you reap at that time from the things you are now ashamed of? Those things result in death! But now that you have been set free from sin and have become slaves of God, the benefit you reap leads to holiness, and the result is eternal life. For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.

1 Timothy 1:15
Here is a trustworthy saying that deserves full acceptance: Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners—of whom I am the worst.

This is one of the most glorious truths. All men are sinners and justly condemned to eternal death. Christ Jesus became incarnate, suffered, and died to redeem them. By his grace God saves them from their sins eternal punishment.

Ephesians 3:8
Although I am less than the least of all the Lord’s people, this grace was given me: to preach to the Gentiles the boundless riches of Christ.

The design of the Paul the apostle was to magnify the grace of Christ in the salvation of the world. He speak of himself as the instrument which God had chosen to bring the Gentile world to the knowledge of the truth. He does it to show the power of God and not of him. Paul always lay himself as low as possible. He calls himself less than the least. This strongly marks the unparalleled humility of the apostle Paul. We see in Paul’s life that the more he grew in grace the more humble he became.

Romans 1:1 This letter is from Paul, a slave of Christ Jesus, chosen by God to be an apostle and sent out to preach his Good News.

Paul encountered the risen Lord Jesus on the road to Damascus. He was chosen to proclaim the Gospel of Christ. Paul declared himself a bondslave to Christ. He was a bondslave to the Lord not by circumstances or compulsion. He joyfully and willingly took the decision to serve the Savior with all his being.


Hi, @TroyManzi :wave:

I think the short answer to this seeming contradiction is context.

For example, if my daughter who is fifteen years old would ask me to carry her on my back, I would say she’s too old for me to carry her. But if she would ask me if she could go out on a date I would say she’s still too young. Same person, different context.

But the Apostle Paul has a better analogy in
Galatians 3:24-4:7
Wherefore the law was our schoolmaster to bring us unto Christ, that we might be justified by faith. But after that faith is come, we are no longer under a schoolmaster. For ye are all the children of God by faith in Christ Jesus. For as many of you as have been baptized into Christ have put on Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither bond nor free, there is neither male nor female: for ye are all one in Christ Jesus. And if ye be Christ’s, then are ye Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise.
Now I say, That the heir, as long as he is a child, differeth nothing from a servant, though he be lord of all; But is under tutors and governors until the time appointed of the father. Even so we, when we were children, were in bondage under the elements of the world: But when the fulness of the time was come, God sent forth his Son, made of a woman, made under the law, To redeem them that were under the law, that we might receive the adoption of sons. And because ye are sons, God hath sent forth the Spirit of his Son into your hearts, crying, Abba, Father. Wherefore thou art no more a servant, but a son; and if a son, then an heir of God through Christ.

There is another sense, or context, wherewith we can be both a son and a servant of God. Relationally, we are adopted sons. But ministerially, we are servants of God.

Hope this helps :slight_smile:

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Hi @TroyManzi
When Paul used the term ‘slave’ and slaves of righteousness, he was trying to use a human term, something people of the time were familiar with to explain the concept of salvation and holiness. He says this in Romans 6:18-20. One of the earlier answers included this passage.
Romans 6:19 - I am using an example from everyday life (speaking in human terms) because of your human limitations. Just as you used to offer yourselves as slaves to impurity and to ever-increasing wickedness, so now offer yourselves as slaves to righteousness leading to holiness.

There is no question that we are family and we are sons and daughters of God through Christ, with Jesus as our elder brother or firstborn. Our inheritance is that of a child of God, not that of a slave.

However, while on earth, we are called to continue the work that Christ began and keep ourselves from going back to the bondage to sin. To explain this, Paul uses the term ‘slave’ to make this concept clearer to the Roman believers.

As you rightly mentioned, Paul had no problem considering himself a slave (doulos), a word which today would rather be translated more accurately as servant, because our understanding of slavery is coloured by the excesses of slavery that we are familiar with. Jesus also used the term servant to describe his followers to make a point.
Luke 17:10 - So you also, when you have done all that you were commanded, say, ‘We are unworthy servants (doulos) ; we have only done what was our duty."

There is no contradiction here really. By the law of God, we are his adopted children. While on earth, we can consider ourselves as God’s servants (or slaves), and slaves to righteousness rather than slaves to sin. Even if I were a slave or servant, I would rather be a servant of God than be an unbeliever, because He is a wonderful master, He is my father.

Very good question, @TroyManzi.

There are some major differences between the kind of service that slaves in the Bible experienced compared to slaves throughout the rest of the world. Paul is talking about being a bond servant of Jesus Christ, which goes back to Exodus 21:1-6. Moses described this as a voluntary bondage to pay off a debt that only lasted six years, and the servant could not be treated with rigor (Leviticus 25:43).

But in the Exodus passage, provision was made for a man who, at the end of six years, actually liked his situation as a servant to this master. If the man wanted to continue in his servitude for life, then he could say as much before the judges, and become essentially a “prisoner of love”.

When Paul talks about being a slave of Christ, he means it in this sense - as a “prisoner of love”.

Because of the connotation that the word “slave” has earned throughout history in the rest of the world, I’m not sure it’s really the best word to use to describe this - and the King James doesn’t use it. It calls him a “servant”, which sounds much more benign.

You asked how one can be both a member of the family and a servant at the same time. Actually, Paul says in Galatians 4:1 and following that a child in a First Century family differeth nothing from a servant, though he be lord of all. He goes on to explain that the child is under tutors and governors until the time appointed of the father.

He’s talking, of course, about a minor child who is still under the discipline of those assigned to train him. He has to take orders like a servant - is subject to discipline like a servant - receives only whatever rewards are doled out to him like a servant - even though he is the heir who will one day inherit the entire estate.

Now, in the comparison Paul is making, the minor child pictures the people of God under the Old Testament economy. This aspect of the illustration began back in chapter 3. Galatians 3:24-25 says that the Law was like a schoolmaster to prepare the people for the gospel of Christ. And Galatians 4:1-3 describes the people of God as being in bondage to the ceremonial rituals of Moses.

But Galatians 4:4-7 says that in the fulness of time Christ came to make possible our adoption, so that we could receive the Spirit of adoption (Romans 8:15) making us full heirs who could be treated as adult children under the New Testament economy. Whereas before, God’s people had been treated as servants, now they would be treated as friends (John 15:15) - who serve Christ out of love because of the new Spirit within them.

One side note to all of this: I believe it’s a common misconception that we enter God’s family through adoption. We enter His family through the new birth. Adoption has to do with becoming a legal heir, being treated as an adult child who can inherit all things. Whenever Paul uses the word “adoption” to refer to Christians, it’s in the context of inheriting something made available to us through Christ.

Now, I’ll admit, your real point wasn’t concerned so much with whether one entered the family by new birth or adoption - you were just concerned with how the slave relationship could fit in with all of this. I hope this will help you with that issue - and thanks for bearing with my clarification on the other point.

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In the context of all the great needs in this world, if we do realize that there are needs, where is the sacrifice? It all begins with our Master, the Lord Jesus, He came to serve and was treated worse than a slave. What’s left for us? Slavery by force or slavery by love? As we see the outstretched rescuing arm of the Lord, can we help not to submit to His great love even to the level of a slave? Oh, but our filthy rags are washed and made white as snow through the Lord Jesus, our Master and Saviour.

Thank you TroyManzi ,
I think at the crux of your question is that while all who live for Christ in this fallen world will suffer to some degree, as you pointed out Paul refers to " himself " as being on a plane of suffering apart from all others in what is required of Him.
It was not out of character for Paul to occasionally point out the special suffering solitude of his circumstance in accordance with God’s individual purpose for him .
And with good reason:

           " For I will shew him how great things he must suffer for my name's sake 
                    ( Acts 9:16 )

Paul was not just blowing smoke when he identified himself as " chief of sinners "
While I readily self-identify as being convicted a sinner worthy of nothing but death, I cannot imagine what would the circumstance be where God had clearly revealed to me my status as " chief of sinners".?
For me Paul is clearly referring to himself as a slave.
And suffer he did .
Kind Regards & God Bless +

Hello @TroyManzi,

It is a great question and I agree with @DCGotiza that it’s a matter of context.

In order to get the most from a passage of scripture, we must seek to find the context and try to understand who the audience was and why, in particular, that topic is being addressed, especially in Paul’s letters to the churches. The point of Paul’s letters was typically to offer guidance in areas where they had perhaps taken a wrong path and provide encouragement for getting back on the right path.

Another point I will make is that Jesus and Paul, both use metaphorical language to build a word picture to illustrate a point. We see this many times in Jesus parables, and although many parables are/were shrouded in mystery and the point not clearly understood, the particular picture the parable painted was clearly understood (if I may use a metaphor of my own). When Jesus spoke of a gate, they knew the gate he was referring to. When he spoke of the sheep knowing the shepherd’s voice he knew the agrarian audience would clearly understand that a shepherd can enter a pen of hundreds of sheep, but only his will follow his voice.

When I am studying one of Paul’s letters, I almost always picture Paul like a lawyer in a courtroom trying to build a case for a particular truth. He knows that within the jury there are different types of persons from different backgrounds and so he uses a variety of arguments so each of these persons can understand the truth he is revealing and affirming. Often these arguments use metaphorical language that strikes a note of truth in his listener.

For example, we know that the church in Rome was a mix of Jewish believers (who had been in temporary exile from Rome and likely recently returned) and Gentile believers. From the tone of the letter Romans, there was likely some conflicts between the two groups concerning the proper way of following Christ. When reading Romans you can see passages that build an argument to appeal to those from a Jewish background, such as those that address the limitations of what the law can do. And passages that speak to the Gentile believers, such as “circumcision of the heart” (Romans chapter 2) and being “grafted” into the tree to receive the nourishment from the root (Romans chapter 11). Seeking to learn context can greatly aid understanding.

I think words like adoption and slave are both used to help us understand part of our condition and identity, but in different ways.

When scripture speaks of adoption it is legal language that denotes a change in status from not being in a family to belonging to a particular family. It is a similar kind of metaphor to passages that speak of being grafted into the tree, or a vine. Adoption means we have rights, privileges, and responsibilities that we previously did not have. It also emphasizes the chosen nature of our new status. We were adopted through the will and desire of the Father, the will and sacrifice of the Son, and the will and initiation of the Holy Spirit…freely. God was not obliged to adopt us. Adoption is a picture of grace.

Some years back, I heard a message on the Prodigal Son. When the Prodigal Son came home and the Father placed the family ring on his finger, that was a sign of adoption. It restored the legal status of son lost when he chose to leave the family and take his inheritance. That is a detail lost on our modern understanding, but context Jesus’ audience would have understood.

The slave language also is dependent upon context. @jlyons post concerning Mosaic law and bondservants is spot on for understanding how the first century Christian would have understood what was being described. But the context can vary, let me give a few examples. It can be in the context of understanding what we are bound to, chained to, or yoked with. Just like animals, human slaves were often yoked together in certain tasks. In Matt 11:29-30, Jesus tells us to take His yoke upon ourselves, that it is light and easy and will bring us rest. Or, in our bondage to sin, where we are incapable of breaking the chains ourselves.

The connotation can also be that which we are in submission to, where not submitting carries a penalty–often a heavy penalty. Another, and a context often seen in Paul’s letters, is that of being fully owned, or as we might say in modern language…all in. In a way, it is a metaphor for 100%…completeness.

I believe that the slave metaphor is used because of its extreme nature, it is very black and white in contrast. Contrasts like being fully-owned by Satan, or fully-owned by God…whose are you? Who do you identify with wholly?

So often the challenge with scripture is to understand when language is figurative and pointing us to an understanding, or to be taken literally. I know some believe all scripture is literal, but unless I turn into an actual sheep tonight, I’m not buying into that mindset. I rely on reference guides to help me understand the context for the original audience, then I seek to understand what is my context for today, for my own walk. We can so easily get things wrong, but I think more often we miss out on the depth that can come with understanding the picture more fully.

I hope something of this was helpful, Troy. It’s a great question and thinking about it has been a blessing to myself, and probably all who have posted.