Faith Matters: The meaning of ‘doulos’ and spiritual slavery

  • Dennis Jacob, Pastor in residence at The Moody Center in Northfield. Staff Photo/Paul Franz

  • Dennis Jacob, pastor in residence at The Moody Center in Northfield, next to a picture of D.L. Moody. Staff Photo/Paul Franz

  • The Moody Auditorium in Northfield. Contributed photo

Pastor in Residence at the Moody Center
Published: 7/16/2021 11:55:17 AM

(Each Saturday, a faith leader offers a personal perspective in this space. To become part of this series, email


Anyone who does an in-depth study of human history discovers that all the great and small nations and empires, for thousands of years, have been scarred with people enslaving other people. The Bible also teaches about an even greater worldwide slavery, and it is this greater slavery that we’ll focus our attention on.

Doulos is a Greek word in the Bible that has only one true historical option for accurate translation into English, which is slave. It literally means to be owned by someone for a lifetime. This word is found at least 127 times in 119 verses in the New Testament scriptures. It is used in the context of human slavery, which, sadly, was very common throughout the ancient Roman Empire for hundreds of years. Doulos also describes spiritual slavery. This profound truth is foundational towards understanding the redemptive work of Christ, which is the love of God reaching down, through His Son’s sacrifice, setting souls free by faith, from the bondage of their sin.

Romans 6:16 reads, “Do you not know that to whom you present yourselves slaves to obey, you are that one’s slaves to obey, whether of sin leading to death, or of obedience leading to righteousness?” In other words, those who live the sinner’s life are slaves to sin, and the father of it. Those obedient to God are slaves to obedience resulting in God’s righteousness. Verse 22 then wraps up these thoughts for the obedient believers: “But now having been set free from sin, and having become slaves of God, you have your fruit to holiness, and the end, everlasting life.”

So people are either slaves to sin, resulting in death, or slaves of God, resulting in eternal life. What’s clear in scripture is that everyone, in reality, is a slave to spiritual powers greater than they are. Romans 1:1 reads, Paul, a doulos or slave of Jesus Christ. Many translations choose servant or bond servant, but that’s not being honest with the original meaning of doulos. Servant comes from a completely different Greek word. A servant was a paid laborer; a slave was owned by a master for a lifetime. Paul gladly saw himself to be owned by his new life-giving Master, Jesus Christ.

Now the doctrine of redemption works in perfect harmony with this truth. To be redeemed means to be loosed or set free from being a slave to sin. The ransom price for being redeemed or set free from being a slave to sin, was paid by Jesus Christ through His death on the cross. Satan and sin are the masters of the unredeemed. Christ is Master of the redeemed, of all those whom He bought with the price of His blood. Ephesians 1:7: “In Him (Jesus) we have redemption through His blood,” I Corinthians 6:19-20: “Do you not know that your body is the temple of the Holy Spirit who is in you, whom you have from God, and you are not your own? For you were bought at a price; therefore glorify God in your body, and in your spirit, which are God’s.”

So spiritually, the scriptures teach that you are either a slave owned by the devil and sin, which leads to death, or by God and obedience, which leads to righteousness and the gift of eternal life.

Spiritual slavery is greater than any human slavery, for it applies to everyone, and its ramifications are eternal. This spiritual perspective of humanity is Bible-based, and therefore of the true Christian faith. Faith based on scripture, is the means to being set free from this sin enslavement.

Therefore, “faith matters” a great deal, doesn’t it?

About The Moody Center

D.L. Moody was an evangelist, having preached the gospel to over 100 million people in the mid-to-late 1800s. The Northfield Campus stands as an iconic piece of D.L. Moody’s legacy. Northfield became a place of renewal and inspiration. Thousands of people descended upon Northfield each year. Today, with the help of God, the Moody Center is poised on the Northfield campus to be a place of renewal and inspiration yet again, providing spaces for people to be inspired and prepared to follow Christ through reflection, learning and spiritual renewal, as in the life of D.L. Moody. To learn more, visit


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