The fundamental principle here is obedience. Jesus was not suggesting that His favor could be earned through service. Rather, He was saying that obedience is a singular proof that someone is His friend. Implicit obedience to His commandments is the natural fruit of genuine love for Him-the telltale mark of authentic, saving faith.

Why, then, does He say, "No longer do I call you slaves…I have called you friends" (v. 15)? Is He expressly telling them their relationship with Him was now a familiar, personal camaraderie between colleagues, rather than a master-slave relationship governed by authority and submission?

Not at all. The apostles were still His slaves, because that's precisely what they were. He was simply saying they were His friends as well as His slaves. "The slave," He explains, "does not know what his master is doing." A slave isn't owed any explanation or rationale. But Jesus had kept nothing secret from His disciples: "all things that I have heard from My Father I have made known to you" (v. 15). They were therefore much more than mere slaves to Him. They were His friends as well, privy to His thoughts and purposes (cf. 1 Corinthians 2:16).

Slavery and True Liberty

So understood correctly, the gospel is an invitation to slavery. On the one hand, the gospel is a proclamation of freedom to sin's captives and liberty to people who are broken by the bondage of sin's power over them. On the other hand, it is a summons to a whole different kind of slavery: "Having been freed from sin, you became slaves of righteousness" (Romans 6:18; cf. 1 Peter 2:16).

Both sides of the equation are vital. There is a glorious freedom in being the slaves of Christ (John 8:36), but it means the end of human autonomy for the true follower of Christ. In other words, everyone serves some master. We are all enslaved in one way or the other (Romans 6:16-21).

There is no legitimate way to adjust the message in order to make it sound appealing to people who admire Jesus but aren't prepared to serve Him. Jesus didn't seek admirers; He was calling followers-not casual followers, but slaves. Remove that spirit of submission, and the most profound kind of "admiration" for Christ is a spiritual fraud that has nothing to do with true faith.

© Copyright 2008 by John MacArthur. All rights reserved.

Original publication date: July 8, 2009