Life Chronicles · Whispers of Faith

Doulos: the Mark of a Slave [or To Ink or Not to Ink?]

[Disclaimer: this is not a post about me disapproving of tattoos. There are many tattoos that my friends and family members have that I think are great. This is just my own personal journey of decision-making.]

One time I had someone ask me if I would ever get a tattoo. I responded with, “If there was ever anything so important that I wanted on my body for the rest of my life, then yes, I would get a tattoo.”

Shocking, right? Can you imagine conservative little Lydia actually getting a tattoo?? I did consider it for awhile. And I knew exactly what I would want and where I would want to get it.

But the more I thought about it, the more I held back, mostly because … well, ink on a body is so definitely permanent. And there might be times in my life where it might not be tasteful to have that tattoo showing, no matter how much I believed in its meaning. Additionally, people change so much over time that what I think looks great today, I might cringe at when I’m 70 and covered in wrinkles.

Yet there’s no denying that I love symbolism, and I love physical reminders of truth that I so easily forget. Which is why I considered getting a tattoo in the first place. I never considered getting it somewhere that I couldn’t see … in my mind that would defeat the point of getting a tattoo. I’d get one so that I could see it day in and day out & be reminded of what it said.

And what do I need to be reminded of day in and day out? Well, many things … but most importantly my relationship with Christ. And a few years ago, I came across a book that gave me one word that summed it all up – doulos, the Greek word for “slave.”

The book is called Slave, and it’s by John MacArthur. I have yet to finish reading all of it, but from the beginning, MacArthur talks about how this word is used over and over again in the New Testament to describe our relationship with Christ. Yet it has been mis-translated over the years as “servant” or “bondservant” to avoid the negative connotations in America of black slavery.

In actuality, slavery in Roman times wasn’t about race at all – it had more to do with one nation conquering another and making slaves out of their citizens. And it is this relationship which Paul uses time and again in his epistles to describe our relationship with Christ.

Romans 6:22 says, “But now that you have been set free from sin and have become slaves to God, the benefit you reap leads to holiness, and the result is eternal life.”

Did you get that? We once were slaves to sin. We had no choice but to do as our sinful nature dictated. But Christ came and conquered the power of that sin … and now we are slaves to God. Slaves to righteousness.

John MacArthur says in his commentary on this verse, “Doulos is always employed in the context of being owned by, belonging to, and being wholly subordinate to one’s master. [It implies] absolute obedience, compulsory obedience, consistent obedience, exclusive obedience, and loyal obedience.”

Do I need to be reminded of this every day? You’d better believe I do! I need to remember who my Master is [Christ], what my aim should be [to obey Him], and what I’ve been saved from [slavery to sin].

Hence the reason the only thing I’ve ever considered etching permanently into my skin was the word “doulos.” I wanted it on the inside of my wrist – right where Christ had his arms nailed to the cross – and right where I would see it every single day.

But I did not. As much as the idea and the symbolism seemed beautiful to me, I couldn’t get away from the idea that I could never remove it if I didn’t want it showing one day.

SO, I came up with another way to remind myself of this truth – this beautiful leather bracelet that I got to make last night at Rachelle’s. I had come to the conclusion that a leather bracelet would be a better alternative for my “reminder word,” but the furthest I’d gotten with that idea was glancing at some pictures on Etsy. Then suddenly this opportunity for a leather-work party with the college staff ladies came up, and I knew that this was what I had been waiting for. There’s always more meaning anyway in something you yourself make – and the making of this bracelet was just as meaningful as the wearing of it. The best part was that I got to use my own handwriting for the lettering on the bracelet – and now it hugs my wrist like it’s always been a part of it.

So now what’s the point, you might ask? Are you telling us to get a tattoo or not get a tattoo?

Neither. I’m saying you should make your own decision based on personal convictions. But think long and hard about the reasons why you want that tattoo and whether it’s so important that it needs to be on your body for the rest of your life.

More importantly, think about the words that define your life. Words and symbols are powerful things. They can sum up the whole purpose of your life if you find the right ones. If a stranger came up to you today and asked you why you are alive, what would you say?

I’d say, “Doulos. To be a slave to Christ. Nothing else matters quite so much in this life. Twenty-two years I’ve belonged to Him, and I have never once regretted it. May I become a better slave each and every day that I serve Him.”

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