What do you think of when you hear the word faith? More often than not, Matthew Bates argues, we tend to think of an abstract idea. We have “faith” things will get better. We have a detached sense of hope. In this definition, faith is something very passive and somewhat aimless. To complicate matters further, many Christians also have a poor understanding of something like good works. We somehow view spiritual fruit (“good works”) as the enemy, instead clinging to the belief that faith alone saves, while works just get in the way. The key question is how we define faith. Is it something wishful? Or is there another alternative?
I believe Bates makes a compelling argument in Salvation by Allegiance Alone that we need to rethink this idea of faith by looking at what faith meant in the ancient world. Faith was not a blind act, but rather an action one did towards someone. It had the connotation of not only trusting and hoping, but giving one’s allegiance to an authority. Soldiers showed allegiance to their general. Citizens pledged allegiance to an emperor. Bates’ rethinking of faith falls in line with non-biblical sources from the ancient world. His argument is that our English word faith might be better understood as allegiance, given the history of the ancient world. Consider the following example from Galatians 2:20:
It is no longer I who live, but the Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by the allegiance of the son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.
If you ask me, this reading definitely gives a lot of “meat on the bones” for a seemingly confusing and abstract word like faith!
The central shift Bates advocates for is rather than viewing Jesus as some theoretical ticket to heaven, we must stick to the gospel message of recognizing Jesus Christ as king. Our faith in him amounts to nothing if we do not view him as one would swear allegiance to a king. Jesus must have our devotion, praise, and work as believers.
This is noted in the Christian tradition and our creeds. Jesus lived, died, rose again, and ascended into heaven. We tend to overlook that final part! Bates’ concluding illustration is quite insightful. When Christians say the Apostles’ Creed in a Sunday worship service, we must think of it as our guiding “Pledge of Allegiance.”
Hopefully when we confess Jesus as Lord, we truly mean it. We don’t just think it in our minds, but embrace true allegiance. We don’t look to worldly systems or powers for our hope. Politicians, economies, savings accounts, or personal property tempt us with idolatry all the time. To be saved means we reject these idols and seek Christ alone.
Words can be funny things. They often have slightly different definitions and can actually change over time. According to this insightful book, such is the case with our word for faith. When we follow Christ, we are to view him as king over all.