An intriguing new argument made by Bible scholar Matthew Bates in his book, “Salvation by Allegiance Alone,” states that the word “faith” in the New Testament, especially the epistles of Paul, could be translated more accurately as “allegiance” in many cases. (I have not yet read the entire book, only the introduction.) He argues that when we are being asked to have faith in Christ, the meaning is more closely aligned with the concept of fidelity, as in swearing loyalty or fidelity to a king. Given the Pauline letters’ emphasis on the kingship of Christ, this makes sense, and it provides an intriguing new way of thinking about our relationship with Christ.
The concept of allegiance suggests a more devoted kind of discipleship than mere belief or mental assent that Christ is Saviour. When we pledge our allegiance to someone or something, we declare what side we are on, who we are working for. We declare our loyalty, our flag, our colors. We become, in the truest sense of the word, disciples. The root of the word disciple is the same as that of the word discipline. In declaring our allegiance to Christ, we submit to his discipline, or in other words, the devotional life he, as King, requires of his subjects.
This declaration of allegiance has saving power. In an earthly kingdom, declaring allegiance to a king makes one a citizen and a subject. Period. A life of discipleship (think, devoted citizenship) must follow, but the individual has declared to whom they belong. It doesn’t matter whether the loyal subject is a peasant or a wealthy landowner. The protection of the King is guaranteed. Similarly, when we declare our allegiance to Christ, he becomes our Saviour and Protector as we become His disciple-subjects, regardless of our relative weaknesses and strengths at the time. But if we are serious about our allegiance to the King, we will eventually become good subjects.
Loyalty oaths and pledges of allegiance can be dangerous when it is mere human beings asking for them. Often, when a person demands loyalty and allegiance, they are up to no good and are trying to manipulate someone. But in declaring our loyalty and allegiance to Christ, we are making the safest and wisest pledge we can, and are yoking ourselves to the only Master who truly has the power to guide us to eternal life.
Sometimes using the same language gets us in a rut. When we use the same word over and over again, often for our entire lives, it can lose meaning. It becomes background noise. Suggesting alternative translations, if not completely changing meaning, can at least offer new perspectives of what seems like a familiar term: faith. So, fellow-citizens, keep the faith…or… keep your allegiance in Christ, our King.
Sheldon Lawrence is the founder of bibledice.com, an award winning essayist, and author of the recent afterlife novel “Hearts of the Fathers: A story of Heaven, Hell, and the hope of new life after life.”