Salvation by Faith?

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No matter what type of Christian you are, at the heart of your religious faith is the concept of “trusting/believing in” Jesus. But what does that mean? In my interactions with various Christians, I have determined that it usually means something like, “Believe in Jesus in my mind.” The assumption is that the word faith is about having the right mental thoughts. And what are we to believe? For some, it’s that “Jesus loves me.” These are important matters to consider.

I recently read a wonderful book by Matthew Bates, entitled, Salvation by Allegiance Alone: Rethinking Faith, Works, and the Gospel of Jesus the King. In this book, he challenges core assumptions that many — perhaps most — Christians make. He begins by considering how people use the word faith. As I said above, faith is often about having the right mental thoughts. But more than that, he suggests, faith is often assumed to be contrary to evidence, a leap into the dark. Pushing further, it’s supposedly the opposite of “works” (whatever “works” might mean). For some people, it’s found in the idea that everything is going to be fine.

What Bates proposes is that we need to reconsider the Greek word that underlies our English faith. The goal is to recognize that the word faith points to something more robust, something more demanding than what we might have assumed. According to the author, the Greek word often translated faith, pistis, is “not an irrational launching into the void but a reasonable, action-oriented response grounded in the conviction that God’s invisible underlying realities are more certain than any apparent realities” (20).

As the title of the book indicates, Bates will go on to suggest an alternative English word for translating this Greek word, pistis — the word allegiance. Think about that for a second. What’s the difference between “trusting/having faith in” and “swearing allegiance to”?

One doesn’t have to look far into the Bible to find examples. The characters in the Bible are rarely praised for merely having “thought the right thoughts.” Rather, they are presented as those who, in response to God’s gracious initiative, follow and listen.

I’ll discuss more from this book in upcoming posts.