So How Much Allegiance is Required?

Screen Shot 2017-02-27 at 7.08.12 AMOne of the summary beliefs of the Reformation is “by faith alone” (sola fide). So Matthew Bates (Salvation by Allegiance Alone) proposes that the meaning of “faith” in “faith” alone is more than cognitive agreement and more than cognitive agreement with existential trust in Christ alone (another summary belief). He says, No, the meaning of the word faith is “allegiance.”

Up go the hands from the right to the left in the room: How much allegiance is required?

Grace-ists, who want to talk grace, grace, grace take one of the great and fundamental ideas of the Bible and turn it into a religion of grace. There are two kinds: (1) those who take advantage of grace and and get so soft the discipleship demand of Jesus becomes odd if not something to be suppressed, and it is at times by such people. When the Sermon on the Mount becomes a source of questionable Christian morality, you are a grace-ist who gets it wrong. Jesus is right. (2) Others magnify beyond biblical proportions that we bring nothing to the table. You show me where grace and faith in the Bible is nothing but trust and I will show you in the Bible where grace and faith in the Bible is transformative. E.g, David de Silva’s wonderful little book Transformation. When grace and faith somehow do not get shaped by the summons of faithfulness or allegiance, we are not talking about how the Bible talks about grace or faith.

When I Survey the Wondrous Cross ends with these lines:

Love so amazing, so divine,
Demands my soul, my life, my all.

That’s what Bates is teaching.

When in college I wrote on the top of page 1 in my Bible, that is, above “Genesis,” this: “Calvin said no one is saved by works, but no one is saved without works either.” I probably heard this in a sermon but perhaps read it in something by Calvin. If anyone knows if or where he said that, please drop a comment. Anyway, if Calvin said that he was right.

Matthew Bates’ response to this question about “How much allegiance?” is exactly right. Here are his summary statements, but you need to read this book and make it required reading for your church leaders and I urge seminary professors to find a way to require this book in the seminary curriculum. Christian college profs, you too.

To seek to quantify or develop a set of hard and fast rules by which one could measure sufficient loyalty is antithetical to the gospel—indeed, is precisely this rule-based approach that causes Paul so much consternation in his polemic against works of law. E Enacted loyalty is required as the Holy Spirit empowers us, and this enacted loyalty means a settled intention and truly changed bodily behavior. But a personalized description of how much loyalty is necessary for me or for you is not only impossible; it is wrongheaded.

Allegiance cannot be quantified or enumerated.

The desire for an enumerated list is often indicative of one of two things: either a failure to know and trust the goodness of Jesus the king or a what-can-I-get-away-with orientation.

It is better to ask what sort of allegiance than how much, because allegiance depends on what Jesus the king commands each of us individually to do and whether he determines now and at the final judgment that you and I have given pistis. If we give pistis to Jesus as Lord by declaring allegiance, determining to enact loyalty, and showing through bodily doing that our determination was not just lip service, then we can rest assured that his death on our behalf is utterly and completely efficacious—all of our sins are forgiven in the Messiah (even our selfish acts of temporary disloyalty). And the Holy Spirit invariably comes alongside us to assist us in faithful living.

Scripture does give us a broad description by way of an inverse picture, describing what sorts of activities enacted loyalty forbids—”sexual immorality, impurity, sensuality, idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, rages, rivalries, dissensions, divisions, envies, bouts of drunkenness, orgies, and the like” (Gal. 5:19-21)—and we can only conclude, while still leaving space for God’s desire to show stunning mercy to all (Rom. 11:32; 1 Tim. 2:4), that persisting unchecked in these activities without change leads to condemnation.

[From 1 John:] And by this we know that we have come to know him [Jesus the Christ], if we keep his commandments. (2:3) If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. Because all that is in the world—the desires of the flesh and the desires of the eyes and the arrogance associated with material possessions—is not from the Father but is from the world. (2:15-16) No one who abides in him [Jesus the Christ] keeps on sinning; no one who keeps on siming has either seen him or known him. (3:6) We know that we have moved from death into life, because we love the brothers and sisters. The one who does not love remains in death. (3:14)

What do the grace-ists say to these clear statements in 1 John?

About Scot McKnight

Scot McKnight is a recognized authority on the New Testament, early Christianity, and the historical Jesus. McKnight, author of more than fifty books, is the Professor of New Testament at Northern Seminary in Lombard, IL.