Reconciled By Our Allegiance

Salvation By Allegiance

In my last post, I concluded that reconciliation is the combination of repentance and forgiveness, which as Paul proposes in Romans 5:9-11 is the result of our justification, namely, that we are no longer “God’s enemies,” instead we have been “saved through his life.”

Most Christians today have absolutely no problem with this summary of Romans 5. Of course our salvation is the activity of God’s own achievement. And naturally, in order “to be saved” we must repent of our sins and accept his forgiveness. In fact, twice Paul declares that we “have been reconciled” (v. 10) and our boasting in Christ is solely because we have “received reconciliation” (v. 11). In both of these verses we are merely passive recipients of God’s grace.

Interestingly however, nowhere in these few verses does it say anything about our salvation being about mere belief.

Let me explain.

Earlier in Romans 5:1, Paul transitions out of his argument concerning the faith of Abraham by stating,

“Therefore, since we have been justified through faith [just like Abraham], we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.”

Romans 5:1

The word translated as “faith” is the Greek word pístis, which can be translated as faith but a better translation is probably “allegiance,” as Matthew Bates convincingly argues, “…we should speak instead of fidelity to Jesus as cosmic Lord or allegiance to Jesus the king.”[1]

What is so convincing about Bates’ assessment?

Notice how the two clauses in Romans 5:1 are paralleled with each other. Our being “justified” mirrors our “peace with God,” and just as our justification is “through faith,” so too our peace with God is “through our Lord Jesus Christ.”

This is a massively political statement! This verse is calling the church to make a bold commitment to Jesus as Lord (Gk: kyrios) through whom only true peace could come. Paul is not talking about a peace that is limited to an inner-spirituality of the self; rather he is concerned about the complete termination of social and physical hostility. Specifically, Paul’s words mirror the “Pax Romana” or peace of Rome that could only come through the presence and power of the Roman emperor who alone is called kyrios, or Lord. There is no doubt that Caesar Nero – the emperor in charge of Rome during this period – would boast a similar phrase. The only appropriate response for the people under the emperor’s leadership is complete allegiance to the emperor as Lord.[2] 

Thus we can see the politically subversive nature of Paul’s statement. True peace can only come through the reconciliation of the cross of Christ. And if you are convinced of the justifying work of God through Christ, the only true response is pístis, or allegiance: complete and unadulterated commitment to Jesus as Lord and King. Not Caesar, or any other so-called lord, but Christ alone.

Personal belief is an important step of our personal determination as to whether or not Jesus reconciled us back to the Father through the cross. But pístis is the substance of what Paul is after. And that word in this context refers to allegiance.

This naturally changes the way we understand our personal salvation and the role reconciliation has in all of this. Paul is not arguing for a private spirituality that is only concerned with what Jesus did for me. Paul longs to see pístis, or allegiance to Christ alone, thrive relationally and culturally. Allegiance to Christ is to join him on his global mission of reconciliation.

Tripolar Spirituality

Pastoral theologian David Augsburger argues for what he calls “tripolar spirituality” in contrast to the often practiced “bipolar spirituality.” In bipolar spirituality, the emphasis is placed upon the “subjective experience of coming to know one’s true self and an objective experience of existence before God.”

Tripolar spirituality on the other hand, as it is proposed throughout the New Testament, is “inwardly directed, upwardly compliant, and outwardly committed.” In other words, Augsburger defines tripolar spirituality as “the breakthrough in which:

  • Love of God transcends and transforms love of self,
  • Love of God and of neighbor become one,
  • Love of neighbor and love of self become one, and
  • Submission to God and solidarity with neighbors are indivisible.”[3]

This definition of “tripolar spirituality” is massively important!

As we revisit 2 Corinthians 5:16-21, specifically vv. 18-19, we can see how the gospel of reconciliation reshapes our perspective of where personal salvation is unquestionably intersected with a commitment to loving and serving others:  

“All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation: that God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting people’s sins against them. And he has committed to us the message of reconciliation.”

2 Corinthians 5:18-19

God is inviting the reconciled to be reconcilers. We are to be deliverers of repentance and forgiveness to the world. Now, again, it is easy to hear these two words and limit the benefits of the gospel to an inner disposition. But that is not what Paul has in mind. So lets consider what the “ministry” and “message” of reconciliation actually implies.  

Message of Reconciliation

In order for reconciliation to have any impact in someone’s life it must be accompanied with a message. This is true of any version of reconciliation. There needs to be a clear discourse of identifying where one has come from, where brokenness needs to be mended, and how one is progressing afterward.

I think of the various recovery organizations that exist to assist in the breaking of addictive behaviors. Often there is a reminder of who the person once was as they were in the midst of their addiction, then there is a work done to break these cycles. This occurs through self-realization techniques, behavior modification therapies, and a list of other methods. But the desired objective is to reconcile the person back into society as a functioning contributor, free from the substance which held them in bondage for so long. Throughout this process the message is clear and central to the technique.

The gospel message of reconciliation is no different. It is a message about the brokenness we have experienced through sin, which leads to death. It is a message that declares through the cross, Christ has provided a way out of the bondage of sin and death, giving us access to the Father. The expected result is to follow Jesus as Lord and King.

Ministry of Reconciliation

The word “ministry” (Gk: diakonia) denotes the idea of service; specifically service that seeks the benefit of a larger group of people.[4] This means that humans are the ones who deliver God’s act of reconciliation to other humans. Clearly, the cross bore the significant work of God’s redeeming activity but the service is done through his people. We bear this responsibility in partnership with God.

Some will argue that the message needs to precede the service, and others will argue for the opposite. But this is a misreading of the text. It seems clear in 2 Corinthians 5 that the ministry is the message. Deed should always supplement the message but there are often times when action is all that is necessary in hopes that an opportunity (and often credibility) for the message will take root.

I would argue that in a post-Christian, postmodern, and massively cynical culture that keeps the gospel at arms length, mixing message with service is often the best approach to seeing the reconciliation of Christ take root in our culture today.

But what exactly is the tangible service we are delivering to the world?

It is important to remember that reconciliation is defined as the combination of repentance and forgiveness, and all of this occurs under the redemptive accomplishment of Christ’s cross. Therefore, the ministry is broad and wide. For some the ministry and message is personal in that it may involve swallowing our pride and asking others to forgive us because of some past hurts we may have caused, or seeking the same from others. Sometimes it is corporate, meaning we enter into the dark places of society in order to see groups of people leave communal structures of death (spiritual or socio-economical) in order to enter into liberating provinces of life.

Repentance is the acknowledgement that because of the cross, God is redeeming and renewing old and broken social structures and making them new in him. Therefore the “ministry of reconciliation” is an entrance into the brokenness of the world in order to see the kingdom take root so that Christ will be appropriately declared Lord.

Perhaps of even greater importance, is beginning to discern our allegiance prior to our acts of reconciliation. I believe an entry point will be the long difficult process of relearning our long-cherished political and national commitments. Remember, if Jesus is Lord, then Caesar cannot be. Rome, Babylon, America, or any other social structure that requires unconditional loyalty remain consistently challenged in light of Bible’s portrayal Jesus.

Recommended Reading

An excellent exegetical and theological treatment of the translation of pistis as “allegiance” as opposed to “faith.”
A convincing argument for a Christian spirituality as “tripolar” which involves social interaction as a determining factor of one’s spirituality and discipleship.

[1] Matthew W. Bates, Salvation by Allegiance Alone: Rethinking Faith, Works, and the Gospel of Jesus the King (Grand Rapids: Baker, 2017), 5.

[2] Ben Witherington III, Paul’s Letter to the Romans: A Social-Rhetorical Commentary (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2004), 133-34.

[3] David Augsburger, Dissident Discipleship: A Spirituality of Self-Surrender, Love of God, and Love of Neighbor (Grand Rapids: Brazos Press, 2006), 12-13.

[4] William Arndt et al., A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2000), 230.

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