Faith is not just a set of beliefs or the trust that we have in someone. It is also the allegiance to a person.
Take the case of Saint Peter for example. What did Peter had to do when Jesus called him? He had to follow Jesus. To follow Jesus, he had to leave his father, the net, and the boat. He had to leave all that he had and belong to Jesus for the rest of his life. So far, his life was in the fishing village of Capernaum and the hours he spent in Lake Galilee. But his life changed as he followed Jesus. His priorities are no more the life in the village or the work in the lake, but it was all about Jesus. James, John and even Paul who came to the scene much later, all of them did the same. They just changed their allegiance. They had to reorder their relationships and loyalties so that they belonged to Jesus.
“What I shall do to be saved?” the terrified jailer of Philippi screamed at Paul and Silas (Acts 16:3-34). What did he mean by “being saved?” He might have heard Paul preaching about Jesus who is the Saviour of the world who saves us from the coming wrath of God. As a roman and employee of the Roman government he believed that Caesar is Lord. As a Roman citizen his was allegiance was to the Caesar, the emperor. Paul’s answer was not to believe in a system of doctrines, but “believe on the Lord Jesus.” In other words, believe the person (not principles). It is to accept the lordship of Jesus over against the lordship of Caesar.
The gospel demands confession of our sins and declaring our allegiance to Christ as our master. The disciples of Christ trotted the globe to make disciples of Christ as he had commanded them. Their ministry was making followers of Christ Jesus and not just believers of Jesus.
However, this change of allegiance like any allegiance is not devoid of a set of beliefs. They had to believe that God has sent Jesus to this world, and they had to believe that Jesus rose from the dead. They had to accept the fact that all humanity is sinful and needed a saviour and that saviour is Jesus of Nazareth who is God.
This is very well summarised in Paul’s first epistle to Timothy:
“Great indeed, we confess, is the mystery of godliness: He was manifested in the flesh, vindicated by the Spirit, seen by angels, proclaimed among the nations, believed on in the world, taken up in glory.” (1 Timothy 3:16 ESV).
However, it is the order that matters. Their faith is primarily an allegiance to Jesus. What they had to believe made that allegiance possible and fostered it as the days went by. In other words, belief was at the service of this allegiance and not a substitute to it.
Faith as allegiance indispensably involves relationship. Jesus always thought in terms of relationship; that is why he called those who put their trust in him “my sheep” and his disciples “friends.”
Have we not reduced Christianity to a set of beliefs and have lost this dimension of our relationship with Jesus? When we imagine Christian spirituality exclusively in terms of beliefs and rituals, we ignore the unholy alliances that we have made with the world and its sinful system. However, Jesus demands our absolute loyalty.