Mental Assent Alone Is Not True Faith
In light of the question: Does having a mere “mental assent” to the truths of the Gospel equate to having a true, God-given faith in the Godhead and Christ that the Gospel reveals, it is my belief that “mental assent” alone does not equate to true faith.
We can think of those who gave mental assent to the Gospel and yet lacked that true faith that accompanies salvation. As per Merriam Webster, mental assent is basically that act which occurs in the mind or intellect, or that is experienced in the mind or intellect, wherein the person (after careful/thoughtful consideration) acquiesces or agrees with the matter at hand. In light of this, consider:
Mark 4:16 And these are they likewise which are sown on stony ground; who, when they have heard the word, immediately receive it with gladness; 17 And have no root in themselves, and so endure but for a time: afterward, when affliction or persecution ariseth for the word’s sake, immediately they are offended. 18 And these are they which are sown among thorns; such as hear the word, 19 And the cares of this world, and the deceitfulness of riches, and the lusts of other things entering in, choke the word, and it becometh unfruitful.
Considering the Gospel carefully and then intellectually agreeing with its precepts must never be confused with true faith. If the contemplation and agreement stems from ones own carnal reasoning, and not from a God-given faith effectually wrought in their lives by the Spirit of God, it will not last; it is a counterfeit faith. We know from the Bible, and from life experience, that many believe (give mental assent to the truth) for a season and yet fall-away. I John 2:18-19 declares “Little children, it is the last time: and as ye have heard that antichrist shall come, even now are there many antichrists; whereby we know that it is the last time. 19 They went out from us, but they were not of us; for if they had been of us, they would [no doubt] have continued with us: but [they went out], that they might be made manifest that they were not all of us.”
Those who argue that ‘those who fall away and depart from the truth never believed (or gave mental assent) in the first place,’ deny the obvious to suit their own fancies. John 12:42-3 declares “Nevertheless among the chief rulers also many believed on him; but because of the Pharisees they did not confess [him], lest they should be put out of the synagogue: 43 For they loved the praise of men more than the praise of God.” These people believed for a season, but they were not True believers; they never received a love for, nor were they loved by, Him that is True. We read in Matthew 10: 32-3 “Whosoever therefore shall confess me before men, him will I confess also before my Father which is in heaven. 33 But whosoever shall deny me before men, him will I also deny before my Father which is in heaven.”
Whereas a God-given faith evidences true Life and is spiritual, eternal, and wrought from above — a carnal mental assent is man-taught, temporal, notional, and directed towards men. Such a false faith will evidence itself as such in one or more of the following ways: (a) it will always be a show faith focused on outward religious learning, talk, duties, and abstentions (to be seen of men and praised of them) rather than being focused on a true and direct relationship with God; (b) it will often be a notional faith (that is dry, cold, academic, legalistic; being ignorant and devoid of true Christian experience); (c) it will often be an unadorned faith lacking in that area called the adorning of the Gospel (Titus 2:10), being without the fruit of the Spirit (Ephesians 5:9) which [is] in all goodness and righteousness and truth (being instead focused on religious strife, debate, and contention); (e) though not always obvious, it will always be a loveless faith, lacking that love of the Truth that God inseparably gives when He gives true faith to His people (II Thessalonians 2:10 — for many believe for a season, but they receive not the love of the truth, that they might be saved); and (f) it will often be a compromising faith wherein they compromise the truth of the Gospel by either watering it down and/or speaking spiritual peace to those that do (i.e. to those that are the very enemies of God and His gospel as we read in Jeremiah 8:11 and II John 1:9-11).
When we consider what the word really means, and how God uses it, we see that true faith is not simply a “mental assent to any given propositional statement;” true faith is, and involves, trust first and foremost. Moreover, true faith includes rest, loyalty, fidelity and sincerity. As per Merriam Webster, faith comes from the Middle English feith, from Anglo-French feid, fei, from Latin fides; akin to Latin fidere to trust; it is closely related to the word bide which means to wait for/upon, and to continue with. Merriam Webster defines faith as (amongst other things): “allegiance to duty or a person : loyalty b (1) : fidelity to one’s promises (2) : sincerity of intentions; 2 a (1) : belief and trust in and loyalty to God… These aspects of the secular definition hold up in God’s definition of the word as well.
Thus, true faith is a yoking of various essential elements together, mental assent alone is just a carnal and corrupt counterfeit. True faith incorporates to one degree or another (and in the very essence of its definition): both (a) a belief in, trust in, rest in, and abidance in the object of that faith; and (b) sincerity towards, fidelity towards, allegiance towards, and love towards the object of that faith. From the biblical testimony, it is also clear that true faith will, by necessity, be accompanied by spiritual fruit; whereas the same cannot be said for mere mental assent (for it will contain none of these things to any lasting/substantive degree). Mental assent will only lead men to trust in their own head knowledge, academics, misapplied logic, and carnal reasonings. Such men as these are what men like John Rusk called Formalists or Letter Men (the Dead Calvinists, Tolerant Calvinists, Compromising Calvinists, and other false professors of our day). They have no real Christian experience; knowing nothing of being emptied of God, humbled by Him, brought low before Him. They have never been made to be as little children (having no strength in themselves and relying on Him for all of their needs). They may be able to articulate deep doctrine, and may speak boldly against the other enemies of God, but we shall know them by their fruit. If there is no love for God and His gospel, no love for the brethren, if strife and debate are their main pursuits, or if they consider as brethren those who would corrupt the Gospel of grace, then there is no true faith no matter how much intellectual assent they may give to right doctrine. Likewise, if their understanding of Gospel matters is but dry and lifeless, believing gospel truth in the same manner as one would believe aspects of Euclidean geometry (with no real impact on their lives, aims, and emotions) then all they have is notion — and we know that:
“TRUE RELIGION’S MORE THAN NOTION, SOMETHING MUST BE KNOWN AND FELT”
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by Curt Wildy