Saving Faith vs. Intellectual Assent
Jesus is the Son of God. He died for our sins, and rose again. Can you believe this and still not be saved?
This is a very good question. First of all let me stress that I do not intend to judge the hearts of men and women and make determination on their final states. We often do not have total insight into the lives of individuals and can only determination if they are saved by examining the fruit of their lives. But God’s Word can help us in thinking through the question.
There was a similar question posed in Scripture and I think it’s important for us to go back to God’s Word for more information. In James 2:14-26 it appears that James may be dealing with a very similar situation. James 2:19 says, “You believe that God is one, you do well. Even the demons believe — and shudder!” In the context of that passage, James is discussing the importance of works as validation for faith. Works DO NOT save us, but they can serve as the “fruit” that validates the sincerity of our internal faith. In v. 19 we see James saying that “faith,” without verifying fruit, is no different than demons, who are indeed in hell.
Now it is important to distinguish between saving faith and what may be called mere intellectual assent. Time and again we see in Scripture that those who are saved are those who believe on the Lord Jesus Christ (Acts 16:31; Romans 10:9; etc.). But we must understand what “believe” means. In Scripture the word translated “believe” could also be translated as “faith” and gives the idea of trust and commitment. For example, I have faith/belief in my wife. I trust her and am committed to her. I can say that I believe she is my wife but go out and be with other women; then my actions call into question my “belief.”
On the other hand, there is mental or intellectual assent only. This occurs when we believe the facts about something but it doesn’t have any bearing on our lives or our heart. For example, I believe the sky is blue. But it has no effect on how I live my life. If someone came in tomorrow and said the sky is now green, ok, no big deal. I’m just mentally agreeing with what is being said. This involved no action on my part at all.
The same is true for Jesus. If we say that we believe he is the Son of God, died for all our sins, and rose again, then that necessarily has implications on our life. Why? Because Jesus said it does. In Luke 6:46 Jesus asked why people want to call Him Lord but don’t desire to do what He says. The implication is that if we believe in and love Jesus, we will do what He tells us to do (John 14:15, 23). Therefore, if we have someone who says they believe all of these things about Jesus, but yet their lives are unchanged and they have no desire to fellowship with Him and to live the life He has called us to live, then we have good reason to question the substance of their belief. Just as Jesus said, how can they believe Him (in a saving way) without showing it by their actions?