Mental Assent - The Enemy of Faith

Mental Assent - The Enemy of Faith

By Tim Greenwood

Mental assent can be one of the greatest enemies of a life of faith.

In Mat. 19:20, a young man said to Jesus, "All these things have I kept from my youth up: what lack I yet?"  He was claiming to have real Bible faith, but the truth was that he had mental assent, instead of real faith. The way that he reacted to Jesus' reply proves it. But how can we avoid falling into the same trap?

What Is mental assent?  Mental assent is a subtle form of self-deception, just one step removed from hypocrisy.

In Luke 12:1 Jesus said to his disciples, Beware ye of the leaven of the Pharisees, which is hypocrisy.  Hypocrisy is characterized as choosing not to practice what we preach. We don't need anyone to explain hypocrisy or how crippling and common it is.

Mental assent is just as crippling and even more common but hidden from our awareness.

So, what is the difference between mental assent and hypocrisy?

Hypocrisy is knowing what we ought to do but choosing not to. It's obvious both to yourself and those around you. Mental assent is more personal and less public. Indeed, waking up to its presence usually comes as a shock.

You see; with mental assent you believe something in your head, you agree, approve and confirm it is right, proper and righteous. It carries your unwavering endorsement. You may not talk about it, but it bears your seal of approval.  

It is like being made a great offer or being offered a great good faith contract.  You know that it is great.  You believe that an offer like that would be very benificial to all parties involved.  You endorse it and even tell others about it.

The problem is that you, yourself, never actually commit to the offer nor ever actually sign the contract.  You don't even realize that you are not fulfilling it. You think it, you are all for it but don't actually do it.

Why? It is because with mental assent you believe it in your head but not in your heart. This is faith (good faith) without action.

If you truly believe in your heart that an offer (or good faith contract) is good and you want its benefits, you agree (or commit) to it (usually verbally or in writing) and then put it into practice by fulfilling your part. You only truely believe God's Word as far as you trust it, commit to it and actually act on it.

Can you see how it is actually ignorant hypocrisy, and just as toxic to a life of faith.

As Christians, we need to change from mental assent to real Bible faith. Real Bible faith is of the heart, not the head: it includes your spirit, rather than just your mind.

Rom. 10:9-10 says, "That if thou shall confess with thy mouth the Lord Jesus, and shall believe in your heart that God hath raised him from the dead, thou shall be saved.  For with the heart man believeth unto righteousness; and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation.

Put simply, when in good faith you believe in your heart you will do a thing. Believing is a verb; believing in good faith is an action. Faith without action is dead, and useless i.e. Being offered a good faith contract and not signing it does not benifit anyone. (James 2: 14-18). Merely assenting to something does not produce action. Heartfelt good faith always results in action.

Only by acting (signing or commiting) do you actually express what you believe. You see why it is easy to approve of something in your mind, vicariously, as though you were a participant, but not actually do it yourself? It is self-deceiving to claim to believe without corresponding action. That's mental assent and it can only end in failure.

How about answered prayer? Mental assent keeps asking for the same things in prayer. Heartfelt good faith signs the contract and knows that God will act according to His promise and then begins praising and thanking Him even before the manifestation of the fruit of the contract..

Healing can be blocked by mental assent. Christians can know or read the healing promises; but fail to act on them. Mental assent results in their staying sick or infirmed. What a difference when we change from mental assent to real Bible faith.

Another kind of mental assent is a "group mentality" kind of faith.  I used to be part of denomination where "we" believed this and "we" believed that without ever even considering what I believed as an individual.  My "faith" was the belief that surely the whole group couldn't all be deceived into believing wrong doctrines!  What a shock it was to believe that my feet were on solid rock, only to have that rock suddenly roll right out from under your feet!
Real Bible faith is not mental assent. John Wesley warned in his time that there was a dangerous substitute for faith that he called "mental assent." He was caught in this dangerous trap and only escaped after failing as a missionary in America (his words.) Faith (good faith) is of the heart and not merely the head. Simply agreeing that God exists and that his Word (the Bible) is true is not real Bible faith. James states that even demons have mental assent.

James 2:19 says, "Do you believe that there is one God? That's pretty good but even the devils believe that, and tremble"

It's time for all Christians to make the change from mental assent to real Bible faith!  Rom. 10:17 says that (real Bible) faith comes by hearing, and hearing (and hearing and hearing) the Word of God.  Faith, good faith, comes from hearing but even more so hearing of the good word (good reputation) of God.  God's reputation for keeping His word is flawless.

We need to learn what God (Father, Jesus and the Holy Spirit) says in the Bible, we need to individually believe what is said to us, personally, in our heart.  Then we need to say what God said, step out and act upon the Word of the Living God, in good faith, the kind of faith that truly pleases God!