I’ve been going up for prayer for years. Some would think that I had a reserved spot. Not too central to be attention-getting but close enough to get some good prayer and get back to my seat. As we and many other mental assent Christians, I’d feel better momentarily but be back to square one by 10 am Monday morning. I couldn’t figure out what was wrong with the pastor! How is it he couldn’t get this right? And what about the deacons? shouldn’t they be ashamed of themselves? Turns out there was nothing wrong with their Faith and belief. I was the problem the whole time.
In a recent post series, we talked about opinions, doctrines, and Truth. This post on believing and mental assent brings us along similar lines. It’s kind of like the distinction people make between “facts” and “Truth” when they want to split an uncomfortable hair. Before we move on any further, let’s get a working understanding of what we’re talking about.
Many of us don’t have a specific definition for this term. For us believing is just that: believing. For example, “I believe my wife loves me and is faithful” is something we could easily put in the “belief” category. However, there is a sleight of hand that takes place that many of us are not aware of.
For instance, many of us are probably rocket scientists. Yet, if a rocket scientist were to tell us that the escape velocity from Earth is 11.19 kilometers per second, we wouldn’t give it another thought. We would simply “believe” them. However, upon closer investigation, we actually gave our mental assent. For me to “believe” the escape velocity as stated by the rocket scientist, would require there to be an effect on my life.
I had a colleague a few years back. He’s the eccentric type and you would know that about him the moment you met him. He has that “Kramer” vibe about him. Although the details of the conversation escape me, the result left a lasting impression. The story goes something like this.
A student asks to go to the bathroom and is gone for the better part of the period. My colleague, feigning concern, ask the student, “Is everything okay? you were gone for so long”! Not realizing he was being put on, the student admits to using the pass to check on some friends. To which my coworker said, “but you missed the whole lab”?
Now, everything up to this point happens a million times a day all around the world: students leaving the room to avoid the task at hand. However, what happens next I assume only happens in my colleague’s classroom. At this point, the student feels shame and embarrassment for getting caught in the act. He now says, “sorry”. The teacher replies, “you’re not sorry. If you were sorry you would change your behavior”.
Mind blown! Surely this wasn’t the first time the child had done this nor was it the first time he had extended such an apology after being called to task. However, although other teachers probably dropped it at the point only to see it happen again, this teacher drove it home.
As you’re probably used to by now, I probably have you asking, “what does that have to do with this“? The answer is simple. The student offered an apology that his mind could live with, the teacher required an apology that the soul would have to muster. The student gave the equivalent of a mental assent apology: brain-only.
No deeper commitment is needed, no deeper consideration is required. The teacher on the other hand wanted the student to believe he was sorry. And the only way for that to show would be from a changed behavior.
My colleague wouldn’t describe himself as a Christian, much less a “John the Baptist”. Yet, the lesson he gave that student was Textbook gold (John 3:8)! He asked the student to “Produce fruit in keeping with repentance”. Meaning, if you’re sorry show it!
Mental Assent Christianity
Unfortunately, our problems with mental assent run deeper than overstaying our welcome in the hallways. In fact, if possible, they even go deeper than our lives showing signs of repentance from our sins. Many of us accepted Jesus decades ago and we’re good at the “Church” game: wait for the altar call, confess some stuff, cry it out, hug everyone there, and go back to your seat. I know it’s true. As I said, I had my own spot at the altar.
However, don’t get me wrong. There is nothing wrong with going to the altar. In fact, I encourage you to go as often as you need, every time you can, for as long as you want. But my prayer for you, for us, is this: the next time you go, bring the altar back with you. Let that change that you’re asking for the stick!
The altar is not a confessional. The altar is for dead things; things die on the altar! So whatever it is that keeps bringing you back to the altar, make sure it dies there next time. And if I had to guess, what keeps most of us going back is mental assent.
The sin of mental assent
If you think calling mental assent a sin is a bit of a stretch, hear me out. We’ve been talking about the difference between believing and mental assent. Believing is, we’ve established, something that changes your behavior: “I am faithful to my wife, therefore, will not cheat on her”. Mental assent, we’ve seen, is more of a reflex: “I’m supposed to apologize in this case so, ‘sorry’. There, I said it”. So, where does the sin part come in?
Rather than figuring out where’s the sin in that, ask this question: what do Believers have in common with demons? Hopefully, the answer is “absolutely nothing”. However, that only applies if you are not a mental assent sort of person. In James 2:19 we read,
“You believe that God is one; you do well. Even the demons believe – and shudder”.
Did you hear that? Even the demons believe. Then notice what he writes next. He says that they “shudder”. Other translations have “tremble”. You can check every translation on the planet and in Heaven. They all say a word that depicts fear. Never a word that describes “repentance”.
Yes. It matters. The Bible is not just the Word of God, it is God. The words in the Bible are God. When Jesus was tempted, He answered back with the Word (Mat 4). He didn’t say “I think…”. He gave the Devil a three-point sermon based on the Word, God’s Word, Himself in verbal form (John 1).
Correcting Mental Assent
So if we want to distinguish ourselves from the “believing” of demons, we need let the Word sink in. As we read, demons believe and fear. They cower and tremble. Believing the Word is true they still deny its power (2 Tim 3:5). They cannot repent and await their Just end with trembling. After all, they denied God to His face in His throne room. That’s beef in my fridge!
But here’s the good news. Their end is not our end. The better news is that we can fix. And best of all, once we fix it, we’ll be wondering how we ever got along without it in the first place.
Here’s how it works. Ready? Believe every single Word in the Bible. Moreover, believe that it was written to you as if you’re the only person on the planet. You have to accept, in your heart, that if you were the only human on Earth, God would’ve still counted it worthwhile to send Jesus to die for you! Where the Bible you’re forgiven, take it; when it says you’re free, redeemed, healed, and all the rest: accept it, don’t argue it.
Just like that?
Correct. Just like that. In Isaiah 53, the Bible teaches me that Jesus died for my sins as well as my diseases. I use to spend hours asking, “really? How’s that? I still see sick people in church”? Then I realized. It’s because they still think the way I use to think! But it’s been there all along. Jesus said, “which is easier: to say, ‘Your sins are forgiven,’ or to say, ‘Get up and walk’ “? Thanks be to God that Jesus is Lord. And as Lord, He is Lord over sins and disease.
Mental assent is what the Enemy wants us to practice to keep us defeated. We can believe whatever we want. That doesn’t bother him. In the end, living as though we are entitled to what we believe is the problem. That’s because he’s satisfied with Christians having doctrines, as long as they don’t produce anything of substance.
Bondservant to Jesus Christ, Married to Michele, Dad to Madelyn, Claudia, and Joseph and educator by trade, apologist by calling and saved by Grace. Antonio loves to read, write, and discuss all-things-apologetics. He has many passions in life including reaching, teaching, and keeping men for Jesus Christ. Waiting on God’s big reveal: Antonio knows He has something beautiful in mind.