Most mainstream denominational theologians believe in this doctrine of “mental assent.” Faith is nothing more than believing, no action required. Surely that must be one of those things spawned by the itching ears of listeners who wanted nothing required of them. Just look at a few scriptures with me.
For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision counts for anything, but only faith working through love. Galatians 5:6. What was that? “Faith working…?” Faith isn’t supposed to “work,” or so everyone says. Did you know that Greek word is energeo? Can you see it? That’s the word we get “energy” and “energetic” from. I don’t remember seeing too many energetic people sitting in their recliners.
Only let your manner of life be worthy of the gospel of Christ, so that whether I come and see you or am absent, I may hear of you that you are standing firm in one spirit, with one mind striving side by side for the faith of the gospel, Philippians 1:27. Striving for the faith? Even in English “striving” implies effort. In fact, the Greek word is sunathleo. Ask any “athlete” if mental assent will help him win a gold medal or a Super Bowl ring and you’ll hear him laughing a mile away.
Even if I am to be poured out as a drink offering upon the sacrificial offering of your faith, I am glad and rejoice with you all, Philippians 2:17, ESV. Now that can’t be right. Everyone knows faith has nothing to do with outward observances of the law like sacrifices. Well, how about this translation? The ASV says “service of faith.” Anyway you look at it, whether sacrifice or service, it requires some sort of action on our parts.
Fight the good fight of faith. Take hold of the eternal life to which you were called and about which you made the good confession in the presence of many witnesses,1 Timothy 6:12. Faith is a “fight.” That Greek word is agon from which we get our word “agony.” If you are a crossword puzzler, you know that an agon was a public fight in the Roman arena. Anyone who did nothing but sit there, with or without a recliner, didn’t last long.
To this end we always pray for you, that our God may make you worthy of his calling and may fulfill every resolve for good and every work of faith by his power, so that the name of our Lord Jesus may be glorified in you, and you in him, according to the grace of our God and the Lord Jesus Christ. 2 Thessalonians 1:11-12. And there you have it in black and white: “work of faith.”
Nope, some say, the trouble is you keep quoting these men. Jesus never said any such thing. Jesus answered them, This is the work of God, that you believe in him whom he has sent, John 6:29. If faith itself is a work, how can we divorce the works it does from it?
We do have examples of mental assent in the scriptures, three that I could find easily.
You believe that God is one; you do well: the demons also believe, and shudder. James 2:19
But certain also of the strolling Jews, exorcists, took upon them to name over them that had the evil spirits the name of the Lord Jesus, saying, I adjure you by Jesus whom Paul preaches. And there were seven sons of one Sceva, a Jew, a chief priest, who did this. And the evil spirit answered and said unto them, Jesus I know, and Paul I know, but who are you? Acts 19:13-15
Those first two examples are powerful. The devil and his minions believe in the existence of God and the deity of Jesus. In fact, they know those things for a fact. They even, please notice, recognize Paul as one of the Lord’s ministers. So much for not paying attention to his or any other apostle’s writings. Then there is this one:
Nevertheless, many even of the authorities believed in him, but for fear of the Pharisees they did not confess it, so that they would not be put out of the synagogue; John 12:42. Those men believed too. They would have been thrilled to know they could put their hands on something in the privacy of their homes and “just believe.” They could have had their cake and eaten it too—become followers without actually following.
And therein lies the crux of the matter. It’s easy to sit in your recliner and listen. It’s too hard to work, to strive, to sacrifice and serve, and way too hard to fight until you experience the agony of rejection, tribulation, and persecution.
Guess what? Some of us believe this too. We just substitute the pew for the recliner. It doesn’t work that way either. God wants us up and on our feet, working, serving, sacrificing and fighting till the end, whenever and however that may happen.
Examine yourselves, to see whether you are in the faith. Test yourselves. Or do you not realize this about yourselves, that Jesus Christ is in you?--unless indeed you fail to meet the test! 2 Corinthians 13:5