Saving Faith vs. Intellectual Assent

By Justin Tilghman

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.”

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