The Danger and Deception of Mental Assent

The Danger and Deception of Mental Assent

I have been wondering this week if I need to quit preaching.

Don’t misunderstand, I enjoy preaching, but I am concerned that I am placing myself and you in danger. Week after week, I share God’s Truth from Scripture. I say I believe it. You say you believe it. But I wonder, are we obeying it? If not, we are deceiving ourselves by giving mental assent to the Word and not following through. There is great danger in that.

There is also the temptation to deviate from the fundamental doctrines of grace and neglect the difficult sayings of Jesus for the sake of keeping people happy and growing a large congregation. For example, if I teach in simplistic terms that Jesus loves you just as you are and that if you will just ‘accept’ Him and ask Him into your heart, He will come in and live in you and you will go to Heaven when you die, and I never take you deeper than that, or teach you what the Bible says, you may never truly be saved, because I have not preached the Gospel.

Nevertheless, that kind of shallow teaching goes on in churches, and people like it. The preaching never gets any deeper, never addresses the sin issue, never teaches the doctrines of repentance and our death in salvation, nor our identification with Jesus for our life, nor the glory of the Holy Spirit living in us to conform us to Jesus and make us His witnesses on earth. Instead, all that is required is mental assent about Jesus, which is falsely called faith.

So what does shallow teaching, requiring only mental assent, produce besides large congregations? A lot people who never change, because they’ve been told they are acceptable to God just as they are. People who think God accepts them because they mentally agreed to believe in Him and invite Him into their hearts – as though they’ve asked a homeless man in for dinner or something – and they’re going to go to Heaven someday just because they’ve given mental assent to this Big Guy in the sky, who will provide them with health, wealth, political clout, and favor with man. If you like that message, you will have to find another preacher.

So how can we avoid deception and the danger of only giving God’s Word mental assent? Our kids can tell us: Look in the Book! Learn it, love it, and live it!

Colossians 2:6-8 Therefore, as you received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk in him, rooted and built up in him and established in the faith, just as you were taught, abounding in thanksgiving. See to it that no one takes you captive by philosophy and empty deceit, according to human tradition, according to the elemental spirits of the world, and not according to Christ.

Reading God’s Word and obeying it will keep us from being spiritually fooled by the deceivers with their popular philosophy, false faith, and worldly wisdom.

James 1:19-25 Know this, my beloved brothers: let every person be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger; for the anger of man does not produce the righteousness of God. Therefore put away all filthiness and rampant wickedness and receive with meekness the implanted word, which is able to save your souls. But be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves. For if anyone is a hearer of the word and not a doer, he is like a man who looks intently at his natural face in a mirror. For he looks at himself and goes away and at once forgets what he was like. But the one who looks into the perfect law, the law of liberty, and perseveres, being no hearer who forgets but a doer who acts, he will be blessed in his doing.

Before Glen Campbell, our home-town celebrity, died this week, he slowly lost his memory due to Alzheimer’s. It is painful, loving someone who no longer remembers you nor the special memories that you shared together. It must be very frightening to the victim to be disconnected from reality, to lose their memory, their history, their relationships, and not know who they are.

In a similar way, we can live our lives spiritually disconnected from the memory and reality of Jesus Christ and His Word. James was addressing this in his letter. There are people claiming to be followers of Jesus. But, there is a spiritual "disconnect," that nullifies their claim. What is this "disconnect"? They are hearers of His Word and not doers! That is not being a follower of Jesus. That is not discipleship. That is a serious self-deception!

James describes people who hear the Word of God in worship, preaching, music, Scripture, and then they leave and forget everything they heard. They live their lives disconnected from what God has shown them. The problem is not a mental disability, but mental assent—a spiritual deception that is traced to disobedience and a lack of commitment.

James 2:17 In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead.

For followers of Jesus, it is natural, normal, and healthy for us to grow in our spiritual lives, which includes both our knowledge and understanding, and the way we live and minister to others. James forces us to ask ourselves, “Do I just blend in and go along with the values of the culture in which I live, or do I make conscious choices about my time and what I do based on the Word of God?”

The Word of God is sharper than a two edged sword. It penetrates our self-induced satisfaction, and it burns our hearts and conscience with the illuminating and purifying presence of God. When we hear or read the Word of God, we have the choice of turning away or of being changed. There is no middle road. If we try and create a middle road, we deceive ourselves.

It is easy to listen to the Word so long as nothing is required. However, Jesus never called anyone merely to be a listener. Jesus’ call is always to give Him your life, follow Him, and to go, never simply to sit and listen.

Matthew 28:19-20 “Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”

Jesus said without Him, we can do nothing. Therefore, whatever Jesus commands us to do, He gives us the grace and power to do it. So, don’t go in your own strength. Be filled with the Holy Spirit and walk in the Spirit.

Acts 1:8 “But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.”

When we find ourselves just sitting and listening, we are missing out on what God has to offer. When we only give mental assent to the Scripture or the sermon, there is no conviction of sin, no motivation to repent. There is no deepening of love for God and for one another, and there is no compassion for those who do not know Jesus. There is no encouragement to service and ministry. Mental assent makes us numb to the conviction that the Holy Spirit brings. We deceive ourselves by thinking that because we heard the Word, and we mentally agreed with the Word, that our heart is right, even though we haven’t obeyed the Word.

Sometimes, we say that we want to grow in our spiritual lives. If that is true, then we need to realize that obedience is the pathway to growth.

We don’t grow, because we don’t obey what we already know!

God has more things for us, but we are not prepared to learn more until we do what He has already shown us to do. So, when we start obeying what we now know to do, then God will start teaching and revealing more things to us. That is how spiritual growth occurs.

Therefore, when you read or hear God’s Word, first meditate on how God wants you to repent and change. Then pray and ask for God’s grace to obey the Word as the Holy Spirit directs.

After we have obeyed the Word, we can minister to others by sharing how God is leading us through the events of our life. By sharing our faith with personal experiences, we give another person some insight into how God works in us and they can learn to sense God’s direction in their lives, too.

On the other hand, when we hear what God wants us to be and we feel no tension between where we are and where God is calling us to be, there is a spiritual "disconnect" in our lives. Instead of changing, we give mental assent to what we hear, and then we flush it out of our minds on our way across the parking lot to our cars. That places us in serious danger.

So I wonder, will you and I be in less danger if I quit preaching? As always, God gives the answer in His Word.

Romans 10:17 So then faith cometh by hearing, and hearing by the word of God.

I received some encouragement this week from the parable Jesus told about the sower and the seed. In His parable, only 25% of the seed fell on good soil that produced a crop. Therefore, I shouldn’t expect 100% of the hearers of the Gospel to receive it and grow spiritually. Still, it saddens me that the other 75% doesn’t produce its intended effect.

1 Corinthians 9:16-17 For if I preach the gospel, I have nothing to boast of, for necessity is laid upon me; yes, woe is me if I do not preach the gospel! For if I do this willingly, I have a reward, but if against my will, I have been entrusted with a stewardship.

So the answer is not to quit preaching the Word. Neither is it to quit listening to the Word. The answer is to start doing the Word!

A.W. Tozer said, “A child of God must be completely obedient to the Word of the Lord. The driver on the highway is safe, not when he reads the signs, but when he obeys them.”

Therefore, we will only be safe when we obey the Word. Not only will we be safe when we obey, we will be changed steadily into the image of Christ. Then we are effective witnesses.

For example, a downtown businessman became fond of the young boy who shined his shoes every day. The boy did such a good job that one day the businessman asked him, "Son, how come you are so conscientious about your work?" The boy felt complimented. He looked up at the man, and said, "Mister, I’m a Christian and I try to shine every pair of shoes as if Jesus Christ were wearing them."

The businessman saw something genuine in the shoeshine boy. Soon after that, he began reading his Bible. When he decided to become a Christian himself, he credited his decision to the young boy who shined every pair of shoes "as if Jesus Christ were wearing them.”

There’s a "connection" between faith and works, between what we hear and what we do. When we, as followers of Jesus, make a strong connection between our hearing and doing, then others are attracted to Jesus, because they see Him living in us.

However, that doesn’t guarantee people will like us. In fact, it may cause some to hate us, but that is OK. They are treating us like they treated Jesus. Keep in mind, the majority do not know what to make of Jesus, or of you, if you are like Him. But they are watching and pondering.

The sad part is that people get so accustomed to the fake that they cannot appreciate the genuine. For example, I grew up eating margarine. When my wife gave me some really wonderful genuine butter, I tasted it and thought, “Yuck”! I had lived on the man-made substitute for too long, thus the natural or God-made butter had no appeal to me.

So it is with spiritual things. People have filled their minds so long with the fluff of man-made religion, be it scientific, pagan, or even so-called "Christian", that God’s offer of a truthful, Spirit-filled relationship with Him through Jesus Christ holds no value to them. They feel good about what they have, so why give up their life and change? They go on contently, feeling perfectly good about their deception until they face death. Then they become uncertain and fearful about eternity because they don’t really know Jesus. They only know about Him.

So, why do we choose deception and just give mental assent to the Truth? For one thing, we don’t like God’s commands, which are for our good, but they keep us from doing what we want. So we dismiss them and ignore God’s decree that those who break His commandments will suffer curses and death. That is like hearing a judge pass sentence upon us and telling ourselves that there is no judge, as we walk out of the courtroom handcuffed and shackled.

Many do not want God’s dominion over them, nor do they like the way He is, so they create a god they like out of "new" theologies and "visions" that please their fleshly desires. Some just wipe God out of their minds completely through denial and deception. They deny the facts of His existence in front of them, using pseudo-science to interpret the evidence.

What many of these deceived people need is to see genuine Christianity in action. That means they need to see us think and act like Jesus. We need to talk about Him and shine His light in the darkness. We need to reach into the miry pits and lift folks out.

Unfortunately, many “Christians” are just giving mental assent to the Word and doing nothing. As a result, all deceived people see from us, who just give mental assent to God’s Word, is hypocrisy. And so, they reject Christianity.

As an example of hypocrisy, we say we believe in Hell and that Jesus is coming back, but unfortunately, it is just mental assent. We have no sense of expectation, urgency, or impending doom. Too many of us live like the rest of the world, similar to folks in Noah’s day.

Luke 17:26-27 Just as it was in the days of Noah, so will it be in the days of the Son of Man. They were eating and drinking and marrying and being given in marriage, until the day when Noah entered the ark, and the flood came and destroyed them all.

Others of us are enjoying the pleasures of sin. We would become a pillar of salt, like Lot’s wife, if God tried to drag us out of Sodom or Gomorrah.

Luke 17:28-33 Likewise, just as it was in the days of Lot—they were eating and drinking, buying and selling, planting and building, but on the day when Lot went out from Sodom, fire and sulfur rained from heaven and destroyed them all—so will it be on the day when the Son of Man is revealed. On that day, let the one who is on the housetop, with his goods in the house, not come down to take them away, and likewise let the one who is in the field not turn back. Remember Lot’s wife. Whoever seeks to preserve his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life will keep it.

Therefore, we need to obey the Word of God, not only for our own sake, but also to create a desire and hunger in others for the true Bread of Life (Jesus). We need to allow God to spread us out on that Bread like God-made butter. That means that God will have to take the milk of the Word that we have taken in and churn (change) us into “butter” so that we will be spreadable. The Holy Spirit will bring us into contact with others to serve them that Bread of Life with the “butter” of our testimony.

In the meantime, the world is starving to death on junk food! Will you allow Jesus Christ to feed them through you and fill their spiritual void? Will I? Let’s no longer be deceived by just giving mental assent to this message or anything in God’s Word. Let’s repent, ask God to fill us with the Holy Spirit, and then go and do it!

However, if you have never given your life to Jesus, you have nothing to give anyone else. To receive His life, you must give Jesus Christ your life by confessing Him as the Son of God who atoned for your sin on the cross. Then you confess your sin to Him and repent of being your own god. Die to sin and your own self-lordship by being baptized in a watery grave. Then you will be miraculously born again of the Holy Spirit to live a new life in obedience to Christ. The Holy Spirit will empower you to be a witness of Jesus Christ and He will use you to feed others spiritually.