Knowledge, Assent, and Trust
Now in the synagogue there was a man who had a spirit of an unclean demon. And he cried out with a loud voice, saying, “Let us alone! What have we to do with You, Jesus of Nazareth? Did You come to destroy us? I know who You are—the Holy One of God!” Luke 4:33-34NKJV
Question 72 of the Larger Catechism, asks, “What is justifying faith?” It gives the answer, “Justifying faith is a saving grace, wrought in the heart of a sinner by the Spirit and word of God, whereby he, being convinced of his sin and misery, and of the disability in himself and all other creatures to recover him out of his lost condition, not only assenteth to the truth of the promise of the gospel, but receiveth and resteth upon Christ and his righteousness, therein held forth, for pardon of sin, and for the accepting and accounting of his person righteous in the sight of God for salvation.” Last week when we looked at this question we considered the nature of justifying faith. Today we examine the three parts of saving faith.
As we have seen, the Holy Spirit must create faith in the heart of an unbeliever in conversion because left to himself the sinner is and will continue to be hostile to the gospel offer. Before the work of regeneration the minds of fallen men are alienated against God (Col. 1:21). Our understanding is darkened due to the hardness of our hearts (Eph. 4:18). Even we who are now believers were at one time “led astray, slaves to various passions and pleasures, passing our days in malice and envy, hated by others and hating one another” (Tit. 3:3). Our minds were “set on the flesh” (Rom. 8:7); we were “haters of God” (Rom. 1:30). In fact we were not just in a very poor and serious sinful condition, we were “dead in our trespasses and sins” (Eph. 2:1). We were dead, spiritually dead. The light of the gospel of Christ has been in the world for 2,000 years now, but as it was in the days of Jesus’ earthly ministry so it is today: “Light has come into the world, but men loved darkness instead of light because their deeds were evil” (John 3:19).
However, immediately upon His work of regeneration, the Holy Spirit, by means of the word of God creates justifying faith in the heart of each elect person. That faith consists of three distinct and necessary elements. First, there must be knowledge. The person who trusts in Christ by means of His gospel message must know something about what that message says! How can I trust in Jesus for salvation if I don’t know who Jesus is? How can I believe that His death atoned for my sins if I’ve never heard of His cross? Hence, I must have the knowledge of the gospel, the basic information and content of the salvation Jesus purchased for me if I am going to be in a position where I can put my faith in Him in order to receive it. However, knowledge alone cannot save anyone. Many people know what the Bible says: they have the knowledge, but they reject it as false or fictitious. Knowledge of Christ via His gospel is necessary to be saved but by itself knowledge is not sufficient for salvation.
Second therefore, I must have assent. Assent refers to my acceptance or agreement that the knowledge I have of Christ in the gospel is factually accurate and true. Thus we see that assent moves beyond knowledge where I am not only in possession of the data of the gospel, so that now I agree with that data, that it records real history. Like knowledge, assent to the gospel is necessary for salvation. I cannot receive as my Lord and Savior a Christ whom I believe to be a fictitious character or who said things that are not correct. I must agree that what Jesus promised will come to pass, that what He did really happened, and that what He said is true. However, even at the level of assent added to knowledge I do not possess saving faith. In the Scripture at the head of this article we see demons have both knowledge and assent of the gospel of Christ. They know who Jesus is, they agree with that knowledge that it is 100% accurate, and yet they hate Him and are terrified by the prospect of His coming salvation.
Thus, in order to have justifying faith and be in possession of Christ’s salvation, I must move to the third level where I “receive and rest upon Christ and His righteousness.” Here alone do we see a regenerated heart. Here alone have I passed from death to life. This level is usually referred to as “trust.” I have the knowledge, I agree that the knowledge is factually correct, and now, by the grace of God the Holy Spirit in regeneration, I embrace that truth for my forgiveness and for my righteousness. Praise God for the saving work of the Holy Spirit in giving us justifying faith!