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Notitia, Assensus, and Fiducia: The Nature of Saving Faith

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It is no secret that the great deconstruction of evangelical Christianity has been underway for some time now. It’s hard to say when this deconstruction began or who is mostly responsible for initiating the project but at the end of the day, that really isn’t terribly important. After all, Christianity had its internal and external enemies from day one. What is important is that modern men who claim to be conservative Christians are clearly not.

The sine qua non of evangelicalism is the ancient gospel as set down in the pages of the sacred Scripture. Without the biblical gospel, there is no evangelicalism. In fact, without the ancient gospel, there is no Christianity. If you deny the ancient gospel, you are, ipso facto not evangelical and not Christian for that matter.

The biblical gospel, which is a supernatural gospel, has been eclipsed by and replaced with a completely natural and humanistic gospel. In some cases, the gospel has been replaced with rationalism. In other cases, the gospel has been wholly swallowed up by a new postmodern Christianity that looks nothing like historic Christianity in any sense of the word. In this latter case, the gospel has several definitions so that it can mean whatever modern men want it to mean. And since these are postmodern minds, the idea that these new definitions could be wrong is a foreign concept to their thinking. In fact, it seems to me the only definition of the gospel that could be wrong where these postmodern men are concerned is the biblical definition itself. Strange how that works but this is the self-defeating nature of postmodernism.

The intent of this short article is to explore the negative impact that postmodern thought is having on the doctrine of Christian Soteriology. This is our cherished doctrine of salvation. Only when we turn our attention to the true source for true knowledge can we understand, confess, and believe the truth that sets us free. This brings us to the question: what is true biblical faith? What is the kind of faith that saves? And this brings us to the Latin words that are the title of this article: Notitia, Assensus, and Fiducia.

Thoughts on the Present Position of Protestantism

The inmost truth which the doctrine expressed was that the spoken Word becomes power and life solely by the work of the Holy Spirit, and that we should trust the Holy Spirit and await its coming. But at the same time, this belief of the Church, as Notitia, Assensus, and Fiducia,—that is to say, as intellectual perception, intellectual assent, and complete trust,—was expected to become, in an absolutely uniform manner, the personal possession of each individual, and no one was to nourish himself on aught but the Word, of which Theologia Sacra was only the elaborated form.

In reformed theology, there are three components involved in saving faith: the Latin terms notitia, assensus, fiducia refer respectively to intellectual perception, intellectual assent, and finally, the trust that applies the grace of God given in the gospel.

Intellectual Perception

What is meant by intellectual perception? What is the difference between intellectual perception and intellectual assent? Intellectual perception or notitia refers to getting the facts of the gospel right. Romans 1 tells us that all men know some facts about God. This knowledge of God through general revelation exists in all human beings. While this knowledge is sufficient for culpability, it is not sufficient for salvation. Man needs accurate knowledge of the content of the gospel. Many modern American Christians have a basic working knowledge of the content of the gospel. Let’s look at 1 Cor. 15:1-3

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1 Corinthians 15:3–43 For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received, that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, 4 and that He was buried, and that He was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures,

This text contains the essential ingredients of the gospel, without which, man cannot be saved. First, Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures. Second, He was buried. And finally, He was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures. This is the gospel. Knowing this does not save you. But not knowing it means you cannot be saved. This is echoed in Rom 10:17

Romans 10:1717 So faith comes from hearing, and hearing by the word of Christ.

Saving faith begins with the hearing of the facts about the gospel. But hearing the gospel is not sufficient for saving faith to exist. One has to look no further than Israel in Jesus’ day to see that these people heard the gospel from the lips of God Himself and still did not possess saving faith. False gospels do not produce true converts. Only the true gospel can produce true converts. Perhaps this explains why our churches are filled with so many false converts.

Intellectual Assent

What is meant by intellectual assent? Assent is a bit closer in terms of connections. A person might say that they understand that Jesus was a prophet and even a good man but they reject the idea that He was the Messiah. Nicodemus is a good example of intellectual assent or assensus.

John 3:22 this man came to Jesus by night and said to Him, “Rabbi, we know that You have come from God as a teacher; for no one can do these signs that You do unless God is with him.”

Nicodemus had examined the teachings and life of Christ and had drawn the right conclusion about him as far as it goes. He was a man sent from God, and God was with Him. But this was not enough for saving faith. Think about James’ discussion regarding true faith and the demons. The demons know God and yet, even though they could assent to the fact that Jesus was the Messiah, they lacked saving faith.

There are millions of Evangelical church members across this nation and the entire world who possess the facts of the gospel and who claim a certain connection with the gospel but their faith is not a saving faith. They embrace Christ outwardly as the Messiah and Savior of the world. They embrace much of Christian morality. They embrace several historic Christian traditions and rituals. But they still lack the one thing that is necessary for salvation: genuine trust in the work and person of Christ. Possessing intellectual knowledge and intellectual assent concerning the gospel is not sufficient for salvation.

True Faith

Men may know the facts about the gospel. They may even intellectually assent to the truth of the gospel. They may go to church, get baptized, join a Sunday school class, become a member of a church, and even read the Bible on occasion. But this does not mean they possess a genuine trust in the person and work of Christ.

Hebrews 11:66 And without faith it is impossible to please Him, for he who comes to God must believe that He is and that He is a rewarder of those who seek Him.

Without genuine trust, one cannot please God. And unless one can please God, one cannot be saved. Faith is the third component of genuine salvation. But faith only comes by hearing the word of God.

Romans 10:1717 So faith comes from hearing, and hearing by the word of Christ.

This is true saving faith. This faith is a gift of God given by the Holy Spirit through the preaching of the cross.

Ephesians 2:88 For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God;

In summary, three things are absolutely necessary for true conversion: we must know the facts of the gospel. This means we must hear it. Second, we must assent to these facts of the gospel. There must be a connection between us and these facts. These facts should move us to a specific end. Finally, we must trust in the gospel. That is to say, we must trust the good news we see in the person and work of Jesus Christ. What is the evidence that someone actually has saving faith then?

1 John 3:1010 By this the children of God and the children of the devil are obvious: anyone who does not practice righteousness is not of God, nor the one who does not love his brother.


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