Persuasion by logic and wisdom is not sufficient to bring about spiritual repentance and submission. A person must morally choose to submit his will to God’s and may or may not be convinced that their choice is the intellectually sound thing to do.
I have had the opportunity to visit with a number of atheists and agnostics—and many religious folks who behave like atheists and agnostics. What’s fascinating about our discussions is that the fact of Jesus Christ is not disputed. Intellectually, Jesus is just as obvious as Caesar, Alexander, Henry VIII, or Lincoln. But the apologetics of Christianity are not sufficient to create salvation. Faith is not a matter of intellectual belief. It is also a matter of moral assent.
Mathew gives an example of this citing the religious leaders’ reaction to Jesus’ teaching: “And hearing this, they marveled” (22:22). Yet, marveling wasn’t sufficient to convince them of Jesus’ divinity and prompt them to declare Him their Lord. Only God’s Spirit and a willful capitulation by man can bring this about. These leaders challenged Christ, going head to head with Him over issues concerning the Law. Jesus answered their questions and posed others to challenge their thinking. They marveled, but didn’t convert.
You would think these men would return home, wrestle with the inescapable fact that Jesus had tied them in an intellectual and religious knot, and either ask more questions or change their beliefs. You would expect religious leaders to be intellectually honest. You would like to believe thinking people would abandon a sinking ship full of spiritual holes. You would think, but such is not the case.
If relationship with God was achieved through intellect alone—like say a mathematical equation—the world would accept Christianity. And the truth of the matter is, we have a credible faith that will stand the closest scrutiny by the brightest minds. But yielding to Christ is not an intellectual decision. Stepping off the throne of your life and declaring Jesus Christ Lord is a moral decision. Only those who want to submit their lives to Him do so.
You’ve heard it said that you can belief in God and still go to hell when you die. It’s true. The Bible states that Satan believes, so obviously, believing is not sufficient to remediate hell. For belief to do any eternal good, you must morally submit to God. The Pharisees and Sadducees may have believed and marveled at Christ’s teaching, but they clung to tradition and their peers, all the while sacrificing the chance of a lifetime and eternity to remain god of their own lives.
When it comes to spiritual matters, making a decision for God involves more than giving mental assent to the idea. Do you recall the story about the chicken and pig who were discussing whether or not to throw an appreciation breakfast for the farmer? The chicken volunteered to provide the eggs and challenged the pig to bring the bacon. The pig replied, “Appreciation for you requires a contribution, for me it requires total commitment.” That portrays the difference between intellectual assent and the decision to adopt a moral conviction.
Christians have made a moral decision to accept Jesus Christ as their Savior. Carrying forward, this principle of decision making holds true for all spiritual truths. You can believe you are a new creation in Christ, but if you don’t appropriate this truth into your heart, the truth goes no deeper than your head, and that’s not deep enough.
Not all of us have to grapple intellectually with whether or not Christ lives in us and us in Him, but all of us must wrestle with this truth in our hearts. Decisions of the heart come much harder than decisions of the intellect. It isn’t hard to find clear, historical, unbiased evidence that Jesus Christ lived on earth and taught the things He taught. Anyone capable of reading and doing rudimentary research will find plenty of information to make an intellectual assent to this fact. But if this historical fact is so obvious and self-evident, why don’t more folks become Christians? Because Christianity is more than an intellectual conclusion. God is looking for a moral decision. He is not satisfied with having your intellect when your heart is the center of your being.
It is tragic that the religious community of Jesus’ day repeated their mistakes. No sooner do the Pharisees fail to trap Jesus—marveling at His deft maneuvers—than the next verse notes, “On that same day, some Sadducees came to Him and questioned Him” (22:23). What were they thinking? That’s just it: They were thinking but they were not relinquishing. They might have believed, but the devil believes. Faith without action is insufficient. Head without heart will not achieve spiritual transformation.
Spiritual truths and principles require a moral decision, not just intellectual assent. Men through the ages have tried to ignore this fact only to find that they were sadly mistaken. Living with less than God provides and intends is heartbreaking in the end.