Intellectual Belief is a Precursor to Faith
Intellectual Belief: a Precursor to Faith
Having an intellectual belief in the Scriptures is foundational for faith. Before we can have the belief that results in salvation, we need to hear the Gospel from a “preacher” so that God can bring faith into our hearts. “How then will they call on Him in whom they have not believed? How will they believe in Him whom they have not heard? And how will they hear without a preacher?” (Rom. 10:14).
In one of the Apostle Paul’s letters to Timothy, Paul encourages his young and upcoming disciple with some nuggets of truth applicable to his area of leadership. However, he wants Timothy to know these truths beyond his intellect. He wants them understood at the heart level—experientially. Paul understood that in order for Timothy to take the truth into his heart, he would need the help of the Spirit. Paul begins with Timothy’s intellect since this is where all knowledge first enters. Paul then instructs him to ponder it and allow the Lord to teach him further.
Listen to what Paul says:
You then, my child, be strengthened by the grace that is in Christ Jesus and, what you have heard from me in the presence of many witnesses, entrust to faithful men, who will be able to teach others also. Share in suffering as a good soldier of Christ Jesus. No soldier gets entangled in civilian pursuits, since his aim is to please the one who enlisted him. An athlete is not crowned unless he competes according to the rules. It is the hard-working farmer who ought to have the first share of the crops. Think over what I say; for the Lord will give you understanding in everything. (2 Tim. 2:1-7 ESV)
This passage reveals how the Spirit is needed to cause intellectual belief to become heart belief.
In the first six verses of this passage, Paul supplies Timothy with a rather lengthy exhortation on how to be a good leader. He uses three different analogies to make his point: a soldier, an athlete and a farmer.
But then, in verse seven, it seems as though Paul realizes that Timothy is not going to fully grasp what he is trying to communicate. He pauses and writes these words, “Think over what I say [intellectual knowing], for the Lord will give you understanding [interpretation and understanding] in everything” (2 Tim. 2:7 ESV). This is what God’s Spirit does for each of us when He illuminates the Scriptures in our hearts or “opens the eyes of our hearts.” Until this occurs, we are limited to our intellectual knowledge of them.
Timothy can read these words using his intellect, but he needs the Spirit to illuminate them and move their meaning into his heart. This is why Paul instructed him to think over the words he wrote, but then expect the Spirit to illuminate their meaning.
Very often, in a TPM session, people come into an experiential understanding of what they already knew with their intellect. They do not receive new information, but receive illumination of what they intellectually believe. Intellectual belief benefits us, because it provides the Spirit a means of direct communication with us. Since the Scripture is the written Word of God, it is His primary mode of communication to us. Therefore, we need to study and fill our minds with His Word, so we can understand the language He speaks.
The difference between intellectually knowing the Scriptures and experientially knowing them might be described this way: a person reads the passage, “God so loved the world…” and then hears the Spirit say to his heart, “I love you.” Remember, Paul’s letter to Timothy was Scripture. As soon as Paul’s pen touched the parchment, each of his words became the written Word of God. So when Timothy read these words of admonition and instruction, he was reading Scripture, and Paul wanted to ensure that Timothy understood and believed it from the heart.
Unless the Spirit illuminates the truth you have studied, or even committed to memory, it remains just knowledge. It is the Spirit who “gives you understanding in everything.”
Intellectual knowledge alone will not transform us, because “…the Word of God is living and active and sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing as far as the division of soul and spirit, of both joints and marrow, and able to judge the thoughts and intentions of the heart” (Heb. 4:12). This happens only as the Spirit wields the sword. Bible study and memorization are beneficial because they equip us with knowledge, providing the Spirit with a “sword” to expose our inner motivations and to communicate with us.
When God illuminates His truth, He is granting me “a spirit of wisdom and of revelation in the knowledge of Him…” and opening the eyes of my heart so that I “… will know what is the hope of His calling…” (Eph. 1:17-18). When He does this He is not giving me a new revelation, but rather a personal understanding of what He has already spoken. When I say something to one of my children and they don’t connect with what I said the first time around, I might follow up with, “Let me explain what I just said”. When God grants a “spirit of wisdom and revelation”, He is explaining, at heart level, what was initially only comprehended at the intellectual level.
Illumination Versus Revelation
To make myself perfectly clear, I have not said that God is granting new revelation to anyone. I believe that the written Word is God’s final revelation of truth. I do believe He illuminates this same truth within our hearts, making it experientially realized, and, therefore, making it feel true. He is revealing to our hearts what He has already revealed within His Word. We can fill our minds with intellectual truth, but only the Spirit can renew our minds, resulting in genuine and eternal transformation. Only He can persuade us of the truth within our hearts. He is the One who provides the needed truth(perspective). Only He can bring about the desired transformation—from believing a lie to believing the truth. When the truth we hold intellectually is made experiential by the Spirit, it becomes faith supported by the truth as described by the writer of Hebrews, who said, “Faith is the ASSURANCE of things hoped for and the CONVICTION of things not seen” (Heb. 11:1). When the Spirit persuades me of His truth, I believe. This heart belief supersedes my intellectual belief and is expressed in the passage that says, “…to know the love of Christ which surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled up to all the fullness of God” (Eph. 3:19).
Faith that transforms us is truth experientially believed, with absolute certainty. Faith goes beyond intellectual knowledge and is established and settled in the heart. Genuine faith never waivers or falters under pressure or fire, but becomes stronger. It is not deterred or impeded by doubt, since doubt is never found in the context of genuine faith. Faith is not something we are capable of producing, nor does it require our effort to sustain or maintain it. Faith has nothing to do with hoping for something to come about. Faith is the “assurance of things hoped for.” We are not hoping that God will do something. We believe that He is doing something.
Faith is granted by God and, when given, it is established and sure. God grants us His faith relationally and experientially. It is personal and enduring. When God grants us faith by supplying us with “a spirit of wisdom and revelation”, the “eyes of our hearts” will be opened and we will know that we “know that we know.”