What does it mean that even the demons believe (James 2:19)?Question: "What does it mean that even the demons believe (James 2:19)?"
Answer: James 2:19 says, “You believe that God is one. You do well; the demons also believe, and shudder.” James is showcasing the difference between mental agreement and a genuine saving faith. Many people were claiming that, because they believed in the God of Moses and they could chant Deuteronomy 6:4, which says, “Hear, O Israel! The LORD is our God, the LORD is one!” they were right with God. James shatters that false hope by comparing that kind of belief to the knowledge held by Satan and his demons. If all that is required for salvation is mental agreement with the truth about God, then Satan and the demons can be saved, too. They know it is all true. Satan’s minions are more aware of God’s reality than most people, yet the demons are not right with God. The demons may believe some things that are true about God, but they’re certainly not saved.
So what is the difference between the demons’ belief and the faith required for eternal salvation? Fortunately, James does not leave us to wonder. The rest of the chapter goes on to explain that faith without any resulting action is useless (James 2:20). The kind of faith that saves us is the kind that changes us. We can understand this better through an illustration:
Imagine standing on the brink of the Grand Canyon. A narrow suspension footbridge spans the canyon. It dips in the middle, sways slightly in the wind, and has a few planks missing. Standing with you on the edge is the architect of that bridge. He is world-renowned for his designs, and he holds the plans in his hand. He asks if you have faith in his bridge. You eagerly reply, “Yes! I have faith in you. I believe that bridge will hold my weight.” But real faith does not remain on the brink of the canyon. That is only hope. Faith is when you step out onto the bridge and begin walking across the chasm.
So it is with salvation. The demons know more than we do about the awesome power of God. They watched Jesus Christ come to earth, live as a man, and then be crucified (Matthew 20:28). They trembled in horror as the God-Man rose from the dead and walked out of the tomb (1 Corinthians 15:3–8). They saw Him ascend back into heaven, and they believe that Jesus is the Son of God (see Mark 1:24). But demons do not have saving faith, and neither do we if that is where our faith ends.
The difference between the demon’s faith and saving faith is a question of lordship. Who is the boss of my life? To whom have I entrusted my life and my future? Who has the final say on my lifestyle decisions? Demons have already made their choice to follow Satan (Revelation 12:3–9). For our faith to be of a different variety, we must surrender our lives to God’s control. We must forsake all lesser loves in order to put Him first in our hearts. Jesus said plainly that, if we love anything or anyone more than Him, we are not worthy of Him (Matthew 10:37–38).
It’s not enough to believe in God. The demons believe in God, but they do not love God. They believe that Jesus is God’s Son and that He died on the cross for the sins of humanity, but they do not care. They know He rose from the dead, but that fact does not affect their allegiance. Many people are in the same category, not realizing that what they call “faith” is nothing more than what the demons possess. Perhaps they prayed a prayer, got baptized, or went to church, but the direction of their lives never changed. They remain the undisputed sovereigns over their own lives. Jesus told us what it costs to become His followers: “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself, take up his cross daily, and follow me” (Luke 9:23). That cross we must carry represents death to the right to direct our own lives. Without that cross-carrying, we are still standing on the brink of the Grand Canyon.
People may believe in God, angels, heaven, and hell, yet never trust Christ as their Lord and Savior. They are satisfied with a demon-level belief that will never save them from God’s righteous punishment (Romans 6:23; Revelation 21:8). We can escape the demons’ fate, however (Matthew 25:41). We each have the opportunity to bow our hearts to the lordship of Jesus and humbly receive the forgiveness of sins. God offers to us what He does not offer demons—a chance to be adopted into His family as His own children (Galatians 4:5–6). It is a free gift that costs us everything we are (Luke 9:24). But the rewards are never-ending (Matthew 25:21; Psalm 23:6).
Recommended Resources: James, MacArthur New Testament Commentary by John MacArthur
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What does it mean that even the demons believe (James 2:19)?