“You believe that there is one God. You do well. Even the demons believe–and tremble!”
I hold the view that faith is faith. Saving faith is not a special kind of faith. What makes saving faith saving is the object, not some supposed special type of faith. I do not believe that there is even one passage in the Bible which speaks of a faith which is spurious–that is, a faith which is less than genuine faith.
Well, then, people ask, what about the faith of demons as reported in James 2:19? Surely that isn’t genuine faith! After all, demons clearly aren’t saved.
Point 1: Anyone who believes in God is saved.
Point 2: Demons are not saved.
Conclusion: Demons do not really believe in God.
The logic seems inescapable. Indeed, it is, if the first two points are correct.
The second point in this syllogism is clearly correct. Jesus died for human beings, not for demons. Demons are lost and can never be saved. They know that. They know that they will suffer forever. On one occasion they said to Jesus, “What have we to do with you, Jesus, You Son of God? Have you come here to torment us before the time?” (Matt 8:29)
The problem is with the first part of the syllogism. It is plainly incorrect.
Eternal life is given to those who believe that Jesus Christ was speaking the truth when He said, “He who believes in Me has everlasting life” (John 6:47).
However, James 2:19 is not talking about trusting Jesus Christ and Him alone for eternal life. Rather, it is talking about belief in monotheism (i.e., belief that there is only one God).
The faith of demons is valid (yet not saving) if two questions can be answered affirmatively: (1) Is its object truly trustworthy? and (2) Is it honestly held? For example, one can genuinely believe things that are utterly false; but such faith is not valid in that its object is not trustworthy. Similarly, if a person professes to believe something he really doesn’t believe, his claim that he believes is dishonest.
This, then, leads to the application of these two questions to the faith of demons as reported in James 2:19.
Is monotheism true? If monotheism is not true, then the faith of demons is misplaced–like the faith of those who believe that the world is flat–even though it may be sincere and genuine.
Monotheism, however, is true! James picks monotheism since it is an indisputable fact.*
Do demons really believe in monotheism? We all recognize that a person can say that he believes in something when in reality he doesn’t believe it. Con men and politicians do this all the time.
So, the question is, are demons trying to con people into thinking they believe in monotheism when, in fact, they don’t? Of course not! Note that in our passage we read that the demons “tremble” as a result of their belief in monotheism! In fact, demons also believe in the deity of Christ (see Matt 8:29).
Demons “truly” believe in monotheism. Scripture tells us that they do.
Belief in monotheism is not saving. There will be many people (as well as all demons) in hell who during this life believed in monotheism. Think about how many people in cults and world religions believe in monotheism and yet do not believe in Jesus and Him alone for eternal life. The number is surely exceedingly large.
There will be people in hell who were very orthodox in many points of theology. A person can believe in monotheism, trinitarianism, premillennialism, the deity of Christ, the inerrancy of Scripture, and many other points and yet still be trusting at least in part in their own works to get them to heaven.
In fact, a person can even believe in Jesus’ substitutionary death and still be unsaved! Ask any devout Catholic or Protestant if Jesus died on the Cross for their sins and they will respond with a heartfelt and genuine “YES!” Yet many of those same people are not trusting in Jesus Christ and Him alone for eternal life. They are trusting in what Jesus did on the Cross plus their own good works.
Saving faith is not a unique kind of faith. Faith is faith. What makes saving faith saving is the object.
The object of faith which results in life eternal is the promise of God to the believer. God promises eternal life to all who rely on Jesus and Him alone for it: “He who believes in Me has everlasting life.” I believe Him. How about you?
Some hold that the words of James 2:19 belong not to James but to a hypothetical objector whom James introduces for the sake of argument in v 18. This would not, however, change the points being made here.