Tuesday, 16 July 2019
You believe that there is one God. You do well. Even the demons believe—and tremble! James 2:19
The word “you” is singular and it is in the emphatic position, and so James – writing to a Jewish audience – implies that the individual is self-deceived if he claims to have faith and yet has no works. The structure of the first part of this verse varies a bit between manuscripts –
You believe that One is the God.
You believe that the God One is.
Either way, God is the formal object, and it is speaking of the oneness of God, not so much the fact that there is one God – although that is to be understood. This then is in line with the proclamation of Moses which is recorded in Deuteronomy 6:4 –
“Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one!”
James uses this statement of faith in order to highlight the belief in the monotheistic God who is also Triune in nature – Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. In emphatically stating to each person in his audience that they believe God is One, he is preparing them for his next words to show how little that actually means all by itself, even though it is a good thing. As he says, “You do well.”
Jews believed this all along, ever since Moses proclaimed it to the people. James says that this is commendable. It demonstrates faith in the words of Moses concerning God’s nature. However, that is only good to a certain point. He shows this by saying, “Even the demons believe.”
The Oneness of God is understood by the demons, just as it is to those humans who accept the premise. Both accept the same truth. However, James continues. They believe “and tremble!”
The word James uses is found only here in Scripture, phrissó. It originally meant “to be rough on the surface,” and thus “to bristle.” From this one gets the sense of hair standing on its end from terror. It is more than to tremble, but to shudder. It carries the sense of horror at the knowledge. This is what James is referring to, and it is something that is intended to point to the Oneness of God, despite speaking of faith in Jesus. In other words, He is indicating that faith in Jesus is faith in God. This is confirmed by the accounts of demons being faced with the presence of Jesus as recorded in the gospels, such as –
“When He had come to the other side, to the country of the Gergesenes, there met Him two demon-possessed men, coming out of the tombs, exceedingly fierce, so that no one could pass that way. 29 And suddenly they cried out, saying, ‘What have we to do with You, Jesus, You Son of God? Have You come here to torment us before the time?’” Matthew 8:28, 29
These demons had a knowledge of Jesus, including that He is fully God. As James says, “God is One.” But these are demons. James is saying to his audience that just because someone knows God is One, it doesn’t mean that their knowledge is backed up by anything of further value. If the demons believed this and backed it up with action, they would not be demons set for destruction, but angels who would forever stand before God praising Him. James’ point is, “Where do you stand? On belief alone, or belief plus acting on your belief.”
Life application: Most rational people will believe there is one God, regardless of how they exercise that faith, so James is saying that this is nothing special. In fact, even the demons believe this, but they shudder at that knowledge. Why? Because they believe in God from first-hand knowledge! Their belief is more than general faith, and that knowledge tells them they will receive their sentence in due time.
How many times have you heard someone say, “I believe in God,” and then you watch them live lives of ungodliness? This is irrational because someone who believes in God and lives that way hasn’t thought the whole thing through. However, the demons have. They know that judgment awaits, and yet they continue on their reckless path. This is what James is talking about.
Misdirected faith is wasted faith. If you are a Jehovah’s Witness, a Mormon, etc., then you obviously believe in God. However, your faith is misdirected and it is therefore useless. God isn’t contradictory and His word is not to be manipulated. Rather, it is to be believed as written. You believe that God is One. Good! Don’t waste your faith in Him then. Exercise it appropriately unto salvation and proper action. Call on Jesus, who is God.
O God, we believe in You, and we believe that Your word is true. Give us wisdom in understanding it more each day. Grant us to know Your ways, faith that isn’t dead, and the desire to accomplish deeds that will be pleasing to You. May our lives be as examples to others of faithful Christians who honor You in all ways. Amen.