The word of the day is “demons.” In today’s reading of James 2:14-26, the apostle explores the question of faith and works. For James, “works” are necessary to faith for its “perfection” (vs. 22) that is, its “expression” (vs. 14-16), “fruitfulness” (vs. 16), and “completion” (vs.22 Strong’s #5048).
As the apostle argues his point, he makes a startling statement: “You believe that there is one God. You do well. Even the demons believe—and tremble” (OSB vs. 2:19). The devil and his accomplices, the demons, are not atheists. Nor are they skeptics. In the Gospels, we find that the demons confess who Jesus is. They say that they know that He is the “Holy One of God” (Mark 1:24). Again, the man possessed of a demon shouted, “What have I to do with You, Jesus, Son of the Most High God? I implore You by God that You do not torment me” (Mark 5:7).
The Demons Believe
Accordingly, the apostle writes that the demons believe that “God is one” (vs. 22). The demons not only believe that God exists. They believe in the founding principle of our faith, the “Oneness” of God, the Holy Trinity. Moreover, they believe that Jesus of Nazareth is the Son of God.
James says that these beliefs are “well and good.” By this irony, the apostle shows that beliefs, that is “certainties” or “convictions” (Strong’s #4100) of things that are known about God, have no saving power. Beliefs that this or that is true about God and the Lord Jesus Christ cannot justify anyone, even if they are true.
Knowledge Without Trust
Rather, knowledge without trust in God should make us “tremble” with the devil and his hosts. The term “tremble” means to “shudder” or “shiver” (Strong’s #5425). Those who have a cerebral idea of God should be horrified that the Creator, Ruler, and Judge of the world exists.
In contrast to belief, faith brings us into a relationship with this Almighty, All-Powerful, and All-Holy God. Like Abraham (vs. 23), by faith, we become a “friend of God” not His enemy (Romans 5:10). Faith, therefore, is living trust in the One, True, and Merciful God. In this relationship, our desire is to do the will of God. By faith, we are saved, and by faith we do works that are pleasing to our Heavenly Father. Our belief becomes trust, and trust becomes loving obedience to God.
Today’s reading has implications for our witness to our faith. To bring others to the knowledge of the Orthodox faith in Jesus Christ, we need not become walking references of the things that can be known about God and His Church. Rather our witness should be an expression of the closeness of our relationship with the Lord. Therefore, we should share our faith in Christ by words, but, more important, by our deeds. Our way of life is the most powerful witness to the truth of God. Thus Paul says, “Only let your manner of life be worthy of the gospel of Christ” (ESV Philippians 1:27) [i]). By it, those who are aliens to God, however much they know about Him, can become friends, friends who are justified by their faith and their works.
[i] The OSB translates, “Only let your conduct be worthy of the gospel of Christ.”