My last post about the freeness of grace generated a lot of conversation. Every time I teach or write on the wondrous grace of God that is ours in Christ Jesus someone invariably replies, “Even the demons believe!” For some reason they must feel that referring me to James 2:19 will cause me to recant, or at least to qualify my claim that the gift of eternal life is conditioned only by belief.
Not because I don’t want people to disagree with me, but because I don’t think that James 2:19 teaches that the demons’ belief unravels the promises of God that those who believe in Jesus receive eternal life.
Here are five reasons why James 2:19 doesn’t rock my grace boat:
1) The Greek verb translated “believe” and the noun translated faith mean simple trust. And that simple translation, “trust,” works fine in this sentence.
2) When I believed in Jesus Christ, I trusted in Him as the One who made payment for my sins. The demons haven’t trusted in God as the One they are going depend on. They rebelled openly in His very presence.
3) What the demons believe, or trust in, if you read carefully, is that God is one. Well of course they tremble and fear. They trust in the absolute truth that God is one and that they are living in rebellion against Him. This explains why they spoke openly with the Lord Jesus in the Gospels. They knew who He was because He had tossed them out of heaven.
Let me illustrate the difference between what the demons believe about Jesus and what we believe as New Testament Christians. I’ve voted in a number of presidential elections. Sometimes my candidate, the one I trusted in, won. Often, the one I didn’t trust in won. Every time my candidate didn’t win, I still “believed” that he was the President. I trusted in the fact that he had power over my life, I just didn’t believe in him as a good President. In the same way, the demons “believe” that Jesus is God, they just refused to trust in Him and what He said about their place in the universe.
4) The specific context of the “dead faith” discussion of James 2:14-25 is the contention by some that we Christians can believe that God will take care of the poor and needy, but we really don’t need to do anything to demonstrate to them that our God really cares. James’s point is clear: Faith that just claims promises for others is dead or useless to them. James 2 is a call to prove to a watching world that our God gives us power to live selflessly, not a call to prove that we have really “believed” in Jesus as our Savior.
5) The laminated promises of God overwhelm the very few verses that have been used by legalists to challenge the freeness of the Gospel.
Christian, you can be sure of this: When you believed in Jesus Christ, you received eternal life (John 6:47) … and it was absolutely free (3:24).
Question: Do you see the difference between believing something about a person and believing in that person?