The Book of James provides spiritual teachings and practical advice for believers on how to live a life of Christian obedience that is motivated by a genuine love for God.
The passages in the Book of James are one of the most frequently quoted in the Bible: James 2:19 in particular is a Bible verse that instigates discussion amongst scholars and believers, due to its challenging content that even demons believe in the monotheist sovereignty of God.
You believe that there is one God. Good! Even the demons believe that — and shudder.
Therefore, what does James 2:19 actually mean?
Who Knows More about God?
The Bible contains many scriptures that give evidence that demons not only know who God is, but that they also acknowledge Him as the One true God of heaven and earth.
When demons encounter Jesus, they address Him as the Son of God. Consider the man in the synagogue, who had been possessed by an evil spirit:
“What do you want with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are — the Holy One of God!” (Mark 1:24).
Not only do demons know who God is, they are well-versed in Scripture. When Satan tempts Jesus in the wilderness, he tries to convince Jesus to betray His father and commit sin by using God’s Word against Him (Matthew 4:1-11).
However, as Satan is aware of the power of Scripture, Jesus can banish His adversary with the Word:
Jesus said to him, “Away from me, Satan! For it is written: ‘Worship the Lord your God and serve him only.’” Then the devil left him, and angels came and attended him (Matthew 4:10).
Whereas demons believe in God and know Him, many humans on the other hand still struggle to believe in His existence, let alone acknowledge His omniscient power. “He (Jesus) was amazed at their lack of faith” (Mark 6:6).
Hence, when James writes in James 2:19 that even demons believe, he is referring to the fact that demons, unlike some humans, know that God is real and that they are aware of the power of His Word.
The Presence of God Makes Demon Shudder
James 2:19 proclaims that not only do demons know that the Lord is the One true God, but they also shudder in fear at the knowledge of this infallible truth.
Why is this?
Humans receive redemption through salvation and spiritual victory through a revelation of God’s Word, both of which are liberating.
Demons, however, have always been aware of God’s superiority towards them; additionally, their knowledge of the scriptures foretells that their fate is eternal punishment at His hands:
Then he will say to those on his left, “Depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels” (Matthew 25:41).
Human confrontation with God produces love, kindness, peace, faithfulness generosity, and self-control (Galatians 5:22) that is derived from our trust in Him and is thereby freeing.
Per contra, demonic confrontation produces fear, anger, violence, rebelliousness, and eventually eternal imprisonment.
Consider the reaction of a legion of demons who Jesus is expelling from a man in Matthew 8:29:
“What do you want with us, Son of God?” they shouted. “Have you come here to torture us before the appointed time?”
Not only do the demons immediately recognize Jesus at a time when His ministry is yet virtually unknown to man, they also panic at His appearance and fear that their foretold fate has arrived early.
Demons Fear that Our Genuine Faith Will Further God’s Kingdom
As the successive leader of the first church — the Church of Jerusalem, James’ missive, is intended for his congregants (James 2:1), as well as Jewish Christians who have fled persecution and are now in exile in Phoenicia, Cyprus, and Antioch (Acts 11:19) around AD 48.
A key concern that James addresses are the false teachings that have infiltrated the early church, which pose not only as a threat to an individual’s salvation but endanger the very foundations of the Bride of Christ.
Hence, James earnestly wishes to give revelation to the believers on how to live a life that reflects the heart attitude and servitude that Jesus displayed during His ministry on earth, which will bless others and further God’s ultimate goal of the Great Commission (Matthew 28:19).
How does James do this?
The foundation for James’ argument assumes that his readers have knowledge of God and acknowledge Him as the “One True God” (James 2:19).
James’ Jewish readers would recognize this reference through the reciting of the Shema, which is prayed daily in morning and evening services with its first verse deriving from Deuteronomy 6:4, “Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one.”
Though it is certainly important to acknowledge God’s sovereignty and possess knowledge of the scriptures, James instructs his readers that God also requires us to surrender our emotions, thoughts, and actions to His will.
This sacrifice is an act of love from us, that generates genuine faith. Consequently, this living faith promotes good works in us that motivate us to lead lives that fulfill God’s purposes on earth, that bless others, and help lead the lost and broken to Christ.
For the only way that others will see our faith and be thus encouraged to receive salvation, is through our God-induced behavior.
1 Peter 1:15 further supports this: “But just as he who called you is holy, so be holy in all you do.”
Therefore, James’ appeal is to not just be knowledgeable in the Word but to also be executors of the Word.
Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says(James 1:22).
By actively pursuing our faith, we loosen God’s Sovereign power on earth (Matthew 18:18) and consequently foil any evil plans of the enemy. Demons know this.
Demons Rely on Humans Not Practicing Faith
If humans insist on believing in God, then it is the hope of hell and its occupants that our faith remains inactive (C.S. Lewis).
James warns us, however, that faith, “by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead” (James 2:17).
James illustrates this clearly in James 2:15-16:
Suppose a brother or a sister is without clothes and daily food. If one of you says to them, “Go in peace; keep warm and well fed,” but does nothing about their physical needs, what good is it?
On the opposite scale, if we perform deeds that are not inspired by faith in God, then these good acts are fruitless, “as a person is considered righteous by what they do and not by faith alone” (James 2:24).
James 2:19 Responds to a Refutation
Although James was highly respected, his bold statement of James 2:17 must have surely raised a few questions. James reflects this doubt through a counterargument instigated by a figurative interlocutor:
But someone will say, “You have faith; I have deeds.” Show me your faith without deeds, and I will show you my faith by my deeds (James 2:18).
How does James respond to this refutation? He replies with James 2:19, fully aware that if demons know that deeds without faith are futile, then what possible argument can humans have to support this false belief?
In today’s broken world, many of us remain spiritual captives through ignorance of God and rebelliousness at His apparent responsibility for the suffering and misfortune that we are currently enduring.
Instead of worshiping Him, we worship idols of our own making and call them money, prestige, self-interest, and more.
If demons can acknowledge the ultimate sovereignty of God, why is it that we, who God loves so much and for whom He sacrificed His only Son, should choose to turn away from Him?
How would today’s world look if were to accept God’s gift of an eternal relationship with Him and step out boldly in trust and faith? How much suffering could be avoided?
It is definitely something to ruminate on.
Photo Credit: ©iStock/Getty Images Plus/Trifonenko
Madeline Kalu is a Christian writer and the co-founder of Jacob’s Ladder Blog. She was born in England, was raised in Australia, and currently lives in Germany with her husband Solomon. Madeline is in recovery from burnout, chronic depression, and anxiety. She believes that God can take life’s adversities and work them out for His good; hence, she uses her writing voice to raise awareness of mental illness, as well as to spread the light of God’s love to those who are mentally trapped in the dark, and provide them with hope and encouragement.