On the Difference Between Demon Belief and Christian Belief

by Bethany

Highlighted Text: James 2:17, 24
Full Text: Isaiah 8:1-9:7; James 2

Knowledge | It’s easy to hear a sermon or read a book and think that, because we have understood what the minister has said or what the author has written, we have grown closer to God [1]. After all, knowledge and understanding are essential parts of the Christian faith and even Paul mourned for those with “zeal for God, but not according to knowledge” [2]. Belief in God, however, is more than an intellectual assent. As James writes, “Even the demons believe – and shudder!” [3] In other words, the demons know that Jesus is Lord, but their knowledge doesn’t lead to repentance. Their belief doesn’t change how they live.

Action | Christian faith is more than a cognitive belief that the person of Jesus exists. It is a deep and abiding trust that clings to and relies upon Jesus as Lord. Believers are those who treasure God and seek to live out His Word. Thus, the point of hearing the Word is not simply to know it; the point of hearing is to do it [4]. As James writes, “Faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead … A person is justified by works and not by faith alone” [5].

Reconciliation | Yet Paul says that we are justified by faith alone, not works [6]. Is James contradicting Paul? No. James is showing what justifying faith looks like [7]. Even Paul knows that his message of “salvation by faith alone” is subject to abuse and, therefore, he writes, “What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin that grace may abound? By no means! How can we who died to sin still live in it?” [8] In other words, “We’re saved by faith alone, but never a faith that remains alone,” as Tim Keller has put it [9]. That is saving and justifying faith – a faith that is accompanied by actions or, as Paul says, “a faith working through love” [10].

Prayer | Lord, We praise you because you did not just say that you were love [11]; you came in the person of Jesus Christ to show your steadfast and abounding love to us. Therefore, we praise you for refining our faith, testing it to make sure that it is justifying and saving faith, as we saw yesterday [12]. Make us be doers of the Word, not hearers only. Amen.



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[1] Dever, Mark; John MacArthur (2005-11-30). The Message of the New Testament: Promises Kept (p. 431). Good News Publishers/Crossway Books. Kindle Edition.  |  [2] See Romans 10:1-4 ESV  |  [3] James 2:19 ESV  |  [4] James 1:22 ESV  |  [5] James 2:17, 24 ESV  |  [6] See Romans 4:1-12; Ephesians 2:1-10.  |  [7] For additional reflection on reconciling the statements of James and Paul, see John Piper, “Does James Contradict Paul?” 8 August 1999 (sermon).  |  [8] Romans 6:1-2 ESV  |  [9] Tim said this at the recent marriage conference at Redeemer Presbyterian Church (3/31/12). Similarly, in Essential Truths of the Christian Faith, R.C. Sproul writes, “Though our good works add no merit to our faith before God, and though the sole condition of our justification is our faith in Christ, if good works do not follow from our profession of faith, it is a clear indication that we do not possess justifying faith. The Reformed formula is ‘We are justified by faith alone, but not by a faith that is alone.’ True justification always results in the process of sanctification. If there is justification, sanctification will inevitably follow. If sanctification does not follow, it is certain that justification depends or rests upon sanctification. Justification depends on true faith, which in turn will inevitably lead to works of obedience. When James declared that faith without works is dead, he asserted that such ‘faith’ cannot justify anyone because it is not alive. Living faith produces good works, but these good works are not the basis for justification. Only the merit achieved by Jesus Christ can justify the sinner.” Chapter: “Faith and Works”. Thomas Nelson Publishing, 1992, p. 191  |  [10] See Gal. 5:6 ESV  |  [11] See 1 John 4:8  |  [12] 843 Acres. “On Being Made Durable for Living and Suited for Glory.” 9 May 2012.

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3 Responses to “On the Difference Between Demon Belief and Christian Belief”

  1. Hi Bethany. I hope you have been and are well. Thanks again for your thoughtful daily devotionals. As usual, I have a question that I hope you might be able to shed some light on. It doesn’t pertain directly to the faith vs. works “problem,” but it pertain to the theological “problem” of righteousness, or justification. If it is the case that only faith in Jesus’ finished work justifies (makes one righteous before God), what do we make of all of the OT characters who are proclaimed righteous before God? Moreover, and perhaps even more importantly, what do we make of the remarks made by Jesus himself when he claims that he did not come to save the righteous, but only the sick? It seems to me that this term “righteousness” is pretty ambiguous. Any ideas? Thanks again for everything.

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