JAMES 2:19 If the Demons Believe In God, Then Why Are They Not Saved?

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James 2:19 Updated American Standard Version (UASV)
19 You believe that God is one. You do well; the demons also believe, and shudder.

The Bible difficulty here is that the Bible says that for one to receive salvation, they must “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved.” (Ac 16:31) Also, John3:16 says, “everyone trusting in him [Jesus] will not be destroyed but have eternal life.” (John 3:16). Other translations read, “whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.” (ESV, NASB, LEB, CSB, et.) The apostle Paul says salvation comes “to the one who does not work but believes in him.” (Rom. 4:5) If these verses are the case, and all that one must do is believe in Jesus, and he will receive salvation, why not the demons, as James said, “the demons also believe”?

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The answer lies within the word “believe.”  Believe, faith, Trust in: (Gr. pisteuo) If pisteuo is followed by the Greek preposition eis, (“into, in, among,” accusative case), it is generally rendered “trusting in” or “trust in.” (John 3:16, 36; 12:36; 14:1) The grammatical construction of the Greek verb pisteuo “believe” followed by the Greek preposition eis “into” in the accusative gives us the sense of having faith into Jesus, putting faith in, trusting in Jesus.

Why Is the Greek verb pisteuo (faith, Believe, trust in) rendered differently at times?

John 3:16 Updated American Standard Version (UASV)

16 For God so loved the world that he gave his only-begotten Son, in order that everyone trusting in him will not be destroyed but have eternal life.

John 3:36 Updated American Standard Version (UASV)

36 The one trusting in the Son has eternal life, but the one who disobeys the Son will not see life, but the wrath of God remains on him.

A Grammar of New Testament Greek series, by James Moulton, says, “The importance of the difference between mere belief … and personal trust.”[1] Both these senses can be conveyed using the Greek word pisteuo. The context helps us to identify the different senses of the meaning of pisteuo. Then again, we also have other grammatical constructions that convey what the Bible author meant by his use of the word. When pisteuo is simply followed by a noun in the dative case, it is merely rendered as “believe,” such as the chief priest and elders’ response to Jesus at Matthew 21:25, “If we say, ‘From heaven,’ he will say to us, ‘Why then did you not believe him?’ However, in Romans 4:3, we have pisteuo followed by a noun in the dative in the Updated American Standard Version, yet it is rendered “For what does the Scripture say? “Abraham put faith in God, and it was credited to him as righteousness.” (The ASV, RSV, ESV, NASB, and others have “Abraham believed God”)

If pisteuo is followed by the Greek preposition epi, “on,” it can be rendered “believe in” or believe on.” At Matthew 27:42, it reads, “we will believe in him [i.e., Jesus].” In Acts 16:31, it reads, “And they said, Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved …” (KJV, UASV similarly) What is the difference between “believing in Jesus” and “believing on Jesus”? Believing in Jesus is merely acknowledging that he exists while believing on Jesus is to accept absolutely, have no doubt or uncertainty, trust in, put faith in or trust in, and exercise faith in the Lord Jesus Christ.

If pisteuo is followed by the Greek preposition eis, (“into, in, among,” accusative case), it is generally rendered “trusting in” or “trust in.” (John 3:16, 36; 12:36; 14:1) The grammatical construction of the Greek verb pisteuo “believe” followed by the Greek preposition eis “into” in the accusative gives us the sense of having faith into Jesus, putting faith in, trusting in Jesus.

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You see, we are not talking about a simple belief in but rather exercise a saving kind of faith. Therefore, James is showing his readers that a mere belief in and of itself is not truly a genuine faith, even though it might impact one emotionally. Only genuine faith the produces good works can save. (Jam. 2:17) Yes, it is faith alone that saves us. However, this kind of faith will produce good works. We are not saved by works (Eph. 2:8-9), but genuine faith will produce good works, or it is not genuine faith. The demons are spirit persons who have actually seen God and know very well that he exists and that he is the Creator of all things, including them. Because they know and believe this to be true, it does impact them. Namely, they shudder, as they know that their end is destruction. (Mark 1:24; 2 Pet. 2:4; Jude 6) Therefore, the demons will not be saved because they do not have a saving kind of faith, which leads to good works. Rather, they are in opposition to God. Think of this interesting point, though, none of the demons are atheists or agnostics. These positions are only found among skeptical, doubting humans who say they must see God to accept or believe that he is real.

James’ line of argumentation is the most apparent, rudimentary truth, to which all Christians would agree, specifically, that there is only one Almighty God. However, this is even a universal truth of all religions, who believe there is but one supreme being or God. Of course, James is speaking of the God of the inspired Scriptures. Those who have such a belief or faith is doing quite well, for it is a fundamental belief of all Christians and all religions. Even if this was the only belief or faith someone had, it alone would generate some effects. Moreover, if this fundamental belief that all religious people have does not result in good works, it would be worthless, removing this person from the path of salvation. James is making this argument to the one who incompetently argued that he would be saved if a man had faith. James evidences his statement when he next says:

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The demons also believe and shudder: Yes, even demons have that fundamental belief or faith, which would bring about specific effects on them, yet they would not be saved. In this one claim, James shows that belief is not genuine faith, even with some emotions. Unlike almost all humans, the demons, angelic spirit creatures, have seen God and know he exists and is the Almighty God. They have this knowledge and the belief, which has impacted them emotionally, as they shudder at the idea of the eternal destruction that awaits them. An unclean spirit [demon]; … cried out, saying “What have you to do with us, Jesus the Nazarene? Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are, the Holy One of God.” (Mark 1:23-24) Peter wrote, “For if God did not spare angels when they sinned, but cast them into Tartarus[2] and committed them to pits of darkness, reserved for judgment” (2 Pet. 2:4) Jude wrote, “And the angels who did not keep to their own domain but deserted their proper dwelling place, he has kept in eternal bonds under deep darkness for the judgment of the great day.” (Jude 6) Even though they believe these demons have no hope of salvation, having faith, but not having good works. And the works that they do have are in opposition to God. Who would ever say to a demon, ‘faith is all you need.’ Think about it, not one demon is an atheist or an agnostic. It is only human creatures that hold to such foolish beliefs as atheism and agnosticism. These atheists or agnostics say, “I would have to see God with my own eyes to believe in him or have faith in him. The angelic demons have seen God, and they believe he is the Almighty, but they have no good works as a result.

James, here, exposes the reality that having no works is, in fact, a pseudo-faith. James is comparing the so-called believer, who allegedly has faith as he is without works, to nothing more than the faith of a demon. This would have been a strike at the heart of those who would have been reading his letter, comparing their faith without works to that of a demon. James says you believe that God is one. James then tells these believers if they believe that God is one, then they do well. However, James has clarified that merely believing that God is one is not enough if good works do not accompany it because demons also believe and shudder.

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 Demons are Satan’s fallen angels who serve as his agents against humanity to seduce, tempt, and destroy mankind. James tells his audience how the demons are just like them concerning their belief in God because the demons, just like them, believe that God is one. Every Jew in the days of James would have had the word of Moses as recorded in Deuteronomy 6:4-5 embedded in their hearts. This passage was referred to as the Grand Shema. It would have been quoted daily through prayer and petitions by all Jews living in the days of James. It reads in Deuteronomy 6:4-6 “Hear, O Israel! Jehovah, our God, is one Jehovah! You shall love Jehovah your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your might. These words, which I am commanding you today, shall be on your heart.” This was perhaps the essence of all the spiritual life of every Jew. They were to love God, who had chosen them as his people. He was to be praised and honored in this way because he was the one and only true God, the Creator of heaven and earth and all humanity.

James states that the demons also believe that God is one and is no different from any believer that claims the same thing. However, the demons lack actionable evidence that there is something beyond their belief, i.e., genuine faith. We know from several other parts of the Scriptures that the demons know and believe in God. In fact, they knew that Jesus Christ himself was the Son of the Highest God. The demons clearly evidence their understanding of who Jesus is in the Gospels. – Mark 5:6-7; Mark 1:23-24; Luke 4:40-41.

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It is interesting to note that here in his passage, James uses the word shudder (φρίσσω phrissō), which is the only time that this word is used in the entire New Testament. It means to tremble convulsively as from fear, being terrified. James is making it clear that not only do the demons believe in God, but also it causes a great disturbance and anxiety among them because they know the power and authority that he has over them.  The problem with the demons is that their belief in God consists of just an awareness of his existence and his great power, never drawing close to him. They shudder out of fear because of the authority and power that will eventually result in their eternal destruction, but that is as far as it goes for them. Even though they know God’s great power, they continue to serve Satan.

[1] James Moulton, A Grammar of New Testament Greek, Vol. 1: Prolegomena (London, England: T & T Clark International, 2006), 68.

[2] Tartarus: Greek verb tartaroo (to “cast into Tartarus”) the angels who sinned were cast into the pagan mythological Tartarus, a place of torture or torment. However, in reality, this is not a place; it is a condition, where Satan and his angels are restrained from using some of their former powers, such as materializing in human form.

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