Faith Like Demons?

Posted by Worldview Warriors On Sunday, April 14, 2019 0 comments

by Logan Ames

A few years ago, I participated in a weight-loss challenge at the office where I was working. I did very well and ended up in second place, but the guy who won was a good friend of mine who dropped about 16 pounds in one month! Once the challenge was over, most of us who worked so hard to lose that weight in order to win went back to eating red meat and carbs. It didn’t take long for the weight to find its rightful spot back around our midsections. I remember speaking to the guy that won the challenge after we had all gained the weight back. We were talking about how difficult it is to keep it off and all the excuses for why we can’t do it. The man then turned to me and said, “Then again, Logan, I guess if it mattered that much to me, I’d figure out a way to make it happen!”

That conversation illustrates the difference between talking the talk and walking the walk. We can talk so much about how important something is to us, but our actions will reveal whether or not it’s true. We are used to defining what we “believe” by processing what we feel and think, but what we truly believe is shown through action. That’s why James focuses so much on showing our faith through good works in his letter to the early Church. In James 2:18-19, he explains that claiming to have faith but not showing it through action puts us among not very good company: “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. You believe that there is one God. Good! Even the demons believe that - and shudder."

In this passage, it seems pretty clear that James is addressing something that had become a problem in the early Church. Previously in his letter (James 2:8-13), he emphasized that breaking even one law makes a person guilty of breaking the whole law in the eyes of God, and that because of their realization of their own sinfulness and inability to earn salvation through works, they should treat everyone they encounter with the same mercy God has shown them. Now, he felt it was important to address those who had gone too far to the other extreme - living as though works are completely unnecessary because they can’t save a person. So, he throws down the challenge to anyone who thinks they know better than him. He invites them to reveal their faith without any good works and he will in turn show his faith by pointing to the corresponding evidence in his life through good works.

Evidently, there were some in the early Church, or at least James feared there were some, who treated faith and deeds as separate spiritual gifts. They would say, “It’s fine for you to have deeds. That’s great for you! But that’s just not something God blessed me with." James knows this is nonsense and he does not want to take the chance of allowing such theology to spread through the Church, so he decides to address it in his letter. He wants to make it clear that doing good works as a Christian is not a special “gift" but a requirement for all believers to reveal their faith to others.

This doesn’t necessarily mean we have to be constantly searching for good things to do. Jesus told us we would have trouble in this world (John 16:33), which means there are opportunities all around us to live out our faith boldly in the midst of difficulty and even to help others who are in trouble. We also know that temptation is all around us in this world. The Lord told Cain in Genesis 4:7, “Sin is crouching at your door; it desires to have you, but you must master it." Even Jesus Himself faced temptation a lot more often than we realize. We know about his temptation in the wilderness for forty days and nights, but at the end of it, Luke tells us, “When the devil had finished all this tempting, he left him until an opportune time” (Luke 4:13). In other words, the devil wasn’t done with Jesus. Enduring trials, helping others who are in trouble, and resisting temptation are all “deeds” that we don’t have to go out and seek because they are part of the natural course of life for the Christian.

James knows that his challenge for those who ignore the need for good deeds can’t really be completed. His statement has the kind of striking sarcasm that reminds me of Elijah mocking the prophets of Baal and the false god of Baal itself (1 Kings 18:27). James’ point is that no one can “see” a person’s faith unless there are visible works. If you are a manager and one of your employees tells you they are sick, you would have to trust them unless you are physically in their presence when some of the symptoms reveal themselves. In the same way, anyone can say, “I have faith," but the only way to verify that what they are saying is true is to look at the accompanying works in their lives.

After he challenges them to find a way to show their faith without deeds, James tells his audience that believing there is only one God makes a person no different than the demons, who also “believe” in God, yet do not act on that belief other than to tremble at God’s very presence because they know He has power over them. If faith only means to “believe in God” and nothing more, than even the demons and Satan himself are faithful. Since their “faith” is not accompanied by action, it is dead and does nothing for them or anyone else.

I don’t know about you, but I certainly don’t want my faith to be like that of the demons. I want my faith to be something that others can see by the ways I love others and do works associated with my faith, all while understanding it is not any of MY works that saves me, but the work that Jesus did on the cross. Paul understood that salvation was a free gift from God, yet he still wrote to the believers at Philippi, “Continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling” (Philippians 2:12). This is not the same kind of fear that the demons have. The demons shudder in the presence of God because they know He can end them. We also know it, but we’ve been set free from that fear because we know of God’s love for us, and “perfect love drives out fear” (1 John 4:18). The fear and trembling with which we work out our salvation is based on the knowledge that not doing things God’s way will have lasting natural consequences for us. Fear can be a great motivator. For example, realizing the reality of cancer and other diseases might influence you to quit smoking. The possibility of losing your family ought to help you resist the temptation to lust or cheat.

What Paul tells us has to do with each of us individually. Sometimes we care so much for the salvation of others but neglect to work out our own salvation. As you reflect on your own spiritual life today, is your faith like that of the demons, or is it being worked out continuously? Is your belief in God something others can see? If not, I challenge you to see the Holy Spirit and ask Him to create a clean heart and a renewed desire to do His good works within you today.

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