So also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead.
You believe that God is one; you do well. Even the demons believe—and shudder!
Cramming thoughts on James 2:17 into a 400-word blog post (or a 50 minute sermon for that matter) is like shoehorning an elephant into a matchbox. Impossible. Volumes upon volumes have been written on this text; a reminder of the depth and complexity of God’s Word. The deeper we peer into it, the more complexity we see in it and in our own hearts.
Instead, let’s make one connection between verse 17 and verse 19. James, inspired by the Holy Spirit, gives us something to consider. He tells us that there is a level of information about God that even demonic beings readily acknowledge as true. Demonic theology may have some measure of technical orthodoxy, but it has no action or obedience in response.
Let’s be honest, we don’t think about demons everyday. But we should think about this; how does your faith in Christ look to yourself and the world around you today. Think back on the past 24 hours; how have you demonstrated your faith with works? Have you held your tongue? Have you prayed for wisdom? Have you served the tangible needs of another in spite of your selfish desires? Have you asked someone to forgive you and modeled the gospel of grace?
The point is not to doubt your right standing in Christ based on your works, if you are a believer in Jesus. Instead, we need to be reminded we have been…”redeem(ed) from all lawlessness and to purify for himself a people for his own possession who are zealous for good works.” (Titus 2:14) We have been saved to good works.
But where there is a misfire between what we know to be true about God and our actions, there is sin to be repented of. When our theology and practice, our faith and works, are disconnected, we are more like a demon than a Christian, if we are prideful and unrepentant. We cannot be deceived into thinking because we know the right answers we always do the right thing.
As you think on this today, consider these things. First, the gospel of grace is that even though we constantly get it wrong, we are right before God in Jesus. Second, from this identity in Christ, we are able to do good works that please God. And finally, we live in broken world where Satan and demons are subtly active and definitely real. Rather than looking for the extraordinary, we should examine our own pride and hypocrisy, to stand on guard against the enemy.
For further reading: Ja. 3:13-15, Eph. 6:12-18, 2 Cor. 11:14, Phil. 1:6, Tit. 2:12-14.