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You believe that God is one. You do well; the demons also believe, and shudder. (James 2:19)
James’ next 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 basic 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 if a man has faith, he would be saved. James evidences his statement when he next says:
The demons also believe and shudder: Yes, even demons have that sort of basic belief or faith, which would bring about certain effects on them, yet they would not be saved. In this one claim, James shows that belief is not genuine faith, even if it has some emotions. Unlike almost all humans, the demons, angelic spirit creatures, have seen God and know that 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 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 made it clear that merely believing that God is one is not enough if good works do not accompany it because demons also believe and shudder.
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.
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.
 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.