Even the demons
Updated: Oct 23, 2021
You believe that there is one God. Good! Even the demons believe that - and shudder.
The three sentences quoted above come from the New Testament book of James. The question is, what is James getting at? He's talking about the issue of saving faith. It's not enough to believe there is a God. Why even the demons believe that. So what exactly is saving faith?
Here is what else James has to say about the question:
What good is it, my brothers and sisters, if someone claims to have faith but has no deeds? Can such faith save them? Suppose a brother or a sister is without clothes and daily food. If one of you says to them, “Go in peace; keep warm and well fed,” but does nothing about their physical needs, what good is it? In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead.
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. You foolish person, do you want evidence that faith without deeds is useless? Was not our father Abraham considered righteous for what he did when he offered his son Isaac on the altar? You see that his faith and his actions were working together, and his faith was made complete by what he did. And the scripture was fulfilled that says,
Abraham believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness, and he was called God’s friend. You see that a person is considered righteous by what they do and not by faith alone.
In the same way, was not even Rahab the prostitute considered righteous for what she did when she gave lodging to the spies and sent them off in a different direction? As the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without deeds is dead.
The question of saving faith remains of vital importance today, even for the believer.
Sally Swanson reminds me of this. Sally died shortly after COVID struck the US. But she didn't succumb to the virus; instead, she died as the result of congestive heart failure.
In one of my last phone calls with Sally before she died, we spoke about a recent conversation that she had with a relative. The relative, of Baptist persuasion, had asked years ago if she was saved. Sally had been taken back by the question. She thought that it was a strange thing to ask someone who was a lifelong Christian such as herself. Her relative's question bothered Sally down through the years; so much so that she brought it up in the conversation she recently had with him.
This highlights one of the distinctions between Baptists and Lutherans. Baptists and other evangelicals used to ask the question: Have you been born again? These days the question might be something like: Have you invited Christ into your heart? Have you accepted Him as your personal Lord and Savior?
Although I disagree with the theology behind such questions, I can understand why Baptists and other evangelicals ask them. Many people are nominal Christians; Christians in name only. They don't attend church. They don't read their Bibles. They don't pray. And, yet, because they were baptized years ago, and/or attended Sunday school once upon a time, or grew up in a Christian household, if asked, they would say that their religion is Christian, or Lutheran. Which leads me back to the question posed by James: What exactly is saving faith?
As you might imagine, Martin Luther had a thing or two to say about saving faith. Here are a few of his thoughts and insights:
Faith is an unceasing and constant looking which turns the eyes upon nothing but Christ, the victor over sin and death and the giver of righteousness, salvation, and life eternal. This is why Paul, in his epistles, sets Jesus Christ before us and teaches about Him in almost every single verse. But he sets Him before us through the Word, for in no other way can He be grasped except by faith in the Word.
You must stay with the Person of Christ. When you have Him, you have all; but you have also lost all when you lose Him.
Whoever wants to know God, love God, worship God, and serve God should learn to know Christ aright, should love Christ, should worship Christ and serve Him. To know, love, worship and serve God without Christ is impossible.
Christianity is nothing but the constant practicing of this passage, namely, being convinced that you have no sin although you have sinned, that your sins rest on Christ, who is the eternal savior from sin, death and hell.
The Gospel cannot be preached and heard enough, for it cannot be grasped well enough. We preach nothing new; but we are forever and incessantly preaching about the man called Jesus Christ, true God and man, who died for our sins and was raised from the dead for our justification. But although we are forever preaching and repeating this message, we shall never be able to grasp it sufficiently.
What about the Bible? What does it have to say about saving faith?
Then they asked him, “What must we do to do the works God requires?” Jesus answered, “The work of God is this: to believe in the one He has sent.” (John 6:28-29)
The word is near you; it is in your mouth and in your heart, that is, the word of faith we are proclaiming: That if you confess with your mouth, “Jesus is Lord,” and believe in your hearts that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved. For it is with your heart that you believe and are justified, and it is with your mouth that you confess and are saved. (Romans 10:8b-10)
Now, brothers and sisters, I want to remind you of the gospel I preached to you, which you received and on which you have taken your stand. By this gospel you are saved, if you hold firmly to the word I preached to you. Otherwise, you have believed in vain. For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that He was buried, that He was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures.... (1 Corinthians 15:1-4)
We must pay more careful attention, therefore, to what we have heard, so that we do not drift away. For if the message spoken by angels was binding, and every violation and disobedience received its just punishment, how shall we escape if we ignore such a great salvation? (Hebrews 2:1-3a)
For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through Him. Whoever believes in Him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned already because they have not believed in the name of God's one and only Son. (John 3:17-18)
Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life, but whoever rejects the Son will not see life, for God's wrath remains on them. (John 3:36)
God has given us eternal life, and this life is in His Son. Whoever has the Son has life; whoever does not have the Son of God does not have life. (1 John 5:11b-12)
But these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in His name. (John 20:31)