Of Demons and Devils: Understanding James 2:18-19
Horror is Big Business and Good Money
2017 was the best year for horror. According to industry insiders, horror films have become the top earning films in the movie industry, and 2017 saw the profitability of this genera explode. The top three biggest horror flicks of 2017 earned more than $733 million dollars at the box office. When Stephen Kings “It” opened it was projected to earn $81 million dollars on opening weekend. When the stubs were counted it grossed over $123 million. It would seem that betting on horror, the paranormal, and the demonic is good business. If you were a film investor for every $10 you contributed you could expect $200 in return.
It might be argued that belief in the supernatural and specifically the demonic is at something of an all time high. In a somewhat dated study by Gallup, their researchers reveal that 3 out of 4 respondents believe in the paranormal. For all of the data one striking observation is lacking. Non-belief in the spiritual is as dangerous as ignorance about the true nature of what so many choose to believe and entertain themselves with. Many criticize the bible as being out-of-date, out-of-touch, and out-of-acceptance but it is the best source we have for understanding the supernatural, paranormal, even the demonic.
In James 2:18-19 there is a debate recorded about whether faith is genuine if does not motivate a person to good works. The protagonist is arguing that a faith of “word” only is sufficient to be called genuine faith. That is as long as you profess belief in the right things, it really doesn’t matter how you live. James opposes this view with three powerful arguments. First by his own example (vs. 18). Second by pointing that even demons respond to what they believe, by shuddering (vs. 19). Third, by point to past experiences in Jewish history where the faithful acted bolding because of their beliefs (vs. 21-25). Sandwiched between two pieces of historical evidence; i.e. personal experience and the historical experience of the Jews, it seems unlikely that James was appealing to imaginary creatures when he tells us about the shuddering demons.
A Primer on Lucifer, Satan, and his Demons
So just what is a demon? They are none other than angels whose nature was corrupted when they followed Lucifer in his rebellion in heaven against God. Stick with me for a minute while explain that in Ezekiel 28:11-19 the words apply to a earthly ruler who is so corrupt that he stands as the example of Lucifer on earth. In his prophecy against this corrupt king, we learn the history of the rebellion in heaven that caused the angles for become corrupt.
· Verses 12, 14- Lucifer was perfect, wise, beautiful, and possessed honored status in heaven.
· Verse 15 – Lucifer was a righteous being blameless in all of his ways.
· Verse 16 – The pride in Lucifer’s being could not be contained and he led a rebellion against God. We can actually read what the motivation of Lucifer was in Isaiah 14:13-14
“You said in your heart, ‘I will ascend to heaven;
above the stars of God I will set my throne on high…
I will make myself like the Most High”
· Verse 17- in Judgment God case Lucifer out of heaven down to Sheol, that is the place of the dead.
· We also learn from both the Old and New Testament, that in his present state Lucifer (now called Satan) and his agents have access to the world we live in. In Genesis 3:14-15 we see Satan tempting Eve. In Ezekiel 28:11 Satan is seen influencing if not controlling the king of Tyre. In Matthew 4:1-11 Satan tempts Jesus and in multiple references in the New Testament we come to understand the not only Jesus but also His disciples clearly understood that our world is currently under the regency or delegated rule of Satan.
We are fortunate that James wrote what he did about shuddering demons. This single adverb brings a massive amount of understanding about the nature of theses beastly fallen angles.
· First, they are thinking cognitive beings. They are able to know true things and respond in their being to that knowledge.
· Second, we see that even demons have a warped form of morality. They know what’s in their best interest and apparently the knowledge of God causes them to recognize they are in a crisis; God is not for them.
· Third, owing to the fact that angels were created in heaven to attend the very person of God, we can surmise that they have perfect theology proper, that is a complete and accurate knowledge of the Holy One. It’s probably safe to say that their knowledge in an experiential sense, exceeds our own! No man has seen the holiness of God and lived and yet these angles would have ministered in the holy presence of God.
· Fourth, the provide a stunning warning to us about the deception of a faith that does not move us. Let’s explore this further below
FAITH THAT DOES NOT SAVE IS THE FLAVOR OF FAITH TODAY
Consider that never before as so much of humanity has so much access to so much Biblical scholarship and learning. Conference abound, myriads of books are published in more languages than ever before. In the western world Bibles which once were so valuable they were chained to their pulpits, are now mass produced in paperback and left in nearly every hotel room in America. Evangelical theology is more refined and purified that ever before, at least amongst the orthodox. Christianity has won the day, we after all regarded as a ‘Christian’ nation. Notwithstanding these observations, we are also the most decadent, self promoting, pleasure seeking, licentious culture since the Roman empire. We trade in and consume narcotics and human flesh equally creating a black market economy that is the 12th largest in the world representing just over 5% of our National GDP. This exists in a nation where over 70% of people identify as “Christian” and where a solid 25% of identify as Evangelical Christians.
My intent isn’t to be negative, it’s simply to point out the massive chasm that exists between who we identify ourselves as a people, and the behavior which tells a different story. We are a nation that professes Christ as Savior without the corresponding works and fruitfulness of life that the Bible says marks a genuinely born again person.
What’s my point? It’s simply to make this assertion “Does the Bible motivate to action?” If not you may be worse off that the demons. They have enough common sense to shudder at what they know. How much more should we be motivate to bold, faithful, joy-filled living than they who know God perfectly, and perfectly know what their end will be. This is point that James is making, “Faith without works is dead” that is faith that is in word only, that is verbal only and not backed up with conviction and life transformation.
Learn from the demons and respond to what you know and you will be better than them as demonstrating and life that is shaped in response to the Scripture. You have an opportunity they never will have, you have an opportunity to respond positively to the message of the Bible. You have an opportunity to see it’s Gospel transform your life, unlike they who were shown no mercy and who have no hope. That is a plot twist that even the best hollywood movie could never imagine. That is something that is truly worth shuddering over!