What does James 2:19 mean?
ESV: You believe that God is one; you do well. Even the demons believe—and shudder!
NIV: You believe that there is one God. Good! Even the demons believe that--and shudder.
NASB: You believe that God is one. You do well; the demons also believe, and shudder.
CSB: You believe that God is one. Good! Even the demons believe--and they shudder.
NLT: You say you have faith, for you believe that there is one God. Good for you! Even the demons believe this, and they tremble in terror.
KJV: Thou believest that there is one God; thou doest well: the devils also believe, and tremble.
Verse Commentary:
James continues making his point that genuine saving faith in Christ results in doing good works. This includes loving other believers, and obeying our Father. It is not enough to simply agree to certain facts about God. It is not enough to claim to be a believer. Saving, living faith is a trust in God which naturally results in certain actions. It means living out the truth with our everyday choices.

This verse is perhaps the strongest statement in Scripture on the difference between "knowing about" God and "trusting in" God. This is key to the concept of saving faith. The question James asks in verse 14 goes hand-in-hand with his statement here. Knowledge is not the same as trust, or obedience, or saving faith. After all, James argues, even demons believe that "God is one"—and they shudder in fear of Him. It's not enough to agree that the thing is true. Real faith in God personally responds to that truth with trust and obedience.

The statement that "God is one" may have been a reference to one of the central ideas of Judaism. Known as the Shema, it is found in Deuteronomy 6:4: "Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one." Every one of James's Jewish readers would have grown up agreeing with that truth.

James's point is that it is not enough to just agree. That puts those who talk about God, but fail to act in ways consistent with that belief, in the same category as demons. It means knowing, but not trusting. It means "dead faith," rather than "saving faith." The danger of this condition is that a self-assured "religious" person can spend their entire lives in simple agreement without ever crossing over into true and living faith.
Verse Context:
James 2:14–26 makes the case that how one acts—their ''works''—are a sign of the kind of ''faith'' they possess. So-called-''faith'' which doesn't lead a person to participate in good works is not a saving faith; it is a dead thing. It is pointless and meaningless to believe, or ''wish,'' a poverty-stricken person to be well, if such an opinion leads to no action. In exactly the same way, James insists that it is not enough to mentally agree about certain facts of God. If what a person believes about God does not lead them to act accordingly, then their ''faith'' is not saving faith. It is merely opinion. James never says that faith is not essential for salvation. He never claims works are required to obtain or keep salvation. He is, however, crystal clear that truly saving faith cannot be separated from the evidence of good works.
Chapter Summary:
Genuine saving faith in God leads to good and loving actions: ''works.'' In chapter 1, James discussed the importance of acting on the words of God, not merely hearing them. Favoritism to the rich over the poor demonstrates a lack of faith. In fact, this is a sin. Following up on these ideas, James insists that ''faith'' which doesn't result in good works is dead. Such belief is merely intellectual agreement. It is not trust, or true, biblical saving faith. James doesn't deny that belief in God is essential to salvation, nor does he claim that works are necessary to obtain salvation. Rather, he makes the case that works are to faith what the breath is to the body: a sign of life. A ''faith'' without works is like a body without breath: dead.
Chapter Context:
In chapter 1, James taught that a saving belief in God changes how a Christian looks at trials in their lives. It affects where they turn for help, and who they credit for good. Believers hear the Word and do it. In this chapter, James insists that our faith in God should keep us from showing favoritism to the rich and powerful on earth and should provoke us to love our poor neighbors as ourselves. He also makes the case that so-called-''faith'' which does not result in works, is not saving faith, at all. Despite controversy, this does not clash with Paul's view of salvation by grace alone. James refers to good works as an expected outcome of salvation, not the source of it. In the following chapters, he will continue to show what a life of genuine faith looks like.
Book Summary:
The book of James is about specifically understanding what saving faith looks like. How does faith in Christ reveal itself in a believer's life? What choices does real trust in God lead us to make? Those are the questions James answers. Most scholars believe the writer was Jesus' half-brother, a son born to Joseph and Mary after Jesus' birth. James may not have come to believe Jesus was the Messiah until after the resurrection. Eventually, though, he became one of the leaders of the Christian church in Jerusalem. This is possibly the earliest-written of all the New Testament books, around AD 40–50. James addresses his letter to Jewish Christians scattered around the known world.
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