We will be blessed if we are obedient to God’s Word. “Now then, my children, listen to me; blessed are those who keep my ways. Listen to my instruction and be wise; do not disregard it. Blessed are those who listen to me, watching daily at my doors, waiting at my doorway.” (Prov. 8:32-34) The next chapter tells us: “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom, and knowledge of the Holy One is understanding.” (Prov. 9:10)
We must reverance the Lord and seek His wisdom in order to know how He wants us to live. The reason is that obedience not only brings us a personal blessing, but also makes us an effective witness for the Lord–for His purpose. “Therefore, my dear friends, as you have always obeyed—not only in my presence, but now much more in my absence—continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you to will and to act in order to fulfill his good purpose. Do everything without grumbling or arguing, so that you may become blameless and pure, ‘children of God without fault in a warped and crooked generation.’ Then you will shine among them like stars in the sky as you hold firmly to the word of life. And then I will be able to boast on the day of Christ that I did not run or labor in vain.” (Phil. 2:12-16)
Just yesterday a friend reminded me that even Satan’s minions tremble at Jesus. What is the difference in our working out our salvation with fear and trembling and what demons do? Scripture tells us: “You believe that there is one God. You do well. Even the demons believe—and tremble!” (James 2:19) James is showcasing the difference between mental agreement and a genuine saving faith. Many people were claiming that, because they believed in the God of Moses and they could chant “Hear, O Israel! The LORD is our God, the LORD is one!” (Deut. 6:4), and they were right with God. James shatters that false hope by comparing that kind of belief to the knowledge held by Satan and his demons.
If all that is required for salvation is mental agreement with the truth about God, then Satan and the demons can be saved, too. They know it is all true. Satan’s minions are more aware of God’s reality than most people, yet the demons are not right with God. The demons may believe some things that are true about God, but they’re certainly not saved.
So what is the difference between the demons’ belief and the faith required for eternal salvation? Fortunately, James does not leave us to wonder. The rest of the chapter goes on to explain that faith without any resulting action is useless (James 2:20). The kind of faith that saves us is the kind that changes us. We can understand this better through an illustration:
Imagine standing on the brink of the Grand Canyon. A narrow suspension footbridge spans the canyon. It dips in the middle, sways slightly in the wind, and has a few planks missing. Standing with you on the edge is the architect of that bridge. He is world-renowned for his designs, and he holds the plans in his hand. He asks if you have faith in his bridge. You eagerly reply, “Yes! I have faith in you. I believe that bridge will hold my weight.” But real faith does not remain on the brink of the canyon. That is only hope. Faith is when you step out onto the bridge and begin walking across the chasm.
So it is with salvation. The demons know more than we do about the awesome power of God. They watched Jesus Christ come to earth, live as a man, and then be crucified (Matt. 20:28). They trembled in horror as the God-Man rose from the dead and walked out of the tomb (1 Cor. 15:3–8). They saw Him ascend back into heaven, and they believe that Jesus is the Son of God (see Mark 1:24). But demons do not have saving faith, and neither do we if that is where our faith ends.
The difference between the demon’s faith and saving faith is a question of lordship. Who is the boss of my life? To whom have I entrusted my life and my future? Who has the final say on my lifestyle decisions? Demons have already made their choice to follow Satan (Rev. 12:3–9). For our faith to be of a different variety, we must surrender our lives to God’s control. We must forsake all lesser loves in order to put Him first in our hearts. Jesus said plainly that, if we love anything or anyone more than Him, we are not worthy of Him (Matt. 10:37–38).
It’s not enough to believe in God. The demons believe in God, but they do not love God. They believe that Jesus is God’s Son and that He died on the cross for the sins of humanity, but they do not care. They know He rose from the dead, but that fact does not affect their allegiance.
Many people are in the same category, not realizing that what they call “faith” is nothing more than what the demons possess. Perhaps they prayed a prayer, got baptized, or went to church, but the direction of their lives never changed. They remain the undisputed sovereigns over their own lives. Jesus told us what it costs to become His followers: “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself, take up his cross daily, and follow me” (Luke 9:23). That cross we must carry represents death to the right to direct our own lives. Without that cross-carrying, we are still standing on the brink of the Grand Canyon.
People may believe in God, angels, heaven, and hell, yet never trust Christ as their Lord and Savior. They are satisfied with a demon-level belief that will never save them from God’s righteous punishment (Rom. 6:23; Rev. 21:8). We can escape the demons’ fate, however (Matt. 25:41). We each have the opportunity to bow our hearts to the lordship of Jesus and humbly receive the forgiveness of sins. God offers to us what He does not offer demons—a chance to be adopted into His family as His own children (Gal. 4:5–6). It is a free gift that costs us everything we are (Luke 9:24). But the rewards are never-ending (Matt. 25:21; Ps. 23:6).
To “continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling”, we must give all that we have and all that we are to the Lord for His use and His purposes. When we walk along the path He lights for us, trusting in Him fully and completely, we are allowing Him to work in us for His glory!
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