Believing Like Demons
By David Feddes
You can believe many truths about God and yet go to hell. You can believe there is one God and go to hell. You can believe the Bible is God’s Word and go to hell. You can believe Jesus is God’s Son and go to hell. You can believe Jesus did miracles and go to hell. You can believe Jesus died on the cross for sinners and go to hell. You can believe Jesus rose from the dead and go to hell. You can believe Jesus is coming again and go to hell. You can believe heaven is real and go to hell. You can believe hell is real‑‑and end up going there.
How do we know someone can believe all these things and still go to hell? Because Satan and his demons believe, and they belong in hell. In James 2:19 the Bible says, “You believe that there is one God. Good! Even the demons believe that‑‑and shudder.” If believing certain facts about God doesn’t save demons, it won’t save you either.
At the time James wrote those words, there many different religious beliefs floating around, some of them pretty wild. Many common folks believed in all sorts of strange gods and goddesses, while some intellectuals believed in no God at all. So people who believed in the one true God saw a big contrast between their own belief and the beliefs of those around them. They knew they were right about God, and some of them began to think that being right about God made them right with God. They thought heaven was guaranteed to anyone who held some correct ideas about God. Still today some people think this way.
God uses James to burst that bubble. Your beliefs may be more accurate than what some of your neighbors believe, but if your faith had nothing more in it than the faith of demons, it is not living, saving faith.
Does this mean it’s unimportant to have accurate beliefs? No, it’s very important. If you don’t believe in the one true God, if you believe in many gods or in no God at all, you will be lost. To reject belief in the true God‑‑especially if you’ve had a chance to hear the Bible’s message‑‑is an awful error which results in damnation. But though it’s necessary to believe in God, it’s not sufficient. There has to be something more.
Think of accurate beliefs as the bones of a skeleton. If we say that something isn’t necessarily alive and healthy just because a skeleton is there, we’re not at all saying that bones and skeletal structure are bad. It’s good to have a skeleton—but it’s not good enough. Every living human has a skeleton, but not every skeleton is a living human. So too, everyone with saving faith has some accurate beliefs about God, but not everyone with some accurate beliefs about God has saving faith.
Demons have many accurate beliefs. They are well informed. When Jesus began his ministry, the demons knew he was the Son of God before most people knew it. Once, when Jesus was teaching, a demon‑possessed man shrieked, “Ha! What do you want with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are‑‑the Holy One of God!” (Luke 4:34). Another time Jesus was near a graveyard when a man possessed by many demons came to him shouting at the top of his voice, “What do you want with me, Jesus, Son of the Most High God? I beg you, don’t torture me!” (Luke 8:28) Jesus drove out the demons and rescued their victims. Those events show Jesus’ power to defeat demons, but the point to notice for our present discussion is that the demons believe in Jesus’ deity and authority. They also believe that Jesus has power to send them to hell, and they don’t want to go there.
So even if you believe God is real, even if you believe some basic facts about Jesus, even if you don’t want to go to hell, there’s nothing in your faith to distinguish it from the faith of demons. If that’s the extent of your belief, you have no sound reason to think that you won’t end up in “the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels” (Matthew 25:41).
Any belief or feeling you have which demons also have cannot be taken as a sure sign of God’s grace in your life. Indeed, there’s a sense in which it’s worse to have accurate beliefs without really trusting and loving God than it is to know little or nothing of the truth. The more facts you know about God without loving him, the more you are like the demons. You are no more assured of salvation than they are.
Satan the Scholar
Demons know more facts about God than any of us, and the most knowledgeable demon of them all is Satan himself. Satan is a superb scholar. He has a brilliant intellect and the best possible training.
Before he rebelled against God, Satan was a splendid archangel with amazing powers, including a mighty mind. When Satan rebelled, he became evil, but he still has many of his powers. He hasn’t become slow‑minded or forgetful. He couldn’t come up with so many clever schemes if he weren’t intelligent. Satan is smarter than any human genius.
He’s also had a better training in theology than any human on the face of the earth. In the words of Jonathan Edwards, Satan was “educated in the best divinity school in the universe, the heaven of heavens.” What seminary or university could ever provide a more thorough training in the things of God than Satan has had? As an archangel Satan spent ages in God’s presence, so he knows God’s power, his wisdom, his justice, his majesty in ways we don’t. He knows that God is Trinity, an eternal union of Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Satan has more detailed, accurate knowledge of God’s characteristics than any of us.
He also has superb knowledge of many of God’s actions. Along with the other angels, Satan was present when God made the world and the stars, so he knows exactly when and how the Lord created earth and skies and plants and animals and people. Satan knows a great deal about God’s actions in the life and work of Jesus Christ. He saw Jesus born, he watched him grow, and he kept track of Jesus’ every move during every moment Christ lived on earth. He saw Jesus die and witnessed his resurrection. Satan also knows the contents of the Bible. When he tempted Jesus, Satan quoted Scripture. He probably knows every verse in the Bible.
Satan the scholar knows more facts about God, more about creation, more about salvation, more about Jesus, more about the Bible, more about heaven, and—to his dismay—more about hell than any of us here on earth can possibly know. Satan and his demons may spread lies denying the existence of God, denying the Creator’s activity, denying that the Bible is God’s Word, denying that Jesus is God, denying the Trinity, denying that Jesus’ blood is the basis of salvation, denying that heaven and hell are real. But although the demons try to fool people about all these matters, they themselves don’t believe these lies for a moment. They know the basics of sound Christian teaching very well, and they believe these basic facts without a shade of doubt. Indeed, the belief of demons is so accurate, strong, and lively that it makes them tremble—and it takes a lot to make demons tremble!
If saving faith were merely a matter of having a mind full of facts, then Satan and his demons would be saved. Indeed, the faith of demons would be considered greater than the faith of any human, since the demons know so much. But in reality the demons aren’t saved at all. They are the worst enemies of God, doomed to the worst punishments of hell—proof that correct belief is not enough to save anyone.
Many people would rather not hear such things, and many preachers would rather not say such things. Many are too rationalistic to think about demons, too self-satisfied to worry about hell, too sentimental to fear that God would punish them, and too sloppy to test their hearts carefully.It’s easier to assume we’re all headed for heaven, regardless of what we’re like. But that’s not true. Many are headed for hell.
We can’t just assume we’re okay with God. We must test ourselves. The Bible urges, “Examine yourselves to see whether you are in the faith; test yourselves. Do you not realize that Christ Jesus is in you—unless, of course, you fail the test” (2 Corinthians 13:5).
Real religion is not just a matter of having correct opinions. To be a genuine Christian is to have God’s life inside you. It’s being able to say truthfully, “Christ lives in me” (Galatians 2:20).
But how can you know whether Jesus Christ is in you? You can’t base your assurance only on correct beliefs. You can believe all sorts of true things about Jesus and yet have no more of Christ’s life in you than a demon has.
To have saving faith‑‑a faith which connects you with Christ and assures you of eternal life‑‑your faith must be different than the faith of demons. But how must it be different? What is it about saving faith that distinguishes it from the faith of those who have all sorts of accurate beliefs about God but are headed for hell?
What are the sure signs of God’s grace and the saving work of his Spirit in your life? A godly attidude and godly actions. True faith is grounded in an attitude toward God which is different from the attitude of demons, and this attitude shows itself in actions that are different from the actions of demons.
The attitude of saving faith is to delight in God, to rejoice that God is who he is, to see beauty in God’s holiness and purity, to glory in the wonderful things he has done in Jesus, to relish the sweetness of the truths revealed in the Bible, and above all to have a supreme satisfaction in all that God is for you in Jesus Christ.
This isn’t just a matter of feeling glad because you think you’ve been saved from hell. It’s a matter of finding the Lord overwhelming attractive, of longing to be with him and enjoy him forever, of valuing and treasuring him far more than any person or thing in your life‑‑including yourself. Saving faith has a sense of God’s beauty, a spiritual taste for God’s goodness.
If you have this kind of appetite for the things of God and enjoyment of God’s goodness in Christ, then your faith is a saving faith that really does differ from the faith of demons. The demons know a lot about God, but they don’t see anything beautiful or lovely or desirable in what they know. They find God repulsive and terrifying. Why? Because they prefer their own way to God’s way, and they know God insists on his way.
How is it possible to know so much about God and his ways and yet be his enemies? Well, think of spies for an enemy intelligence agency. These agents know a great deal about the language, culture, and customs of the nation they oppose, but all their knowledge doesn’t change for a moment the fact that they are enemies. They may know more about the nation than many of its own loyal citizens, but though their head is full of knowledge, their heart is hard and cold toward their enemy. They may fear a day when their side is crushed and a list of secret agents comes to light; they may tremble at the thought of being exposed and punished; but they remain enemy agents, serving another power.
Satan and his demons are an enemy intelligence agency that wants to undermine the rule of God. Deep down they know God will triumph and they will be ruined, but they remain opposed to God. So, too, people who have learned a lot in their heads but still rebel in their hearts are part of enemy intelligence. They know plenty, but in their hearts they have no love for the kingdom they know so much about, and they remain on the wrong side.
But does the story have to end there? Suppose some people start out as enemy agents but somehow begin to change, not just by learning more facts but by experiencing a new attitude. They begin to see and sense things in a way they never have before. They begin to see their enemy’s culture as excellent and noble and satisfying, and their own as empty and rotten. They come to admire the enemy ruler and conclude that his ways are best. As they gain a sense of his excellency, they also get a sense of their own evil. They’re heartbroken that they could ever oppose such a worthy ruler, and they’re sorry for the damage they’ve done to others in his realm. They decide to confess their crimes and throw themselves on the mercy of the ruler.
Now, even if they confessed, they would still have no right to be spared, but their attitude would be the opposite of an agent who kept living as an enemy, who trembled at the thought of getting caught and hoped to avoid punishment, but had no appreciation for the rightful ruler and no desire to live under his laws. If it turned out that the ruler was merciful and provided a way to pardon enemy agents who changed their minds, then former enemies could confess and become loyal, joyful citizens, while those who remained in rebellion would still be condemned.
According to the Bible, Satan and his demons are so hardened that they are beyond the possibility of such a change. People who die without a living faith are also hardened beyond change. But to people who are still on earth, God continues to show his glory and mercy in Christ, and many of his enemies end up becoming loyal citizens through a living faith. If this happens in you, it is nothing less than a rebirth in your soul.
In the marvel of rebirth, a new sense of God’s loveliness and worthiness arises in your soul, accompanied by a deep sorrow at opposing him and hurting others. You know God would be perfectly right to punish you as an enemy, and yet you throw yourself on his mercy, asking him to cover your evil with the blood of Jesus and to count you not as his enemy but as a citizen of his kingdom and even as a member of his family. You have a burning desire to know Jesus better, to enjoy his nearness, and to become more like him. And because you relish his holiness so much, you hate your own sin and want to be free of it. You don’t just want to escape the punishment for sin; you want to escape the sin itself. You don’t just want Jesus’ forgiveness; you want Jesus. You know that if you have everything but Jesus, you have nothing, and that if you have nothing but Jesus, you have everything. This is the attitude of living faith, an attitude totally unlike the faith of demons. And the wonder of it all is that God actually does forgive and adopt and give himself to those who come to him with this kind of attitude.
Without this attitude of prizing God’s glory and looking to Jesus as your all-satisfying Savior, no amount of correct beliefs can save you. To repeat what I said earlier, correct beliefs are good and necessary for a living faith, as the bones of a skeleton are good and necessary for a living body. But beliefs without an attitude of prizing God are like bones with no flesh or life.
Saving faith differs from the belief of demons in attitude and also in action. One test of whether a body is alive is whether it does anything. If it lies still with no detectable movement, breath, or pulse, it’s at best in a coma and is probably dead. In a similar way, one major test of whether your faith is alive or dead is whether it does anything.
Your actions don’t make you alive, but they do show whether you’re alive. The Bible says we’re saved by Jesus, not by our own actions. The right to be God’s child is a gift paid for by Christ; it’s not something you earn. God’s life comes into your soul through the Holy Spirit, not through something you do. But the fact that everything we have comes from Jesus and his Spirit doesn’t mean that faith lies around like a corpse, doing nothing. Once Jesus makes you alive by faith, that God-given life shows up in the way you love God and also in the way you conduct your personal life and in the way you behave toward other people. The Bible says, “Faith without deeds is dead” (James 2:26).
Maybe you’ve come across the idea that you can accept Jesus as Savior without honoring him as Lord. In this view you can get forgiveness and eternal life simply by convincing yourself that Jesus died to save you, without submitting to Jesus as your Master. That’s nonsense.
If you don’t have Jesus as Lord, you don’t have him at all. You can’t cut Jesus into pieces and take a part labeled “Savior” and reject a part labeled Lord. True faith receives the whole Christ and yields the whole self. Jesus didn’t just pay the price for your sins. He paid the price for you. If he saves you, he owns you. The gospel is not just facts to be believed or forgiveness to be received. The gospel is also a Beauty to be savored, a Majesty to be adored, and an Authority to be obeyed.
If you truly love God, you love to hear God speak in the Bible. You love to talk with him in prayer. You love to worship him with other believers. You obey God’s commands and seek to please him. You love other people for Christ’s sake, you treat them fairly, you help those in need, you forgive them as you have been forgiven, and you do to others as you’d want them to do to you. If you have a living faith, you hate sin, you struggle against it, and you seek to be holy in all you do. These actions of living faith are totally unlike the actions of demons.
Growing In Grace
Does this mean that your attitudes and actions will be perfect if you have God’s life in you? No—if you are born of God, you know your sinfulness. But you keep growing in grace and in your ability to overcome sin. A child can be alive without being fully grown. You can be a living child of God and yet not be fully mature and sinless. Even if Christ lives in you, you have a sinful nature that must keep shriveling and a spiritual nature that must keep growing.
A bumper sticker says, “Christians aren’t perfect, just forgiven.” There’s an element of truth in that, but it can be misleading. Christians aren’t perfect, be we are growing and changing. We aren’t just stuck in the same old sinful rut. We’re not just forgiven but are also being transformed in our attitudes and actions. If there’s no growth and transformation, we have no reason to think that we belong to Christ at all. God’s forgiving grace is always accompanied by God’s transforming grace. Every saved person is growing in grace.
Do you have a living faith? Do you see evidence that Christ is in you and that you are growing in grace? Test your attitude and actions.
Is your attitude alive with a taste for God’s excellence? Do you treasure all that God is for you in Christ Jesus? Do you relish the Lord and rest your confidence in him?
And what about your actions? Don’t just focus on a past experience but on present conduct. Does your present pattern of behavior show that you are alive in Christ? You’re not yet perfect, of course, but do your actions show that you are growing in love and holiness?
Check your vital signs. Check your attitude and actions. Is your faith really alive, or do you merely believe the way demons believe?
If you don’t have God’s life inside you, you need to know that—the sooner, the better. False confidence is fatal. If you can’t detect clear evidence of God’s life in you, don’t assume you’ll make it to heaven anyway. Don’t fool yourself. Instead, recognize your predicament and plead for God’s mercy and new life in Christ.
If you do find solid evidence that Christ is living in you, then rejoice and be certain that God is your Father. One old-time Christian said that he would rather see the real marks of a godlike nature upon his soul than to have a vision from heaven or an angel tell him his name was written in the book of life. You don’t need a stunning experience to be sure of salvation. You can be assured of your faith by its fruits.
By David Feddes. Originally broadcasted on the Back to God Hour and published in The Radio Pulpit.