James 2:14 begins a discussion of faith without works and includes a vivid point by James that even the demons believe and tremble (James 2:19). The “faith” of demons is useless, even though they tremble at what they know to be true. People who say they “believe” in God while showing no evidence of faith have a level of “belief” similar to that of demons.
James illustrates the usefulness of works for showing mercy (James 2:13) by hypothetically asking what use it is to have faith without works and questioning rhetorically whether that faith can deliver a person (James 2:14). If the faith is not accompanied by works, it cannot deliver a person from his need, as in the case of a brother or sister who needs food (James 2:15). If the one who has faith does not meet the need, the people with the need remain in need (James 2:16). That faith is dead by itself—it is not useful for delivering someone from a need (James 2:17).
James offers another hypothetical in James 2:18: someone might suggest that people show their faith in different ways (some with works and some without). James disputes that hypothetical, reminding his readers that faith without works is of no use (James 2:20). Before he makes that assertion of the uselessness of faith without works, James addresses the hypothetical person in his example (evident by his use of the singular pronoun, though when he addresses his readers, he uses the plural). James challenges those who believe God is one: even the demons believe that much—and they tremble (James 2:19). The demons aren’t changing their behavior—they are not meeting needs or having mercy on others—despite their knowledge of who God is.
In pointing out that even demons believe certain things about God, James implies that one who has faith but isn’t showing it by his works is in a practical sense of no more usefulness than those demons. One’s faith doesn’t deliver others from need, the works do (James 2:16). One’s faith doesn’t provide mercy to someone, the works do (James 2:13). James further reminds his readers, whom he has already identified as brothers who have faith in Jesus Christ (James 2:1), that Abraham was justified by his works when he offered Isaac as a sacrifice (James 2:21) and that, when Abraham took that action, the Scripture was fulfilled that said Abraham had been justified by belief in God (James 2:23, quoting Genesis 15:6).
James is keenly aware that Abraham had been justified by faith (in Genesis 15:6) more than a decade before he offered Isaac (in Genesis 22). Abraham had been declared righteous by God long before that act of sacrifice, and Paul affirms that Abraham was justified by his faith (Romans 3:28—5:1) and not by works. So, James is clearly talking about a different kind of justification; when he refers to the fact that the demons believe and tremble (James 2:19), James is not talking about justification before God (or God’s declaring the person righteous). Instead, James is talking about an evident or useful righteousness that people can see, a righteousness that shows mercy (James 2:13) and meets needs (James 2:16). James is talking about justification before people—suggesting that one cannot show faith (to people) without good works (James 2:18).
James adds that it would be foolish to think one could demonstrate faith without works (James 2:20). If James is referring to justification by God rather than justification before people, then he and Paul are directly in conflict with each other (compare James 2:24 and Romans 3:28). Paul’s context is considering how one becomes righteous before God (Romans 3:28), and James discusses how one puts that to practical use. We show our faith to other people by showing mercy (James 2:13) and meeting needs (James 2:16).
The demons believe and tremble (James 2:19), yet they don’t show people mercy or meet needs—their knowledge of God doesn’t result in changed behavior. James expects more from those who are brothers and have believed in Jesus Christ (James 2:1).
It is very important to understand who our adversary the Devil is, and what he is able to do. We must be careful not to attribute to him abilities and honors that belong to God and Him alone. The Bible says the following about the limitations of the Devil.
1. Not Opposite Of God
Though he would like people to think so, he is not the opposite of God. God is all-powerful, everywhere present, and all-knowing. Satan is none of these. He does not have unlimited power, he cannot be everywhere at once, and he does not know everything. He is a created, limited being. He depends upon God for his existence.
2. Approaches As A Subordinate
When Satan approached God, he did not come as an equal, but rather as a subordinate.
Now there was a day when the sons of God came to present themselves before the LORD, and Satan also came among them (Job 1:6).
3. Cannot Tempt Without God’s Permission
Satan was unable to tempt Jesus without the permission of the Holy Spirit.
Then Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the Devil (Matthew 4:1).
He also could not tempt Job without God’s permission.
And the LORD said to Satan, “Behold, all that he has is in your power; only do not lay a hand on his person.” So Satan went out from the presence of the LORD (Job 1:12).
4. Cannot Influence Nature Without God’s Permission
When it came to influencing nature, Satan was not able to do it without God’s permission.
And the Lord said unto Satan, Behold, all that he has is in your power; only upon himself put not forth your hand. So Satan went forth from the presence of the Lord. . . . While he [a servant] was yet speaking, there came also another, and said, The fire of God is fallen from heaven, and has burned up the sheep and the servants, and consumed them; and I only am escaped alone to tell you. and, behold, there came a great wind from the wilderness, and struck the four corners of the house, and it fell upon the young men, and they are dead; and I only am escaped alone to tell you (Job 1:12,16,19).
5. Cannot Physically Harm Without God’s Permission
When Satan wanted to physically harm Job, he had to first ask God’s permission.
The LORD said to Satan, “Where have you come from?” Satan answered the LORD, “From going to and fro on the earth, and from walking up and down on it.” The LORD said to Satan, “Have you considered my servant Job? There is no one like him on the earth, a blameless and upright man who fears God and turns away from evil. He still persists in his integrity, although you incited me against him, to destroy him for no reason.” Then Satan answered the LORD, “Skin for skin! All that people have they will give to save their lives. But stretch out your hand now and touch his bone and his flesh, and he will curse you to your face.” The LORD said to Satan, “Very well, he is in your power” (Job 2:2-6).
6. Kill Without God’s Permission
Satan cannot take a human life without first getting God’s permission.
The LORD said to Satan, “Very well, he is in your power; only spare his life” (Job 2:6).
The Bible does say that Satan has the power of death.
Since the children have flesh and blood, He too shared in their humanity so that by His death He might destroy him who holds the power of death, that is, the Devil (Hebrews 2:14).
However this does not mean that he has the ultimate authority to cause people to die, only God has that authority.
7. Cannot Touch At All Without God’s Permission
Satan cannot even touch a believer without the permission of God. Satan complained to the Lord about this.
Have you not put a fence around him and his house and all that he has, on every side? You have blessed the work of his hands, and his possessions have increased in the land (Job 1:10).
God has placed a fence around each believer protecting them from the Devil.
We know that those who are born of God do not sin, but the one who was born of God protects them, and the evil one does not touch them (1 John 5:18).
8. Cannot Mention Believer’s Name Without Permission
We also discover that Satan cannot even mention the name of Job until God allows him to do so.
And the Lord said unto Satan, have you considered My servant Job? for there is none like him in the earth, a blameless and an upright man, one that fears God, and turns away from evil. He still holds fast his integrity, although you moved Me against him, to destroy him without cause (Job 2:3).
9. Cannot Force Believers To Do Anything
In addition, Satan has no power unless it be granted him by God. Those who have trusted in Jesus Christ have been freed from the authority of the Devil. God said.
to open their eyes, in order to turn them from darkness to light, and from the power of Satan to God, that they may receive forgiveness of sins and an inheritance among those who are sanctified by faith in Me (Acts 26:18).
Satan, therefore has no authority over the believer.
10. Cannot Read Our Thoughts
Because he is a created being, Satan cannot read our thoughts. He is not all-knowing like the LORD. It is God alone that knows everything – including our thoughts.
Have you not known? Have you not heard? The LORD is the everlasting God, the Creator of the ends of the earth. He does not faint or grow weary; His understanding is unsearchable (Isaiah 40:28).
then hear in heaven Your dwelling place, forgive, act, and render to all whose hearts You know – according to all their ways, for only You know what is in every human heart – (1 Kings 8:39)
The LORD knows our thoughts (Psalm 94:11).
Jesus, who is the LORD, also knew people’s thoughts.
But Jesus, knowing their thoughts, said, “Why do you think evil in your hearts? (Matthew 9:4)
The lack of being able to know our thoughts is another limitation in the character of Satan.
11. Does Not Know The Future
Only God knows what is going to occur in the future.
Remember the former things of old, for I am God, and there is no other; I am God, and there is none like Me, declaring the end from the beginning, and from ancient times things that are not yet done, saying, ‘My counsel shall stand, and I will do all My pleasure’ (Isaiah 46:9,10).
Neither Satan, angels, or demons know what will happen next.
12. Does Not Know What We Dreamed
Only someone speaking through the power of God can know what people dream.
Daniel answered the king, “No wise men, enchanters, magicians, or diviners can show to the king the mystery that the king is asking, but there is a God in heaven who reveals mysteries, and He has disclosed to King Nebuchadnezzar what will happen at the end of days. Your dream and the visions of your head as you lay in bed were these” (Daniel 2:27,28).
Satan has no such power.
13. He Is A Coward
In spite of all his bluster and rage, he is a coward. The Bible says:
Be subject therefore unto God; but resist the Devil, and he will flee from you (James 4:7).
14. Believers Are Victorious
Scripture says that believers are ultimately victorious.
But thanks be unto God, who always leads us in triumph in Christ, and makes manifest through us the savor of His knowledge in every place (2 Corinthians 2:14).
Without God’s permission, Satan is not able to do anything. He cannot create or search the human heart. Therefore the conflict between God and Satan is not really a struggle between two great equal and opposing powers with the outcome still in doubt. ALL Power and Authority belongs to God and Him alone.