You believe that God is one; you do well. Even the demons believe—and shudder! Do you want to be shown, you foolish person, that faith apart from works is useless? Was not Abraham our father justified by works when he offered up his son Isaac on the altar? James 2:19-21 ESV
From James chapter 2, James refers to two kinds of faith: true faith and sham. The true kind of faith is characterized “by deeds done in the humility that comes from wisdom” (James 3:13). The second kind is a demonstration of dead orthodoxy that is nothing more than a series of doctrinal statements accurately reflecting the teachings of Scripture. For example, the Jews recite their creed: “Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God, the LORD is one” (Deuteronomy 6:4). But if faith is merely a reciting of the familiar words of this creed—although the words are thoroughly scriptural—it has become a cold intellectual exercise that has nothing to do with a faith flowing from the heart. Then James gets to the point of his illustration. He says, “You believe that God is one; you do well. Even the demons believe—and shudder!” However, no fallen angel can claim salvation because of that honest faith. In a similar fashion, the man who gives only his mental assent to a scriptural truth, without displaying commitment and surrender to the God he professes, is empty of true faith. That kind of faith is nothing more than a sham and is dead. If a person has only knowledge that God is one and has no living faith in God through Jesus Christ, James says he is worse than demons for at least the “demons believe and shudder.” The demons’ knowledge of the Son of God made them shudder, but that knowledge could not save them. Knowledge without faith is worthless. In order to prove his point, James turns to the Scriptures to show that historically faith and works are the two sides of the same coin. He addresses his opponent directly and urges him to learn from the teachings of God’s Word. James was blunt in his assessment by asking this question: “Do you want to be shown, you foolish person, that faith apart from works is useless?” (James 2:20). He is saying, “Search the Scriptures and you will learn that faith without deeds is useless. Take Abraham, the father of believers, as an example.” Whenever a Jewish person discusses the topic of faith, he would consistently turn to the faith of Abraham. As a Jew writing to his fellow Jewish Christians, when James says “Abraham our father,” he is not emphasizing physical descent or pride in being part of the Jewish race. He is stressing the concept of righteousness as the outcome of faith. Abraham was considered righteous in the sight of God, because he trusted him to the point of sacrificing Isaac the son of the promise (see Genesis 22:2, 9). The incident of Abraham sustaining the test of faith, when God told him to sacrifice his son, is one of the highlights in the life of the patriarch. Abraham showed unreserved obedience to God. Such kind of faith is what pleases God. “Abram believed the Lord, and the Lord counted him as righteous because of his faith” (Genesis 15:6 NLT).