Folks who endorse a theology where your salvation is, in one way or the other, up to you, always want to point us to James…”see, the demons believe and shudder!”
Yes! The demons actions are fitting and appropriate for their belief. Why aren’t yours?! That’s the point. Don’t turn off your brain when you come to James. Don’t allow your fear and theological bias to dictate your exegesis, like does Shamblin.
Here is an argument aimed at helping you think through James 2:14-26.
To the degree that James expects his readers to be able to see the inadequacies of faith without works–and he does (2:14,20), he cannot be talking about that thing through which man is declared not guilty before God. In other words, he cannot be talking about either faith or justification in the same way that Paul does. Why is this? If man were able to just identify that thing through which man becomes not guilty before God, man would not need special revelation to reveal such. However, man does need special revelation to reveal such. (No one is in a position to know the gospel until it is revealed.) Therefore, James is not talking about that through which man becomes justified before God. (Note: being declared not guilty before God is an external relationship to man, a relationship that man is not able to have acquaintance with, like he is with the (internal) relationships of say, his being in pain or his being appeared to redly. And as such, man can’t just tell if he is in this special external relationship by introspection.) Man can, however, tell, for example, whether (A) his “profession” or “claim” of faith is matched with the expected and appropriate actions for that confession (the demons believe and shudder–what do you do?), (B) his alleged faith is perhaps merely alleged or (C) his alleged faith is of any earthly good at all.
In the form of an argument, we have this.
(1) Man cannot just tell the soteriological (salvific) usefulness of anything. Period.
(2) Whatever James is talking about is something that he expects us to be able to tell it’s usefulness.
(3) Therefore, whatever James is talking about, he is not talking about the soteriological usefulness of anything whatsoever.
Note: what I have said here is, of course, just one piece of the theological puzzle. The greater and more significant question, relevant to this debate, is this: whether our salvation is or is not up to us, why isn’t the Biblical data clearer on this matter? This is the greater issue. Anyone who tells you that the Biblical data is as clear as we could hope for is simply being dishonest. For example, if our salvation is up to us, why are there passages that would implicate or indicate that it isn’t? And, if our salvation is not up to us, then why are their passages that implicate that it is? This is a sophisticated theological question. Don’t blindly follow anyone who doesn’t acknowledge the genuine state of the Biblical data and don’t follow anyone who can’t give you a good answer to this question, an answer that doesn’t undermine the Biblical data.