I think this is where people like HOI point out the "convenience" of the Bible. What James said is fairly straightforward, faith without works is empty. How is it that "we can only be saved through faith alone in Jesus" can only be translated one way yet what James writes can be seen in different ways?
Because it's unfair and often misleading to pull a single verse out of the Bible...you need to recognize context and how the quote fits into the narrative. It's no different than any other quote. People read into the quote how they would like it. There are numerous of verses in the Bible that talk about salvation being based on grace and faith, and not your works.
For me, the interpretation make sense because as GH says, if work is a requirement, it diminishes faith and what Christ did on the cross. I have no problems with people having different interpretations of what the Bible means, that's a human trait. You read the text, discuss it with other Christians, and ultimately mediate on it through prayer with God.
The example of the thief on the cross is not a good argument against this as not many of us are going to be moments before death talking to Jesus in the flesh and given the opportunity to be contrite.
You can do that whether Jesus is here in the flesh or not. He being in the flesh adds nothing to the equation of your salvation. Your salvation comes from your true acceptance of Him as your savior...nothing more, nothing less.
You are correct, accepting Christ as your savior does change the way you live your life, your works. But I think that's the point that HOI and myself are getting at, too often there are people who claim they are saved. How many Christian leaders have you read about doing un-Christian works? Look at the televangelist scandals, the corruption of leadership of churches (for both power and money) and the sexual abuse issues with Catholic clergy. I'm sure all those people said they accepted Jesus.
1) Just because someone say that they are saved or accept Christ, doesn't mean that they do. Exactly what James is talking about
2) Even if you are saved, it does not mean that you do not sin. I am a Christian but I still have my issues and hangups. You need to separate salvation (accepting Christ) and development.maturity (growing your faith and developing a relationship with Him). The first is simple and requires faith. The latter required faith and action.
Since we can't truly know what is in someone's heart, their actions is really the only thing that helps us as humans understand one's beliefs. To me, faith is practiced... by that I mean lived. Not "practiced" like Allen Iverson but practiced in a sense that it is more than just acceptance of God but also the practical application of that faith so that others see Christ through you, as Jesus said. I guess I should backtrack here as earlier I stated that I know what my path is and where I am headed... it should be I hope I know where I'm headed because as a human, I know that I am fallible and I could do things that cloud that future.
1) It doesn't matter what is in someone else's heart or what their intent is. That's between them and God. I can only account for myself and my relationship with God.
2) Again, you are mixing up salvation with development. You can receive salvation but not mature as a Christian. Two different standards.
No one is perfect, many people believe in God and think that's enough, but to me, it's more than that. How many Sunday Christians do you know? How many holiday Christians? Now please don't mistake this as a criticism, but prior to this thread, how many TI members would have guessed you were a Christian (and that also applies to me too)? Our action/works should display our faith.
1) Again...saying it doesn't mean it's true.
2) It should but that's a sign of Christian maturity, not whether you are or are not saved.
And just like both you and GH says it's God's decision to determine what is the fate of people who don't believe in Jesus, I also feel that I can't confidently say they will not have eternal life with God otherwise as that feels like intolerance. I think that is a big issue for me with some of these forms of Christianity, even as SGIP mentions that Jews and Muslims think that Christians are lost, I don't get that feeling. In my experience, other religions seem more accepting of Christians than vice versa.
Why is it intolerance? I don't have any disdain or hatred for people who are not Christians. They are welcome to have their beliefs as I am. I don't think lesser of them as people and people who say that they are Christians certainly aren't become saints. I completely accept Christians and non-Christians alike. Jesus stated that there really two things to do as a Christian: Love God and love your neighbor...those two things are the pillars of being a Christian.
Whether they receive eternal salvation is not intolerance. Christians believe that there is a single way...just as Muslims and Jews do.
I think you are mixing up people who say they are Christians with Christ. Those are not the same things. People join churches for a lot of reasons, many of them completely unrelated to Christ. People also tend to congregate with like-thinking people. If you are an intolerant racists, you will congregate with intolerant racists...calling such a group a church does not make their views any more acceptable.
And I think that goes back to belief in God and belief in the "right" God. In almost every culture, there is some belief in a higher power, just man's quest for knowledge, the seeking of answers seems to me an indicator that there is something greater than us out there. But this "uniqueness" of Christianity where it's not enough to only believe in God, but also to believe in Jesus as the son of God and God in man's form as the only way to salvation, is a struggle for many outside of Christianity and even within it because the world is made up of so many people and I can't say with conviction like you can that if they don't share that same faith, they will not end up in the same place.
Of course it's a struggle...it's a choice and the acknowledgment that you as a person can't do anything to obtain salvation. Every other religion states that you have to perform certain rituals and acts in order to obtain salvation but those are based upon human capabilities and environment. To remove salvation from those terms is what separate Christianity from other religion.
Your struggle is the need to square justice with human morality. If a person is good, why shouldn't he go to heaven just because he didn't believe in Christ. But what makes a person "good"? Whose standard are we going with? Why do some people have two loving parents and a loving home while other are born into an environment of chaos and despair? If the first person grows up and becomes a good person and the latter doesn't, is that fair?
What if you have mental illness or were victimize as a child and go out and do bad things for the rest of your life, is that fair? Where do those people go in their afterlife? Is that fair?
What if one spends 4/5 of his life doing bad things but then does great things for the remaining 1/5...what if the ratio was 50/50? Where is the line?
The simple answer is that human standard of morality is simply too amorphous to judge one person, let alone the entirety of humanity. The only fair thing to do is to establish a simple test of faith that is not based upon human concept of fairness or morality.
And maybe that's my big fault, my sin. But as I said, to me (and maybe just me), faith doesn't happen during a single moment, it's a continual evolution of my understanding of God. If man were perfect, the idea of salvation by acceptance of Christ would be enough. However, we are not, that's where works/actions comes into the picture. You bring up comparing Christians to Christ... but that's what Christianity is, humans trying to be "Christ-like". No human can be, it's a work in progress that should continually be "practiced" (or lived). I understand your idea of true acceptance will lead to works but you keep forgetting that you're still human. Believing in God doesn't give you superpowers, just like having a child doesn't automatically make you a good father. You have to work at it.
Again...salvation is different than maturity/development. You are saved because of a single moment of faith...but you have the rest of the your life to develop and mature in your faith with Christ. Going back to the door analogy, the moment of faith requires you to open the door and let Christ in but that doesn't make you automatically perfect. But you will never gain salvation unless you open that door.
I don't know why you think that accept Christ should give you superpowers. Shockingly, you as a person will pretty much remain the same even after you accept Christ. What is changed is your eternal salvation and you opening up yourself to God. It's like turning on a radio...you need to tune it to get stations but the radio is on regardless of whether you tune it or not.
There is a reason why God doesn't just take people who accept Christ right away...He wants you to stay on this Earth so you can develop a relationship with Him and to spread the word about Him to others. It's a constant struggle between you being your old self as your new person in Christ. Your body wants to return to the old ways while your new spirit urges you forward toward Christ.
No, having a child does not make you dad but it does make you a father. As soon as the child is born, you are a father/mother. Now, you can squander that opportunity and not become a dad but you will never not be a father. Even if the child passes away, you were a father at some point.