I realize how strange the gospel is as I try to explain it to Atheists at College. In Philosophy I was made to debate my Teaching Assistant infront of our seminar on the True Christian Religion, while we read Twilight of the Idols by Friedrich Nietzsche. He made me read about Christianity as anti-nature and how the church was awful blah blah blah. But his first question was "is there a difference between Christianity in theory and in practice" I was shocked by how easy an answer it was for me "yes, of course there is, it's called sin. If humans were capable of keeping God's law and loving God and humanity perfectly, then Forgiveness is unnecessary". But then I was faced with the confusing message of saying that there is a standard God sets as perfection, but that yes, even the best Christians cannot reach it (unless your Methodist/Nazarene/Holiness). So why do good then? I guess this has been the problem ever since the beginning. Catholics always say, well it's because works justify and your premise of salvation is wrong. But I'm not buying what they're selling. To reverse James' question, show me a Christian without sin. It doesn't happen. Whether this 'ought' or not, it doesn't really matter pragmatically. Plus if that was what Paul meant that we work for our salvation as well as faith, then why does he say 'shall we go on sinning?' in Romans. Anticipating that the confusion of the message is that we don't have to do anything for salvation but have faith, and then at the same time, if we have faith we will do something.
It is difficult for me to fathom.
But as I read the opening pages on Amazon of Francis Schaeffer's "True Spirituality" he explains it perfectly. The idea of being Born Again and being saved is the beginning of our journeys. We have then crossed over from death to life. And that is where we start, as Christians. There is no line we can trip back over. It's the idea of gaining citizenship to a country. It's the essential of my most opposed doctrine of 'once saved, always saved' ... maybe I will have to rethink that one.
I know in my own life that I will never be perfect, I am SUCH a Sinner, with a capital S. There is so much that I do which is awful, and many times I will commit horrendous sins only to pick up a Christian book or respond to someone's email with bible verses 10 minutes later. It reminds me of a story Frank Schaeffer, the son of Francis Schaeffer tells of his father who argued violently with his wife. He said one day Francis was screaming at his wife and picked up a potted plant and threw it across the room at her and just missed. Then he took a deep breath, walked down the stairs, and gave a gospel message to the students at L'Abri. It makes me realize that the typical Theological timeline does not work: Sin > Grace > Faith > Salvation/Justification > Good Works/ Sanctification > Perfection and Glorification. Maybe it's more like this:
Sin > God's Grace > Human Faith > Salvation/Justification > life long struggle between the Holy Spirit and 'old self'/human nature & God's grace > Theosis/Glorification.
So we are left once again with this strange dicotemy in what I like to call Protestant Realism - where oneself is constantly at war between the old and new selves. As opposed to Catholic/Methodist Idealism - where after conversion it is just an uphill walk to perfection. We are left with the fact that all of our sins are atoned for if we are born again. Every sin I will commit in the future is atoned for, covered by Christ's blood, a complete gift of Grace. But on the other hand we have the very real presence of sin, and God's holiness and hatred towards it. So we are constantly screwing up our relationship with God, and blocking his work in us with sin. And I don't want to take sin too lightly, as Dr. Schaeffer says: "I have come to the conclusion that none of us in our generation feels as guilty about sin as we should or as our forefathers did." This is very true. But at the same time we have this weird idea in 20th/21st Century Christendom, that time=atonement. That if we sin on wednesday, by saturday God has forgotten - because he's pretty busy after all - and that because it's been a while he's over it. This idea we get I think because of the way we anthropomorphize (make human) God. This is how humans work, they move on and forgive eventually. We even have the phrase 'time heals all'. But this doesn't seem to be true with God. But instead of this leading us to despair, maybe it would lead us to hope, because we once again realize the triumph of Easter, the fact that past, present, and future the sins of humanity -or the elect for the Reformed - were borne by Christ and he conquered them all. So while we are ashamed at our mess, it's purpose is not inherently guilt or self-loathing but rather that it works as a magnifying glass to Jesus, and we see more and more each time we repent, how great his sacrifice was.