Okay, I thought I wrapped things up last week in the theology series. It's obviously gone on long enough. But there are a few loose ends I want to touch on before (finally!) moving on.
The first is the place of repentance. Repentance means turning away from sin, and towards God. Wikipedia actually does a good job covering what repentance is about. When we believe (as the last post talks about) that we are sinful, and that God alone can save us from the penalties we've incurred, we are brought to a place of repentance. Here we recognize the wrongness of sin, regret having participated in it, and determine to change our behavior. So, salvation is more than just placing an intellecual assent, or belief, that God exists. We also have to believe (i.e. have faith) that what the scriptures say about sin is true, and we need to repent of those sins. That is, we need to turn away from our sinful behavior, and turn towards Godly behavior. Repentance is more than sorrow and regret; the intentional rejection of sin and turning towards God is part and parcel too. God doesn't want us to just say, "yeah, we've sinned God. You're up there, I'm down here, and I did you wrong. Sorry 'bout that. I'll try harder next time" and then go about our lives as if nothing has changed. That doesn't demonstrate true faith since it completely misses the point about how our standard is perfection and any sin is unacceptable in God's eyes. True faith means true repentance. We will still sin, of course, being human. But we will sin less and less, and as we trust in God He will help us become better and better in terms of our behavior. Christians (i.e. those who've accepted Christ as their savior) aren't sinless - but we are no longer slaves to sin. God provides the means to overcome it.
Another loose end is the place of works in theology. Scripture is clear that we cannot earn God's mercy and grace through doing good things. If we could, Jesus' death and resurrection would not have been necessary. God could have saved Him the pain, and just let us earn our way to Heaven. Jesus didn't tell the sinful woman that her works had saved her. However, good works are an outgrowth of faith. When we believe and repent, we have turned towards God. This naturally leads to better and better behavior, as God works to perfect us over time. James, in fact, tells us that if we don't have good works, our faith is questionable. Faith brings about good works. If we're not bearing fruit, or doing good things our faith is indeed questionable. True faith and true repentance lead to true good works.
And the final loose end is to reiterate that while any sin is enough to earn God's judgement, this does NOT mean that we cannot, or should not, differentiate between sins and their severity. Murder is a worse sin to commit than stealing a candy bar. Both are sins, yes, but one is worse than the other. Both are condemned by God, but one has worse results. Society, in order to maintain justice and societal order, needs to punish according to the severity of the crime. God does this too - Jesus says that in some cases, eternal punishment is worse for some people than for others. However, the minimum penalty earned for even a small sin is eternal separation from God. Therefore, it behooves us to repent and believe - to accept the grace offered from God so that that minimum penalty is taken away and we can instead live forever with a God who loves us enough to save us from the sin we choose.