In discussing Ignatius of Antioch last night, one of the points which was discussed is the concept of life - how the Christian is filled with the life of Christ. There is a fullness that Ignatius seems to describe - a fullness that is somewhat astonishing to the typical modern Christian.
I think a lot of this has to do with a focus we have in America spinning out of the Western Church. Over the course of time, the West became focused on specific sins. First, it was the sin of the lapsii, those who crumbled under the threat of persecution. Then it was those violating the rule of the monastic order. Then it spread to where each sin had to be thought about and analyzed and confessed individually.
Our focus shifted to our sin - and we moved away from focusing on the idea that we are sinners. Granted, this is something that Luther would emphasize - that whole simul justus et peccator idea - sinner and saint at the same time. However, the Lutheran strain is a small one in the Western Church - both Rome and the Protestants kept a strong focus on sin -- in fact, most would like to deny that we are actually sinners.
I've been fighting a cold. I've been coughing up flem. It's been in my head, my throat, my chest. I could describe that flem in different ways. I counter it in different ways (coughing, blowing my nose, sitting up instead of laying down) - but no cough will handle the root problem. I have a cold, and until that cold is cured, the flem is always going to show up.
Theologically, focusing on discrete sins is like focusing on the flem of a cold. Yes, it needs to be done (there are times you just need to blow your nose) - but that doesn't bring about the cure. The bigger issue is that we are sinners, that we are beings who sin - and that is what Christ deals with through forgiveness and peace - that's what we couldn't deal with, no matter how strict we are with how we live.
Luther ties this nicely - wherever there is forgiveness of sins there is life and salvation - there is being made just, there is that whole problem of being a sinner dealt with. But the temptation, especially in America is to ignore the root of sin, the cause of sin - my sinful flesh. The fact that apart from Christ I have no life.
Christ Jesus died for sinners. This is the heart of our faith. We focus neither on sin nor on works - they simply come and happen. We are sinners who have been forgiven and joined to Christ - and that is the wonder.