This conversation was a part of our ride to church:
Me: Dorris, I read in the paper that this corner will be a roundabout.
Dorris: A roundabout? How many houses will be sacrificed for this endeavor?
Me: None. It will be built in existing space.
Dorris: Built in existing space. Hmm, someone got elected on that slogan.
It is interesting to me how conversation with Dorris will be simultaneously sense and nonsense. Because of the work of Alzheimer's, so many neural pathways in her brain are no longer working. Conversations on a familiar topic can easily be sidetracked to something that seems quite unrelated and yet, gives the suggestion of at least a thin connection.
Dorris was a longtime member of the planning commission in her community, which is why I mentioned the proposed roundabout. She recognized the term and immediately thought of a possible consequence, but then, how did we venture into campaign slogans?
Perhaps she doubted the truth of my statement and this was her brain’s way of expressing a lack of trust in promises.
Then, again, it may just be a random phrase and my brain may be working overtime to try to make sense out of it. I assume that her comments must be related to mine, so I search until I find a relationship. If nothing else, at least my brain is getting a thorough work out.
I am reminded of a Human Cognition class I taught this summer. A student from Republic of Côte d'Ivoire asked why farmers in her area believed that specific rituals brought about rain. We talked about how our brains want to determine “cause and effect” and when we see a desired effect, it is easiest to believe that our own actions are the cause.
Pastor’s sermon today pointed to a particular phrase that tends to twist around in the roundabout of cause and effect.
We are saved for works, not by works
But when the goodness and loving kindness of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit, whom he poured out on us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that being justified by his grace we might become heirs according to the hope of eternal life. (Titus 3:4-7, ESV)
We want to be saved by works because it seems to make sense. If we do good things, then God will let us into heaven. We want to live our lives in such a way that we can bargain at heaven’s gate:
"Yeah, I know I messed up there, but then I made up for it later."
"I wasn’t good all the time, but I was good most of the time- or at least, I was good when it counted."
"Sin is no big deal, just look at the good things I did."
We want that cause and effect to be about us. But we wrongly put the effect before the cause.
We are saved for works, not by works
For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast. for we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them. (Ephesians 2: 8-10, ESV)
As much as we would like to be the reason for our salvation, we are instead the result of our salvation. God created us; we ruined that creation. Through the death and resurrection of His Son, God saves us even though it is impossible for us to do good works of our own accord.
God could have stopped there. Jesus made it possible for us to enter heaven covered in a white robe, earned for us through His victory over sin and death. God could have left us in our miserable lives and simply waited to see us at heaven’s door.
But, He created us for good works, which He “prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.”
We are simultaneously blessed by the work of justification and the work of sanctification.
We are already saved through Jesus. Now, and only now, are we ready to participate in the good works prepared for us.
We are not the cause, but we are blessed by the effect.
We are loved. We are saved. We are prepared.