“Because they did not pursue it by faith, but as if it were based on works.” - Romans 9:32
Works - Paul is discussing the difference between the Gentiles pursuing God with faith as opposed to Israel pursuing God through works of the law (doing good works). The Gentiles have attained a righteousness that was never pursued simply because they had faith whereas Israel did not gain any righteousness in keeping the law or works alone.
The topic of works is a bit of a hot button for many Christians. I see this come up a lot in Catholicism. Ardent church goers partaking in the sacraments, refusing to miss church for any reason, doubling up on religious activities during Advent and Holy week, but mostly lukewarm beyond that. These types of religious folks haven’t really caught a glimpse of Christ but are doing “works” out of obligation. I’m in no way condemning Catholicism here. Many protestants attend church in the same way. Christianity isn’t isolated to Sunday only.
James makes a strong case for faith and works being intertwined in chapter 2, verses 14-26. James makes the argument that faith without works is dead. When you have saving faith in Jesus Christ, you will become a new person. Your affections will change, your mind will be renewed, and your worldview will be turned upside down. To my astonishment, prior to being saved myself, I would see many ardent church goers at the bars on Friday nights. For these people, their hearts were still hard and their affections stayed the same. They hadn’t caught a glimpse of Christ and His saving power.
What camp are you in? Are you the religious church goer pursuing God and his righteousness through good works, or are you pursuing God with faith? Good works will always stem from strong faith. Possession of saving faith in Jesus Christ is the only way to obtain righteousness in the sight of a Holy God.