Many times I have stood over the shoulder of one of my children and attempted to teach them how to complete a task. Whether it is vacuuming the floor, making their beds, washing the dishes, or whatever random chore you can come up with, there is a degree of teaching and learning that has to take place. For instance, if you are doing dishes and the water is not hot, then you're doing it wrong. Hot water helps in the cleaning process, aids the disinfecting process, and, well, that's just how it's done. When you are mopping the floor, if you are not mopping left to right and back toward you, then you're doing it wrong. The correct motion ensures you cover the entire floor and that you are moving all liquid and debris toward you for a final cleanup. When you make your bed, if you don't pull the fitted sheet down and underneath the mattress, you're doing it wrong. Failure to secure the bedsheets will result in your sheets coming off every night and it also affects your sleep!
"You're doing it wrong" is not necessarily the kind of answer we would expect to hear from God, but that's exactly what he says when it comes to how we sometimes try to "follow" him. In Romans 9, Paul finishes the chapter by saying that the "people of Israel who tried so hard to get right with God by keeping the law, never succeeded." (Romans 9:31, NLT) The reason they never succeeded, Paul tells us, is because they were trying to "get right with God by keeping the law instead of by trusting him." (Romans 9:32, NLT)
Rather than trusting the God who had delivered them from the captivity of Egypt, rather than trusting the God that had lead them through the desert by pillars of fire and cloud, rather than trusting the God who literally caused water to pour from a rock and birds to fall from the sky in order that they would be fed, they chose to chase a checklist so that they could be "right" with God.
Sound familiar? It does to me. I think about all of the things we do to make sure we are "in" with God. We come to church. Check. We give some money. Check. We volunteer from time to time. Check. We say we are a Christian. Check. We haven't cheated on our spouse. Check. We make sure to never take God's name in vain (but all the other stuff is fair game). Check. We are basically pretty good people, so by these standards, we are "right" with God.
But, Paul says, we are stumbling over the "great rock" in our path, just as the Israelites did. This rock that Paul speaks of us also spoken of in Isaiah and the prophet states that this rock will make people stumble and fall (Isaiah 28:6). So often we stumble on the great rock of faith. We get tripped up on the fact that God isn't interested in the great things we do or have done, he is interested in the deepest parts of our heart. Our salvation is based upon our faith in God (Sola Fide). We accept this gift through faith alone. Our righteousness and our holiness are also gifts received from a Holy God, neither of which are dependent on what we have done, but are entirely because of what Jesus has done for us. This entire idea was a stumbling block to Israel and continues to be one for many followers of Christ today. Christ is the cornerstone that the builders rejected, he is the great rock upon which so many of us are tripped up because it is through his free gift that we have received eternal life.
If we spend our lives chasing the checklist, making sure we have done all the right things and none of the wrong things, yet we have neglected the rule and reign of Jesus in our lives and failed to submit to the infilling of the Holy Spirit, then God says to us, "you're doing it wrong." God is not interested in your involvement in your salvation. He has that part covered. We are saved by the grace of God alone so that we cannot boast in it! But when we learn to trust in him, lean into him, and let him work and move and be IN us, then he smiles down on us and says, "now that's what I'm talking about."