One of my children (let’s call her Clyde) has an interesting habit. As in any parent/child relationship, I often ask Clyde to do something when she’s in the middle of doing something she’d rather do. Clyde’s interesting habit is this: instead of saying, “No, I don’t want to, I’m busy” or “Go jump in a lake, dad,” Clyde finds something else helpful or responsible to do.
Here’s an example: Let’s say I ask Clyde to brush her teeth before bed. Clyde might say, “Well, first I need to put my books away.” (Had I asked her to pick up the books, she probably would’ve needed to brush her teeth first, LOL). As helpful as putting away the books would be, it’s not what I asked Clyde to do. Her good deed is disobedience.
Paul said that some people in his day had the same issue as Clyde:
I can testify about them that they have zeal for God, but not according to knowledge. Because they disregarded the righteousness from God and attempted to establish their own righteousness, they have not submitted themselves to God’s righteousness. For Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to everyone who believes (Rom. 10:2-4).
The folks Paul is writing about believed keeping the 10 commandments put them on good terms with God. They didn’t realize or didn’t believe that God was asking something else of them: to depend on His Son, Jesus.
Jesus’s sacrifice erased every sin we have committed and will commit. Jesus living within makes us righteous and empowers us to manifest that righteousness through our behavior. Because they didn’t submit to Christ’s reality, the people Paul wrote about disobeyed God by keeping the commandments.
God calls us to the obedience of faith: “‘What can we do to perform the works of God?’ they asked. Jesus replied, ‘This is the work of God — that you believe in the One He has sent'” (John 6:28-29). Sometimes we substitute our own obedience–usually to some rule or other–for the obedience God has asked of us.
It’s not that our rules are evil. Often they’re biblical. But it’s an issue of relationship and source. If I do good informed by my perspective out of my own initiative, I’m living as independently from God as an atheist. I mean, really, if an atheist and a Christian both do what is right in their own eyes, what’s the difference? Neither has a King (Judges 21:25).
By contrast, Jesus said, “I tell you the truth: the Son can do nothing out from Himself. He can only do what He sees the Father doing” (John 5:19). Jesus never sinned (Heb. 4:15). We tend to think it’s because He outwardly fulfilled all the commandments. While He did fulfill God’s commands, I don’t think that’s why He was faultless. It was because Jesus lived in perfect, dependent relationship with the Father. He never did what was right in His own eyes, by His own power or motivation.
Jesus told Philip, “The one who has seen Me has seen the Father. […] The words I speak to you I do not speak on My own. The Father who lives in Me does His works” (John 14:9-10). Jesus was, first of all, a Son–even before being Savior. Keeping the law will not make us sons of our Father (Matt. 5:43-48). We are only sons if the Son lives within and through us.