In that remarkable passage, Romans 9:30-10:4, Paul says that Gentiles have attained righteousness, a righteousness of faith, while Israel has not attained righteousness because they sought it 'as of works.' (From 9:11-12 and 11:5-6, the previous and the next reference to 'works,' we understand that works here refers to human contribution [in 9:32, obedience to Mosaic law] set opposite to divine grace--including, but not limited to, those works that set one off from the nations).
In Galatians 3, Paul uses the same phrase, 'of works.' In 3:10 he says that 'as many as are of works of law are under a curse.' The ESV glosses that as 'all who rely on works of the law.' That's a sensible paraphrase, but more woodenly it simply speaks of those who are 'of works.'
I've been puzzling over this and I think there's a striking insight here that we usually read right over. Paul doesn't say Israel sought righteousness by doing works or that those who do works are under a curse. Doubtless there is overlap here and doing is included to some degree; but he speaks of being of works.
How about you? What are you of? Not: what do you assent to doctrinally; what are you of. As the gospel sinks in more and more deeply as we walk with God, one of the first outer shells of our old life that the gospel pierces is the doing of works unto approval. But there is another, deeper level--instinct level--'of-ness' level--that must be gradually deconstructed and shed, too--being of works. I can go through the whole day trumpeting the futility of doing works to please God, all the while saying the right thing from an 'of works' heart.
To be of works is not to fall short. It is to march in the wrong direction. It isn't running to the office only to come up a few blocks short; it is running without realizing a ride had been freely provided. Not breaking a rule but playing the wrong game. Coming to Christ is not acknowledgment of our inability to be perfect. It is throwing our entire mode of existence onto the scrapheap in surrender. And finally finding freedom.