If a righteous person turns from their righteousness and does evil, they will die for it. And if a wicked person turns away from their wickedness and does what is just and right, they will live by doing so. Ezekiel 33:18-19
These verses can be summarized by saying, we reap what we sow. If we initiate wicked behaviour, we’ll suffer the consequences, but these verses aren’t suggesting we work for our salvation. The promise of the Mosaic covenant is, if God’s people keep his commandments, they will be his treasured possession, a kingdom of priests and a holy nation (Exodus 19:5-6).
It was after the Israelites broke the covenant by worshipping the golden calf, that the Lord revealed himself to Moses saying, “The Lord, the Lord, the compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness, maintaining love to thousands, and forgiving wickedness, rebellion and sin” (Exodus 34:6-7).
The covenant was based on grace, and forgiveness was received by faith because God was looking forward to the time when sin would be dealt with by Christ’s death. Often we are told, “keep his commandments” (Exodus 20:6). The word, “keep” doesn’t mean perfect obedience, but rather to maintain, preserve, honour and hold the commandments in high regard. Out of love for God will come the desire and motivation to obey the commandments. Israel broke the covenant many times when she turned to idols, which showed she neither loved God nor trusted him to be her source of love, grace, and forgiveness.
Today the covenant is still based on grace, and forgiveness is received by faith because God looks back to Christ’s death. We accept his work on the cross and become, his “chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s special possession …” (1 Peter 2:9).