“Faith-based salvation” and “works-based salvation” are not Biblical terms—the text rather speaks of salvation.
I believe it is not Biblical authors but Biblical readers who pit faith vs. obedience, Paul vs. James, the God of the OT vs. the God of the NT, etc.
The rites God expected of His people were different in Ezekiel’s day than several centuries later (compare, for example, Leviticus chapter 1, Matthew 3:11, John 3:5), but that all were subject to the same Fall and dependent upon the same redemption is manifest by Paul:
For as in Adam all die, even so in Christ will all be made alive. (1
Jesus spoke harshly against many of the religious leaders of His day (e.g. Matthew 23), and Paul repeatedly taught that salvation does not come through the works of the Law of Moses (e.g. Galatians 3:19-24). This does not mean the Law of Moses was wrong, bad, a mistake, etc. Paul himself said:
Wherefore the law as our schoolmaster to bring us unto Christ
Jesus criticized the leaders of His day who had added to the Law. The oral traditions alone were lengthy, complex, and excessive, and those instituting the additional rules were called out for missing the point (see Matthew 23:23-25, Mark 7:7-8).
It is important to note that Paul uses “works” and “works of the law” to refer to the Law of Moses (see Romans 3, esp. vs 1, 20, 28). When we speak of Jesus fulfilling the Law through His atoning sacrifice (see Hebrews 8:13, 9:7-14), this does not mean there are no more laws or rules—it means the Law of Moses has accomplished what it was given to do. The Lord gave commands both before the time of Moses (e.g. Genesis 6:14) and after the atonement had been performed (e.g. Acts 10:11-16).
We should understand Ezekiel to be referring not to the oral traditions criticized by Jesus but to the Torah itself. God commanded His people to comply with the Torah and promised blessings to them for doing so:
my rules, by which, if a person does them, he shall live (Ezekiel
What if the rules change?
Why should this be a concern? God does not command every generation to build an ark, or to flee Egypt, or to offer sacrificed animals in a prescribed manner. God never abridges His authority to give the rules & instructions needed in a given time & place. But wherever we are in the Bible—pick literally any point on the spectrum—Old Testament or New—and the principle stated by Ezekiel holds: abiding by God’s rules keeps one on the path to eternal life (see Matthew 7:21). Ezekiel says nothing about earning eternal life.
But doesn’t that conflict with Paul’s teachings on grace? Not at all.
But the gift is not like the trespass. For if the many died by the
trespass of the one man, how much more did God’s grace and the gift
that came by the grace of the one man, Jesus Christ, overflow to the
many! (Romans 5:15)
The Greek word usually rendered in English as “grace” is charis (χάρις). Brent Schmidt has written about the use and meaning of the word charis in Greco-Roman literature (see here) and the historical context is extraordinarily valuable.
The cliff-notes version: charis does not describe a “free lunch”; it describes an asymmetric, reciprocal gift relationship. The giver offers something that the receiver could not hope to earn, but the receiver cannot simply take the gift and run—there are expectations of the recipient. The word charis does not describe a mere transaction, it describes a relationship.
Paul’s use of charis is a very effective description of a covenant. Romans 5: 15 then describes a covenant relationship in which God provides the terms of the covenant and gives what could never be earned. The recipients enter into that covenant and take upon themselves sacred obligations—more on that below.
All that thou hast
Jesus’ words to the rich young ruler are poignant:
Now when Jesus heard these things, he said unto him, Yet lackest thou
one thing: sell all that thou hast, and distribute unto the poor, and
thou shalt have treasure in heaven: and come, follow me. (Luke 18:22).
Following this, in the very next pericope:
29 And he said unto them, Verily I say unto you, There is no man that
hath left house, or parents, or brethren, or wife, or children, for
the kingdom of God’s sake,
30 Who shall not receive manifold more in this present time, and in
the world to come life everlasting.
Paul himself understood well that being fully committed to Christ required great sacrifices (e.g. 2 Cor. 11:23-28, Acts 20:19-24).
In this asymmetric grace relationship what did Jesus give? Everything.
In this asymmetric grace relationship what are we asked to give? Everything.
(Our everything is not money—it’s far more important than money—and our everything is not remotely comparable to Jesus’ everything)
To build upon comments I shared in another post, if we say that we want God to forgive us but we don’t want Him to change us, we are completely missing the point. The point of Jesus asking everything from the rich young ruler, and asking everything of us, is not to pay for what He’s giving us, but to change us. To put it more poetically:
He is like a refiner’s fire
He wants to change my desire
His commands do not extract payment of a fine
They are given, His people to refine
(see also Malachi 3:3)
The things that are required of us (e.g. Matthew 7:21) do not pay for salvation; their purpose is not transactional, but transformational.
Ezekiel lived at a time when the rites expected of the faithful were different than they would be several centuries later, but the principle he taught is timeless.
God gives rules and expects people to obey those rules—not in order to pay for salvation—but to bring about the transformation in people that was the point of the plan in the first place (see 1 John 3:2-3).
My thoughts on this topic are explored in greater depth here.