Here is an excellent question from Marcus G. that I will answer below. He writes:
“Our works can’t earn favour from YHWH yet, as you’ve said, we read that obedience is life and disobedience is death/curse. How do we get our head around this? We don’t want to do it in a legalistic way, where we declare YHWH owes us blessings and yet we know that not living in obedience is not loving our GOD either. We can never “earn” YHWH’s favour.”
My answer is this: The term works is a term Paul uses in his writings and relates to the process of receiving salvation from Elohim. Paul makes it clear in several places that one does obtain salvation based on works, but based on faith (e.g. Eph 2:8-9). However, Paul goes on to say that once one is saved through faith in Yeshua from the wages of sin which is death, one is expected to produce or walk in the fruits of good works, which is obedience to YHVH’s commands or, as Paul puts it, good works (Eph 2:10). Yeshua said it this way, “If you love me, keep my commandments” (John 14:15).
We also see that though our salvation isn’t initially based on our works, since we can never be good enough or do enough good works to merit YHVH’s favor, our rewards in his eternal kingdom are clearly based on our good works. Those who faithfully obey YHVH’s commandments will have higher rewards in his kingdom than those who don’t (Matt 5:19; 16:27; see also Rom 2:6; 2 or 2 Cor 5:10; Eph 6:8; 1 Pet 1:17; Rev 2:23; Rev 19:8; 20:12; 22:12).
Now having established that our works don’t earn us salvation, but our works will determine our rewards in YHVH’s kingdom, let’s consider a couple other things.
When the children of Israel were given the Torah, they were never promised eternal life if they faithfully obeyed it. They were promised a blessed and abundant life here and now in the Promised Land. On the other hand, in the gospel message of the Testimony of Yeshua, eternal lift is promised to those who place their faith in Yeshua. Once they are saved (in the initial sense), they are to show the fruits of salvation and that they love Yeshua by obeying him and keeping his commandments. To the degree that one keeps the commandments will determine one’s level of rewards in YHVH’s kingdom.
Torah-obedience can result in blessings in this life, but not necessarily salvation. If one keeps the Torah and doesn’t have faith in Yeshua, one will be blessed in this life, but will not have eternal life unless or until they repent of their sins and place their faith in Yeshua. This is the law of cause and effect that YHVH has placed in motion. He has a lot of laws of cause and effect. Science is full of them. How about the law of gravity, for example? If you jump off a cliff, the law of cause and effect will kick in. This has nothing to do with YHVH’s favor. It has everything to do, however, with your own wisdom or foolishness!
So in conclusion, to the degree we obey YHVH’s Torah commands we will have higher rewards in YHVH’s kingdom and a more blessed and rewarding life here and now. This, as I see it, has less to do with YHVH’s favor than the laws of cause and effect that he has placed in motion. Humans, by their own choices they make, determine for themselves by their actions the level of blessings or curses that will come upon them. This is YHVH’s just and fair system of justice that was writing into the universe at the time of Creation.
Legalism has to do with attempting to earn salvation by your good works. A legalistic approach goes something like this: If my good works outweigh my bad works, then YHVH will be duty-bound to grant me salvation. On the other hand, a proper approach to obedience goes like this: I’m a sinner and I need Yeshua’s atoning blood to wash away my sins and to save me from the penalty of my sins, which is death. Once I place my faith in Yeshua, he now owns me and promises me eternal life. I’m going to show him my love and gratitude by faithfully obeying him for the rest of my life. See the difference between the two approaches? The former is legalism based on MY good works, while the latter is based on love and faith in YHVH’s Word and promises.
I hope this answers your question. We could expand this discussion much further into a lot of other areas, but I tried to keep it brief and on point.