There are only two religions in the world. One is that religion that wants to convince you that you are basically okay. The other is that religion that wants to convince you that, if left to yourself, you are entirely lost.
The first religion wants to tell you that, yes, there is God, but that all that he requires of you is that you should be a decent person. In other words, this religion says, “If you do this” or “If you do that”, or “If you are just a good person”, God will accept you. This religion takes many forms. But it is simply the religion of human nature. It comes quite naturally to us. We find it very easy to think that we are not so bad as all that, and that, yes, if we are just decent, upright, law-abiding people, God will accept us in the end.
This religion, therefore, is basically a religion of LAW. It emphasizes obedience, what we must DO on our own, and what we are CAPABLE of DOING on our own. It flatters us by making us think that we can, in fact, win heaven by our own efforts. It flatters us by making us think that we have the power to do all that is required of us. This is the religion of human works.
The other religion, which is the religion of the Bible, seems at first to be similiar. It tells us that, yes, there is God and it does not deny that His followers are to be good. But it goes on to tell us that this one, true God is a holy God, and indeed, perfectly so. That He requires not just a general obedience to His LAW, to His commandments, but absolute and perfect obedience to them, each and every one of them. And then this religion tells us, much to our irritation, that we are now incapable of that perfect obedience and will find it far beyond our reach.
This religion, the religion of the Bible, does not flatter us. Nor does it come naturally to us. In fact, in our natural state, we shall always find it most distasteful. Because, of course, it tells us that God will NOT accept us if we just try to be good, if we are just decent, law-abiding folks. Rather, it tells us that even the best things we do are tainted by something inside us that spoils all we do.
This religion is so far from flattering us with what we can do on our own, that it tells us that we entirely incapable of saving ourselves on account of the radical sinfulness, that moral infection of nature, that lies within us. It tells us that if any saving is going to get done, if any rescuing is going to get done, it is going to have to be done by God Himself. This is a terrible blow to our pride. But then, this religion is not for the proud.
Thankfully, this religion, the religion of the Bible, goes on to tell us that, even though we are incapable of making ourselves acceptable to a holy God, that same God has made a way of doing just that. Rather than leaving us in our sins, which would have been a perfectly just act on His part, He has chosen to save, out of a fallen race, a great multitude of every kindred and tongue and people and nation. And He has chosen to save them through their faith in His own Son, the Lord Jesus Christ, who became a perfect sacrifice for them, fulfilling all the demands of the LAW on their behalf. By grace, through faith, all that Christ has done is reckoned over to us. Although even the faith by which we receive the gift of the righteousness of Christ, is itself a gift.
This is the religion that says not what you must DO, but rather what has been DONE for you. To the world it is foolishness. To us, it is the highest wisdom.