A good friend of mine once declared in a sermon, "There are only two religions in the world, grace and works. But only grace works."
The word religion means worship, which every human being practices. We either acknowledge and bow to the glory of the living and true God, or we religiously reverence false gods.
"The true worshippers shall worship Father in spirit and in truth" (John 4:23).
"They… worshipped and served the creature more than the Creator, who is blessed forever" (Romans 1:22; 25).
The religion of works involves the reverence of many false deities to whom unbelievers bow for the purpose of seeking peace, satisfaction, and a modicum of joy. The practitioners often do not perceive themselves as worshippers, and may even deny the reality of their religion (or of any religion). They worship nonetheless because God hard-wired humanity, as it were, for dependency and admiration of that which exists outside ourselves, and which we perceive to be necessary for our well being. Even those who appear to trust in themselves can be found under scrutiny to worship and serve some form of external created thing that seems to supply for the aching void in the hearts of all who were made for religion.
The religion of grace, or as James terms it, "pure religion and undefiled before God and the Father," flows from and toward a different source (James 1:27). As my friend suggested, grace fosters our only hope for genuine worship of God. True religion begins with reception, that is, our Lord supplies to us "life and breath and all things" (Acts 17:25). Such bestowal originates in the fount of grace because we do not deserve even the smallest expression of favor from the God against whom we have all grievously sinned. Those who believe in the Lord Jesus acknowledge such undeserved lovingkindness, trust in Him, and thereafter seek to honor their Savior by the worship of acknowledged reception from Him. Such perceived and received grace leads to His exaltation and our humbling, even as John the Baptist confessed, "He must increase, but I must decrease" (John 1:30). Upon this basis, we more and more live a life of faith and faithfulness, again, as my friend suggested, "grace works."
Among many believers, the good Biblical word "religion" long ago became almost an epithet (a most decidedly dangerous and misguided thing to do with the Word of God). Doubtless our enemy prompted this detour from truth to mask the fact that every human being, by nature, religiously worships. We do so either in the grace and truth of the Lord Jesus, or according to the religion of multitudes of false deities. We do well to realize that all were made for religion, and to direct all to the only worship of God that honors Him and redeems us. Allow me to reiterate my friend's wisdom: there are only two religions in the world, grace and works. But only grace works.
"Pure religion and undefiled before God and the Father is this, To visit the fatherless and widows in their affliction, and to keep himself unspotted from the world."
Weekly Memory Verse
Therefore being justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ: by whom also we have access by faith into this grace wherein we stand, and rejoice in hope of the glory of God.