In my opinion, the difference between religion and Christianity is this; religion tells us to live in order to receive eternal life, while Christianity tells us to live in light of eternal life received.
It is finished
“… he said, “It is finished!” Then he bowed his head and gave up his spirit.” John 19:30 (NLT)
The gospel message tells us what has already been done. It’s past tense, no wondering what happened next. That is, we’re forgiven and we’re saved when we put our faith in Christ Jesus. We praise God because of this truth! It is done, finished, complete, fulfilled – all in Jesus’ name.
Our efforts are useless
“For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God —” Ephesians 2:8 (NIV)
Our salvation means we don’t need to try and measure up. We can’t earn a place in heaven out of hard work and commitment. It’s not a competition against the next believer, and no one is keeping score. Sometimes we get caught up in basing our salvation off church attendance or time spent praying, but these things serve a different purpose, after the fact of our salvation.
Living because, not in order to
This is where church, prayer, bible study and other practises and disciplines come in. The finished work of Christ on the cross is the reason we do any of these things so that they are not in vain. The transformation in our mind (Romans 12:2) through salvation manifests in our conduct and behaviour as we become more and more Christ-like. We are called to live a life worthy of the gospel, and so as we stay grounded in this truth, we can live to point others to Jesus’ life, death and resurrection.
“In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven.” Matthew 5:16 (NIV)