Most people immediately recognize the difference between irreligion and the Gospel. What is more difficult to perceive–and far more insidious–is the difference between religion and the Gospel.
Here’s a helpful visual summary to keep in mind:
Note: I am using religion in the sense of the performance of ritualistic actions meant to obtain the favor of God, not in the positive sense referred to in Scripture (e.g., James 1.26). That positive sense of religion is an outgrowth of the Gospel’s work in the life of a believer. In the James passage, for instance, verse 21 states that it is the engrafted word, not we, that has saving power. God’s work is primary, ours is response.