Man-made religion is powerless to save sinners. It cannot provide forgiveness of sin, peace with God and eternal life. Yet so many people are enslaved to external religion. This is very sad! External religion strives to achieve spirituality by means of human effort. Whether it is church attendance, good works, spiritual disciplines – these are all works performed by human effort. Now those things in and of themselves are not bad – they are good! However, if you are doing them thinking that they save you or somehow contribute to your salvation and spirituality then you are deceived. It is sad to see how such trappings have infiltrated the church since the first century.
In the New Testament Paul fought against the Judaizers who added to the gospel the need to be circumcised (Phil 3:2). In his letter to the Colossians, he argued against the error that was cheating the Colossians of their sufficiency in Christ (Col. 2:8). And when writing to Timothy, he described those who add various teachings to the Scripture as those who are devoted to “deceitful spirits and teachings of demons” (1 Tim. 4:1).
Many more examples in Scripture can be provided concerning the warning against external religion. Furthermore, we could examine church history and see example after example of this issue be raised and dealt with. Why does Paul with great passion and consistency warn against external religion? It is because it does not save. Salvation comes by grace alone, in Christ alone, through faith alone (Eph. 2:8). External religion is weak, helpless and impotent. If anybody is going to receive forgiveness for their sin, peace with God and eternal life it is essential that their trust is in Jesus Christ alone. It has often been said, “God helps those who help themselves”. According to Scripture, God helps those who are helpless and put their trust in Jesus Christ (Rom. 5:8).