If you had to guess, which religion do you think is the most popular? Here is a clue. Billions of people travel this well-worn path, as they place eternal hope in their own ability to secure the ultimate reward.
It might surprise you to learn that there are really only two ways to "do religion." You can do it with Christ at the center, or with man at the center. Every religious approach other than Christianity relies upon man to achieve paradise, nirvana, enlightenment, godhood, perfection, or some other expression of eternal bliss and happiness.
The religion of Christ, on the other hand, involves Jesus of Nazareth at the center. He created the world in the beginning; He redeemed the world in the middle; and He will bring His children home to heaven at the end. Christ is all in all.
And so regardless of your religious label, you fall into one of these two groups: Christ-centered religion, or man-centered religion.
Keep in mind that some people who self-indentify as a "Christian" actually fall into the man-centered group based on what is in their heart. Labels don't outweigh the heart. And church affiliation doesn't outweigh the heart.
"The Lord does not look at the things man looks at. Man looks at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart." (1 Samuel 16:7) God obviously knows the exact number of Christians in the world, based upon what is in each person's heart.
But the other group has more followers. In fact, the world's most popular religion entices billions of people, who seek to achieve the end result through their wisdom, efforts, rituals, meditation, or devotion. Man is at the center of that religion, no matter what other deities are called upon along the way.
If man-centered religion wasn't so seductive, most people wouldn't take the bait. And once hooked by this appealing philosophy, it is no small task to get free and to discover new life in Christ. One could argue that it is easier to meet Christ while having no religion, than to meet Him once you have immersed yourself in the world's most popular religion.
Other than Christianity, you won't find a belief system which presents the following message:
1) God loves man whom He created.
2) Man's sin against God separated him from his Creator.
3) The Son of God left heaven and took on human flesh in order to redeem man.
4) The Son of God was sacrificed for man's sin.
5) God forgives those who repent of their sin and accept Christ as Savior.
6) God comes to live inside His children.
7) Followers of Jesus sincerely seek to do God's will.
Obviously, there is no other religious message which even comes close to this narrative. The only exception involves those groups which use Christian terminology while redefining the Person of Christ and redefining how a person is "saved" from sin. According to their doctrines, man is responsible for saving his soul through his own efforts. This is why those religious organizations are not accepted within Christianity. Instead, they belong to the world's most popular religion. A number of these sects have popped up in the past couple hundred years, and their organizations have taught millions of people to work hard in hopes of earning salvation.
One of these religious organizations touts the philosophy, "It is by grace we are saved after all we can do." In other words, rather than being saved on the front end of your spiritual journey, you can only hope to get saved on the back end, provided you do enough to acquire salvation. Christianity on the other hand, grants eternal life immediately to those who repent and believe the good news. Believers live for Christ with a sincere heart, and with "the gift" of salvation already in hand.
The world's most popular religion offers no such gift or assurance. You have to work for it, and thereby prove you are worthy of going to heaven. The problem of course is that none of us will ever be worthy of salvation, even if we were to spend 12 hours a day doing "religious stuff." Multitudes of people will be tragically disappointed one day when they find out that all their efforts have fallen pitifully short of securing them a place in paradise.
Salvation is either a gift, or it is earned. God's Word says it is a gift, while the world's most popular religion makes you work in hopes of earning it. In Christianity, you are saved, redeemed, justified, born again, and forgiven at the beginning of your journey with Jesus. In the world's most popular religion, people strive to make themselves worthy of being justified before God one day.
The Bible explains that the Holy Spirit leads people to repent of sin and trust Christ as Savior. The Holy Spirit obviously does not lead people into the other religion, which is fueled by a different spirit and a different message.
It's amazing how religion ultimately boils down to Jesus, and then everything else. By coming to earth as our Savior, Christ essentially drew a line in the sand. Everyone is either with Him, or against Him. Jesus didn't come here to merely provide man with one more option. Instead, He made a one-time sacrifice on the cross to pay for our sins and bring us into an eternal relationship with our Creator.
Jesus warned His disciples that His message would ruffle some feathers. Christ declared, "Do not suppose that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I did not come to bring peace, but a sword. For I have come to turn 'a man against his father, a daughter against her mother, a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law; a man's enemies will be the members of his own household.'" (Matthew 10:34-36) The Lord came to put a sword through anything which keeps someone from entering a personal relationship with Christ.
Sometimes family members choose to shun a relative who has become a Christian. Followers of the world's most popular religion don't understand why there is such a fuss over Jesus and His sacrifice for the sins of the world.
The apostle Paul wrote, "The message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God....For since in the wisdom of God the world through its wisdom did not know Him, God was pleased through the foolishness of what was preached to save those who believe. Jews demand miraculous signs and Greeks look for wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified: a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles, but to those whom God has called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God." (1 Cor. 1:18, 21-24)
So what do you hope to receive from religion: Popularity, or power and wisdom?
Followers of Christ are connected to a message of grace which is life-changing and soul-saving. Only Jesus can deliver the goods. Every other religious approach will leave people standing before God one day with a long list of violations against God's commands; but no forgiveness, no covering for sin, and no redemption. In fact, man-centered religion doesn't even come close to earning a person a spot in paradise.
So always remember. Just because something is popular doesn't mean it's good for you. And this is especially true in the realm of religion.