The quick answer is, more than 4 000. But in reality, every one of these religions is based on one of two principles. So, details aside, there are only two religions in the world. It’s been this way since time began.
The Source of Salvation
At their very core, all religions teach one of two things:
- Salvation comes from within ourselves. Religion is works-based. Heaven is given as a reward for what we do.
- Salvation comes from outside ourselves. Religion is grace-based. Salvation is a gift from God. “God hath given to us eternal life” (1 John 5:11).
A Story of Two Brothers
The Book of Genesis, written about 3 500 years ago, tells the story of two brothers, Cain and Abel.
Abel showed that he understood that salvation would come from outside of himself and he followed God’s set protocol for removing the guilt of sin.
- He brought an innocent lamb, leaned his whole weight upon it, confessing his sins – the ways he had offended God by rejecting His rulership and government, by his actions siding with the arch rebel, Satan.
- He cut the lamb’s throat, demonstrating typologically that he was responsible for the death of the Lamb of God (Jesus) who would take his place, dying the death he deserved as one guilty of treason and rebellion.
- Finally, he cut away the fat, a Biblical symbol of sin, and burned the lamb and the fat on an altar he had built with natural stones. No tools were used to shape the altar, signifying that he brought nothing to the transaction.
“And the Lord had respect unto Abel and to his offering” (Genesis 4:4). Hebrews tells us, “By faith Abel offered unto God a more excellent sacrifice than Cain, by which he obtained witness that he was righteous, God testifying of his gifts” (Hebrews 11:4). God testified by fire from heaven that Abel’s offering was acceptable and God attributed righteousness to him.
Cain also offered a gift on an altar. But he did it his own way. He proudly brought the bloodless fruits and vegetables he had tended with his own hands. “And the Lord had respect unto Abel and to his offering: But unto Cain and to his offering he had not respect. And Cain was very wroth, and his countenance fell” (Genesis 4: 4, 5).
The difference between Cain and Abel was that Cain thought God should accept him for his good works. He didn’t accept the idea that his sin, his rebellion against God’s government, demanded his death. He refused God’s provision of “the Lamb slain from the foundation of the world” (Revelation 13:8), as symbolized in the sacrificial lamb, Who would take away his sins and guilt. He refused to admit he was dependent upon God.
Abel understood his debt to God was beyond his ability to pay. He approached God in humility, with true sorrow for his sin. He acknowledged his dependence upon his Creator.
So, in reality, there are only two religions in the world, one of faith, the other of works. The Reformation restored the doctrine of salvation by grace, a gift from God.