One of the most confusing aspects of life is understanding the shapes and shades of faith. Grasping the word “covenant” is the key.
I’ve written about good works not getting one into heaven or into God’s favour. This was not the case in the Old Testament, where 'the law' i.e. the Ten Commandments and prophecies, sacrifices, circumcision (the ritual religion) were effective, to some extent. This was the old dispensation or Old Covenant (Testament). The difficulty with the law is that no one could meet its requirements fully. Saul, later St Paul, tried to but found that he failed "Thou shalt not covet" (envy). He simply could not do it, in every detail. The failure rate was 100%, except for Christ, who lived a perfect life. Hence people under the Old Covenant looked forward to “Messiah” to fulfil what they could not achieve themselves.
The Second Covenant (New Testament) supplied a Saviour - for the gap between man and the righteousness of God. But this Saviour, when He came, took away from what we could achieve (law and works) all saving power. Why? Because He himself bridged the gap for us - completely and graciously. But in return He demands that in the power He gives those who accept Him, we should adhere to the Commandments, yet still not perfectly (since we are all human). This is the Covenant of Grace: the New or Second Testament.
All world religions except Christianity are the first type of Covenant. They all require full or partial obedience to codes or laws and works, sacrifices, rituals. Some world religions require animal sacrifices.
What is offered by Jesus Christ is not just religious minimalism, but a new heart, the power to change radically inside. Under the Covenant of Grace, good works are the outcome and not the means. Its requirements are faith, preaching, baptism and Holy Communion - it has few outward signs or rituals. It is all going on inside - in overcoming of ‘self’.
Some strands of Christianity confuse the two Covenants. They teach grace theoretically, but they require works too, to cross the gap. But the gap cannot be crossed by good works. The only bridge is Christ and He has done all that can be done.
Working out these strands of Christianity is one of the themes of life.