St. Augustine claims that one is saved not through one's actions but through the Grace of God. No matter how much you may repent or how many good deeds you can claim to your name, it will be ultimately God's own personal decision to save you from eternal damnation.
Throughout religious history in the Western world this has been an important factor. Martin Luther picked up that idea and gave faith more importance than before. It became essentially your faith that saved you.
Therefore, many believed that if you have faith in Jesus before you die, you will have the opportunity to gain entrance to heaven because Jesus represented God's Grace directly. The last rites became a grave matter of (eternal) life and death. It was seen as the soul's ultimate struggle.
How convenient, many may say. You lead a life of sin, pleasure, corruption, violence, and at the final moment before death, you suddenly have faith, accept Christ and all's well that ends well. This, by the way, applies to dear St. Augustine himself. It is only after a life of impulsive sexual escapades that he decided to embrace religion, and then he claims that sex is actually bad for the spiritual path. It is all in hindsight, but let us please at least have the same type of experience / fun before we learn from our erroneous ways and turn passionately to religion.
There is a touch of dishonesty or affectation at work here. Although faith is both relevant and important, it cannot or should not be the determining factor. In the Catholic doctrine there is the belief of acts of charity and generosity asking people to act out of the goodness of their hearts but at the same time the Catholic religion still insists on the sacraments. The Muslims make sure they help the poor and needy by contributing a certain percentage of their earnings to them although likewise in their doctrine God's Grace overrides any amount of good deeds.
And the Protestant or Puritan Work Ethic, reshaping and reworking the Lutheran philosophy, placed importance on work. Work hard on this Earth and you will have riches in heaven. The property and money you have down here will be transferred to your “bank account” in heaven.
Although the latter has a strong capitalistic flair to it, it was still more focused on actions and deeds than merely having faith and hoping God will interfere and make all well. At the same time, there was an implicit clause of divine grace, the fine print so-to-speak: Only those predetermined and designated by God, the so-called Elect, had a chance of making it to heaven (but you generally had no way of knowing beforehand).
Contrary to our Western concept of “divine grace,” the Eastern tradition has focused more on spiritual practice and discipline. Following the concept of karma, we are living in a world of give and take, a world of our own making. The Buddhists claim that if you put a lot of effort in our endeavors and you live and practice the Eightfold Path, you will be rewarded with spiritual insight. Furthermore, the practice of meditation is used as a tool toward reaching understanding, self-awareness, and - perhaps eventually – spiritual enlightenment.
It will “cost” us, in the sense of having to work hard for it, but it will be ultimately rewarding. Our daily life is based on that premise, whereas strangely enough most of our religious beliefs are not. Many still hold onto the un-existential belief that faith can at anytime overpower one's lifetime of acts and that faith is the miracle wonder drug that makes you immune against all accusations of wrongdoing.
Albeit important, faith should not be used as an excuse for lack of integrity; in the meantime, one's beliefs should be directly reflected in and embedded within one's life. And no matter what belief system you follow, the good and honest people of any denomination should have an equal chance of getting to heaven - that is, if there is such a place.