Salvation is by grace alone and has always been by grace alone, but that does not mean that there is no such thing as a covenant of works, or a works righteousness principle. And just because there is a covenant of works doesn’t mean that anyone other than Adam or Christ could have kept it. And just because only Christ could and did keep it doesn’t mean that it’s still not in place today, and that the natural inclination of the human heart (both unregenerate and regenerate) is towards works based righteousness. We’ve all got the moral law at work in us, and we’re all inclined to try and be something, or be righteous, or be approved by someone or by some standard associated with that law at work in our consciences.
For some today it’s by virtue signaling what political candidate they’re for or what social policies they agree with, for others it’s the self-sacrificial good works they are doing, and for others it’s polite and good behavior or personal transformation that they pull off or are working towards in the world, and still with others it’s the success they achieve and the respect and approval they get for it. This winning, succeeding, being right, being perceived as good and approved of by measurable beliefs and actions are the effects of Natural Law that Paul describes at work even in the Gentiles in Romans 2:14-16.
One thing we should observe about this is that we don’t need a complex, or custom-tailored Christian apologetic to reach anyone in any culture other than to recognize how they are personally dealing with the covenant of works. Every one of the offspring of Adam is dealing with some form of guilt, or experience of validation or vindication for the law at work in their own consciences. Understanding this is key not only to understanding most human behavior, but it’s also key to a Pauline Christian apologetic that will work in any culture. The fact is that all people want to be right, righteous, approved, accepted, and validated. To evangelize people the connection simply needs to be made back to their creator and how to be right with Him through the perfect obedience and sacrifice of Christ.
This is why Reformed pastors understanding the scriptures from a bi-covenantal perspective (as taught in the Westminster Confession of Faith), and regularly freeing the Christian with the proclamation of the first use of the law and a strong and complete proclamation of the gospel which includes both Christ’s active and passive obedience is important. Because we naturally don’t think that way. That good news has to be preached into us. We need to have a complete understanding of double imputation, that our sins are born away by Christ and His righteousness is given to us.
One thing God has given us to show us what He intends on us to center on each Sunday is the sacraments. I am a fan of the Communion being celebrated every Sunday, because it is a visible gospel. That is visible, smellable, tastable elements that we see and smell, and taste, that has meaning about Christ’s body and blood having been given for us, and that we take that in, and it’s spiritually nourishing us as it’s testifying to us what God has secured for us in Christ. That He is ours, and we are His. That is God giving the gospel, not to convert an unbeliever, but to Christians. Christians are fed with the gospel. Christ instituted that sacrament for us to do when we gather in order to feed us Christians with the gospel every time we gather.
I am in no way saying that the Lord’s Supper should ever be a replacement for actually proclaiming the good news of what Christ has secured for us through the word preached, because that is the other means of grace given to the church. When we gather a clear proclamation of the gospel needs to be central, because that is the good news that we have faith in that is central to all we think or say or do. We are people of faith. Not faith in just anything, or any random part of scripture, but particularly the gospel of what Christ has done to save sinners like us. That is the center of the Christian faith, and therefor the focus of the Christian faith. Good works and new obedience flow from the heart of those who’ve been well grounded in the good news and are therefore assured their salvation is secured by Christ. That is the secondary fruit of our justification.