The Reading of the Law

This is the ninth in a series of bulletin inserts on corporate worship at Trinity URC.  Full Series (to date)–>HERE


The Reading of the Law


Of all the elements of worship, perhaps it is the reading of the Law that has fallen on the hardest of times. It is one of the first elements to be given up in contemporary worship, and even where it still occupies a place in the liturgy, it is generally given little attention and thought and sometimes even retained in the worship service simply out of custom or tradition.


If we are to better understand why the reading of the Law is a vital element in the liturgy, we must remember that it is part of the dialogue of worship. God initiates the dialogue by calling us to worship; we respond by calling upon his name in the invocation. God welcomes us into his throne room by greeting us with words of grace, mercy, and peace; we respond in song. Then God speaks to us again in the Law, where he reveals to us not only his character, but also what he requires of his people.


As we hear what God requires of us in the Law, we are brought again to the knowledge of our sin (Rom. 7:7). The standard against which our lives are measured is the Law of God. It stands before us like a mirror, revealing to us our sin and guilt. Each week as we hear the Law we are reminded again that we have sinned against all God’s commandments, and have never kept any of them. It may seem like a rather depressing thing to hear each week (and it would be if the service ended there!), but it is necessary for us because our default position is to seek our salvation in the Law. Even when we sin, so often our first reaction is to fall back upon ourselves: “I’ll try harder; I’ll make changes; I’ll make improvements; I’ll work harder at keeping the Law; I’ll make myself worthy of God’s love.” Though we would never say it, we often live as though our salvation depends on our Law-keeping and our acceptance before God on our obedience. This is why the Christian life becomes for us a burdensome and joyless thing. We look to the very thing that condemns us, expecting to find salvation by it. Moses’ death outside the promised land is a vivid illustration that we cannot inherit the land of promise by the keeping of the Law. The death of the inhabitants of Beth Shemesh who looked into the ark is a poignant reminder that we need the covering of the mercy seat.


We need to be clear there is nothing wrong with the Law; the Law is holy, just, and good. The problem is with our hearts. We need something more than the Law, for while it can point out our sin, it does not give us the remedy. We need the Law to point us to the Gospel, where God provides what he requires.


The Law and the Gospel are the two parts of God’s Word, and while they should never be separated, they should be kept distinct, for God does different things with them. With the Law he kills us, and with the Gospel he makes us alive.


The unbeliever needs to hear the Law, but believers do too, for we never outgrow our need for our Savior. How thankful we may be that when God speaks his Law to us, he does so not to condemn us but to bring us to repentance, to bring us back again to the Gospel.


We cannot dispense with the regular reading of the Law without also undermining the grace and glory of the Gospel. So as you hear God’s Law today, pray for the Spirit to do his work: revealing to you your sin and calling you to find refuge in the gospel of Christ.


Rev. Brian Vos