Liturgy: God’s Law

Not that long ago I listened to a minister on television explain that Christians do not need to follow or know the Ten Commandments. The reason is that if we strive to love, then we have done all that God requires and then we don’t need to be concerned about following a list of ‘dos’ and don’ts’.

I suppose this sounds great at first. Indeed, wouldn’t we be free from legalism and strife in the church if we follow the command to love? And isn’t this what Paul says in Romans 13:10? “Love is the fulfillment of the law”?

Note that, if this is true, the implication for our Reformed churches would be that the the reading of the Law would be an addition to, if not a blatant violation of, Christian worship. Thus instead of reciting the Ten Commandments (as we do at Grace in our morning service) maybe we would be better off simply saying “Go in peace to love and serve the Lord.”

However this would be an ignorant notion. The Reformed tradition of reading the law in worship has its roots in biblical practice and theology. What follows, then, is a defense of that tradition. What we will see from scripture is that a philosophy of ‘love’ replacing the commandments of God is misguided at best.

First of all, it ignores the very meaning of Paul’s words in Romans 13:10. He says in the proceeding verse that the commandments [1], are summed up by love but Paul does not indicate that they are replaced by love.

Second of all, this perspective is naive for it tends to exalt our fallen hearts as a guide to morality. Our hearts are darkened (Romans 1:21), evil from youth (Genesis 8:21) and deceitful above all things (Jeremiah 17:9). Indeed we would be fools to trust them (Proverbs 28:26). Thus we tend to ignore what God has explicitly commanded in favor of what we feel. Indeed, this generation has largely turned God’s commands into observations or options for our own selfish benefit. To simply advocate ‘love’ to the exclusion of express commands is to feed the impulse that what feels right must be right.[2]

And even the Christian can’t simply love without guidance. If that were not true, why do the scriptures spend so much time exhorting us to do good and then define what that good is? Thus the commandments of God give structure to love, showing us that God wants tangible obedience from us, not some heartfelt desire that we think is love.

Third of all, it ignores the use of the commandments in the conversion of man. After all, we need the law to direct us to Christ; the law helps us see our need for Jesus. “By the law is the knowledge of sin” (Romans 3:20). The law shows us our unworthy state; it exposes our sins and misery. Martin Luther rightly said (concerning the law) that “this plane is necessary for tough and knotted logs”. For we tend towards works-righteousness. We think we are good but the law makes it plain that we are not. (Mark 10:18; Romans 3:12) It strips us bare of all pretension and causes us to cry out in fear when it reveals to us a holy God (cf. Isaiah 6:5).

Thus no one will be justified by keeping it. Paul makes it clear that this is not just in reference to the so-called outward ceremonies (such as circumcision) but everything that the law commands: “Cursed is everyone who does not continue in all things which are written in the book of the law, to do them”. Galatians 3:10 This law, then, humbles us, showing us that our justification [3] is in Christ alone. That is why Paul says “we establish the law” (Romans 3:31) as opposed to making it void. Without the law we endanger the doctrine of justification and free grace itself.

Fourth of all, it ignores the use of the commandments in the New Testament writings to explain the duty of the Christian in thankfulness to God’s love and mercy. We see this in the fact that Jesus teaching about love as a summary of the law is not a new or ‘replacement’ doctrine. When Jesus said that the greatest commandment was that we ought to love God with our whole being and love our neighbour as ourselves, He was repeating what Deuteronomy 6:5 & Leviticus 19:18 explicitly teach. In other words, love is not a new concept, but an old concept which is, and always has been, faithfully explained in the law. Furthermore, Jesus taught  that those who love Him would keep His commandments (plural – John 14:15), not just a broad commandment to love.

We also see that Jesus defends and promotes moral truth through His exposition or citation of the Ten Commandments in His public ministry:

  • First commandment: “For it is written, ‘You shall worship the LORD your God, and Him only you shall serve.'” Luke 4:8
  • Second commandment: “‘And in vain they worship Me, Teaching as doctrines the commandments of men.'” Mark 7:7
  • Third commandment: he who blasphemes against the Holy Spirit never has forgiveness, but is subject to eternal condemnation” Mark 3:29
  • Fourth commandment: “The Sabbath was made for man, and not man for the Sabbath.” Mark 2:27
  • Fifth commandment: “For God commanded, saying, ‘Honor your father and your mother’.”  Matthew 15:4
  • Sixth commandment: “For out of the heart proceed evil thoughts, murders…” Matthew 15:19
  • Seventh commandment:  “Whoever divorces his wife and marries another commits adultery”Luke 16:18
  • Eighth commandment: “You know the commandments: … ‘You shall not steal'” Luke 18:20
  • Ninth commandment: “You are of your father, the devil… he is a liar and the father of it.” John 8:44
  • Tenth commandment: “Take heed and beware of covetousness, for one’s life does not consist in the abundance of the things he possesses.” Luke 12:15

Likewise, the apostles follow the pathway established by their Lord. For John, sin is “lawlessness” (1 John 3:4). James says that if we but fail at keeping one law, we fail to keep them all. (James 2:10) Paul confesses to “delight in the law of God according to the inward man.” (Romans 7:22) Perhaps most significantly, the author of Hebrews claims (quoting from Jeremiah 33) that, in the new covenant, God has put His laws [4] in our minds and written them on our hearts (Hebrews 8:10). The examples could be multiplied, but what is clear from just these citations is that the moral law is not replaced with just one command to love but that love is demonstrated through a keeping of the moral law of God.

Finally, I wish to say that none of what I argue for above removes the necessityof keeping the law out of love. We can’t nor do we wish to, do any good apart from God’s love. (1 John 4:10 & 19) God wants our entire being, indeed He is remaking our entire being. Those who wish to serve God in this life, do so from their new heart.(Ezekiel 36:26)

And yet the new heart cannot want that which takes away from God’s Word: it seeks to fulfill it in every aspect of life by looking to what God has said He wants from us. Thus we conclude that the reading of God’s law must continue to be part of our liturgy as we seek to worship God as He desires.

Psalm 119:34 “Give me understanding, and I shall keep Your law; indeed, I shall observe it with my whole heart.”


[1] Note that the 6th, 7th, 8th & 9th laws of the Ten Commandments are listed here.
[2] Of course this is not the fault of the scripture’s advocacy of love. But it does mean that we are obligated to explain the term and unpack its meaning from the breadth and depth of the scripture’s usage of it. Like most biblical words, the term ‘love’ cannot be defined with one meaning, and certainly does not mean whatever we are led to do at that particular moment.
[3] Our verdict of ‘righteous’ by and before God in Christ by faith alone.
[4] Note the plural ending. In other words, we ought not to look for a ‘law of love’ to replace God’s commandments.


One thought on “Liturgy: God’s Law

  1. Pingback: Liturgy: Assurance of Pardon | Grace Reformed Church of Leduc

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