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Application of the Sermon 1

By Jess Hall Jr.

religion, articles, christianity

We must make the gospel relevant. To those who believe and love the Scripture, that expression is like a red flag to a bull. It is certain to elicit a strong reaction because the Scripture is and has always been relevant. Sometimes however, our rejection and suspicion of those who seek to make the gospel relevant incorrectly and illogically lead to the conclusion that we need not demonstrate the relevance of the gospel. There is a difference between believing that the testament of our Lord is not relevant without a codicil by man and attempting to demonstrate the gospel's relevance to hearers' lives. The former is unbelief disguised as faith; the latter is faith at work in today's world. In sermon it is called application.

Application is connecting the text with the hearer's condition. It demonstrates the relation of the text to the hearer's life. It instructs the hearer how to act upon what has been declared. Application relates instruction to the hearer and declares the practical demands made by the text.

While the best sermon may make no difference in the lives of hearers, a sermon that is not at least intended to make a difference in the lives of the hearers is no real sermon. Charles Spurgeon reportedly said that the sermon did not begin until the application began. Without application the hearer is apt to perceive little more than obscure generalities, a fogging of the world with words, a skimming over the surface like a hover craft without touching anything specific. Such preaching produces hearers whose worldliness demonstrates that their faith is little more than an abstraction, having no impact on how they live. In modern parlance, they can talk the talk, but they can't walk the walk.Preachers make a serious mistake when they perceive their task as nothing more than providing biblical information on the supposition that their hearers are programmed to automatically connect truth to their lives. The heart of preaching is not just truth, but truth applied. If there is no reason to assimilate biblical information, the preacher cannot reasonably expect to hold his hearers' attention.

Those who ignore sermon application to the contemporary world often do so in claimed fidelity to Scripture. In fact, it demonstrates infidelity. The faith once for all delivered was not delivered in the abstract.

Just as the Word became flesh in a manger, his truth came into a real world. It did not disregard that world and the human predicament as it then existed. To the contrary, both the Living Word and the written word addressed that world directly.

Had James been a professor of homiletics, he might have written, "For as the body apart from the spirit is dead, even so a sermon apart from application is dead." Moses might have written, "The life of the sermon is in the application." But if application is so important, why is it so rare? Don't let your subscription expire. That is next month's topic.

Published February 1997