Preach the Word! — Chapter 15

Application of the Sermon I

This article is part of a series of articles on how to preach written by Jess Hall, Jr. and originally published in The Firm Foundation.

“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 a 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.

God's Plan of Salvation

You must hear the gospel and then understand and recognize that you are lost without Jesus Christ no matter who you are and no matter what your background is. The Bible tells us that “all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God.” (Romans 3:23) Before you can be saved, you must understand that you are lost and that the only way to be saved is by obedience to the gospel of Jesus Christ. (2 Thessalonians 1:8) Jesus said, “I am the way, the truth, and the life: no man cometh unto the Father, but by me.” (John 14:6) “Neither is there salvation in any other: for there is none other name under heaven given among men, whereby we must be saved.” (Acts 4:12)

You must believe and have faith in God because “without faith it is impossible to please him: for he that cometh to God must believe that he is, and that he is a rewarder of them that diligently seek him.” (Hebrews 11:6) But neither belief alone nor faith alone is sufficient to save. (James 2:19; James 2:24; Matthew 7:21)

You must repent of your sins. (Acts 3:19) But repentance alone is not enough. The so-called “Sinner’s Prayer” that you hear so much about today from denominational preachers does not appear anywhere in the Bible. Indeed, nowhere in the Bible was anyone ever told to pray the “Sinner’s Prayer” to be saved. By contrast, there are numerous examples showing that prayer alone does not save. Saul, for example, prayed following his meeting with Jesus on the road to Damascus (Acts 9:11), but Saul was still in his sins when Ananias met him three days later (Acts 22:16). Cornelius prayed to God always, and yet there was something else he needed to do to be saved (Acts 10:2, 6, 33, 48). If prayer alone did not save Saul or Cornelius, prayer alone will not save you. You must obey the gospel. (2 Thess. 1:8)

You must confess that Jesus Christ is the Son of God. (Romans 10:9-10) Note that you do NOT need to make Jesus “Lord of your life.” Why? Because Jesus is already Lord of your life whether or not you have obeyed his gospel. Indeed, we obey him, not to make him Lord, but because he already is Lord. (Acts 2:36) Also, no one in the Bible was ever told to just “accept Jesus as your personal savior.” We must confess that Jesus is the Son of God, but, as with faith and repentance, confession alone does not save. (Matthew 7:21)

Having believed, repented, and confessed that Jesus is the Son of God, you must be baptized for the remission of your sins. (Acts 2:38) It is at this point (and not before) that your sins are forgiven. (Acts 22:16) It is impossible to proclaim the gospel of Jesus Christ without teaching the absolute necessity of baptism for salvation. (Acts 8:35-36; Romans 6:3-4; 1 Peter 3:21) Anyone who responds to the question in Acts 2:37 with an answer that contradicts Acts 2:38 is NOT proclaiming the gospel of Jesus Christ!

Once you are saved, God adds you to his church and writes your name in the Book of Life. (Acts 2:47; Philippians 4:3) To continue in God’s grace, you must continue to serve God faithfully until death. Unless they remain faithful, those who are in God’s grace will fall from grace, and those whose names are in the Book of Life will have their names blotted out of that book. (Revelation 2:10; Revelation 3:5; Galatians 5:4)