Preach the Word! — Chapter 16

Application of the Sermon II

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.

A sermon without application is not only shadow boxing, it is swinging wildly at no target at all. To use another sports analogy, home runs are hit when the batter keeps his eye on the ball. The preacher spends 25- 30 minutes building up to the application. If the application is neglected, the value of the major part of the sermon is lost. Of what value are facts and explanations if there is no purpose or application? Facts and explanations require knowledge; application requires spiritual perception to find in facts and explanations balm for the soul’s struggles. Failure to meaningfully apply the text leaves “a great gulf fixed” between the pulpit and the pew. But if sermon application is so important, why is it so rare?

Good application is rare because it is difficult. Proper application requires the preacher not only to be a student of scripture, but a student of human nature as well. He must not only know the word, he must also know his world. He must not only be concerned with what the text means, but how the text will help his hearers in their daily struggles. It is relatively easy to examine the text; it is difficult to examine the needs, physical and social pressures, loneliness, conflicts, and guilt of the hearers and apply the word of God to them. It is even more difficult to know the hearers’ hidden needs, needs of which the hearers are not even aware, and bring them into awareness. In short, it is more difficult to preach than it is to lecture.

Good application is rare because preachers assume their hearers can and will make the application. While most hearers are concerned about their own needs, they lack either the ability or the inclination to relate the word of God to those needs. A discussion of meat sacrificed to idols (1 Cor. 8:1-13) leaves them uninterested and uninspired. Like the Ethiopian eunuch, they need someone to guide them, taking the principles that Paul espouses and applying them to modern America in the same fashion that Paul used them to impact Corinth. The problem is not that our society no longer sacrifices meat to idols; it is that without application the principles that Paul formulated die with the first century issue that gave them birth. Without application, the hearers may nod in agreement, but more likely they will nod off in apathy.

Good application is rare because it requires creativity and courage. Creativity is required to envision the battles fought daily in the lives of God’s people. Courage is required to apply God’s word to those struggles on a personal level. Because application concentrates on the transformation God requires of his people, hearers, unwilling to directly attack the message, often attack the messenger. Therefore, the messenger is tempted either to mince words or avoid the application. Unlike Nathan, he is unwilling to point the finger of application at his hearers and declare, “Thou art the man.” (2 Sam. 12:7.) While application must always be made with love, it needs to be right between the eyes!

Good application is rare because preachers fear being too simple. Application is neither ethereal nor esoteric. It is practical and pragmatic. How can a preacher impress the audience with his knowledge when he deals on such levels? Will his hearers not think that he is dull of mind and slow of wit? Jesus did not worry about such concerns. He spoke simply and plainly. He spent little time sawing sawdust. To the contrary, he ripped into real problems of real people; he generated a response. Men may not marvel at the eruditeness of those who follow his example, but they may say, as they did of him, “Never man spake like this.” (John 7:46.)

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)