But the one who looks into the perfect law…being no hearer who forgets but a doer who acts, he will be blessed in his doing.
(James 1:25, ESV)
It’s no secret that I love baked goods. Thankfully, I have a wife and daughter that both love to bake. Recently, my daughter was baking some snicker doodle brownies for a church event when much to her surprise, this delectable creation came out of the oven very shallow and flat. After several minutes of troubleshooting she discovered she had forgotten to add baking powder. Baking powder, as many of you know, causes a chemical reaction in the batter creating carbon dioxide bubbles that cause it to “rise” and expand. What we get is that light, fluffy texture we all enjoy in our baked goods.
Something else I love besides baked goods is preaching. The effective preaching of God’s Word feeds my soul, enlarges my heart for the Lord and stimulates my mind. However, over my many years in ministry I’ve heard countless devoted men deliver sermons that fell…well, shall we say…flat. Even I, in all of my years of expositing God’s Word, have pulled a few messages out of the sermon oven that failed to “rise”. After years of tasting effective and ineffective sermons, I believe there is one critical ingredient missing from many sermons today that determines their impact: application.
WHAT Is It?
I like to define application as the intentional implementing of biblical truth to our personal life with the Spirit’s help. One of my favorite professors at Dallas Seminary, Dr. Howard Hendricks, used to teach us that application is found by asking the question “What must I do now that I have heard this truth?” Hendricks would then explain that application is the most neglected but most needed stage in study because…
“Every time you observe and interpret (God’s Word) but fail to apply, you perform an abortion on the Scriptures in terms of their purpose. The Bible was not written to satisfy your curiosity; it was written to transform your life.”
-Dr. Howard Hendricks[i]
God's Word provides at least a few reasons as to why application is so important in preaching and personal Bible study.
1. Application leads to obedience (Jn. 14:23-24). Jesus makes it clear here that obedience is his “love language”. Similar to our spouses, Jesus doesn’t want us to just SAY that we love him—he wants us to show it.
2. Application leads to blessings (James 1:25; Lk. 11:28). Like any good parent, we see throughout the Scriptures the Lord reward people who exercised faith by obeying what He commanded.
3. Application leads to life transformation (Acts 4:13). Changed lives are what the Lord uses to make the Gospel appealing to a sick and dying world.
4. Application prevents us from becoming puffed up with knowledge (1Cor. 8:1). Jesus and the Apostles never equated knowledge of the Scriptures with godliness. Instead, they were more interested in what you have done with what you know.
Providing example application is difficult for teachers of the Word because…
- it’s easier to explain the text than to apply it to life
- they must do the hard work of applying the Word to their own hearts first
- they must fear God more than men because application convicts people
In a worship service setting, applying the Word should be initiated by the preacher but there is some responsibility that falls on the listener. Committed Christ-followers should be taking notes with their Bibles open during the message while asking the Spirit “How does this apply to me and what do I need to do about it?”
So, the next time you find yourself listening to a sermon that has failed to rise to the level of personal application, you might need to either bring your own baking powder or find yourself another baker.
[i]Howard G. Hendricks and William D. Hendricks, Living By The Book (Chicago: Moody Press, 1991), 283-284.