As Christians who listen to many sermons, it is helpful for us to have a broad view of application. There are many ways that God wants His Word to apply to our lives, and we may not be aware of all those ways. In this post, I’d like to address a few of the many possibilities.
The most obvious kind of application is the answer to this question: how should I live my life in the next week in accordance with what God has said? We might call this “immediate” application. This is necessary, since this is where many Christians are. They want help with how to live their lives as Christians in the next week. They might call it “getting through the week,” or similar language.
However, this is not the only kind of application that is necessary for the Christian. Suppose the sermon has something that is not immediately helpful, but might be helpful later on? The Christian might use it a month, a year, or many years later. Is this somehow “less” practical than the immediate application? I would argue that it is not less practical, but is rather equally practical.
In addition to considerations of “when” something is practical, we must also consider “how” something is practical. Practicality is not just about what we do. It is also about how we analyze situations, which will in turn dictate how we react to that situation. For instance, if we analyze cancer as an attack on our humanity, or the worst possible evil, or the end of life as we know it, we are going to react in a posture of despair. However, if we analyze cancer as something God sends to accomplish a particular result, we will look for that result, and therefore be more patient while suffering. As John Piper might say, we would then not be wasting our cancer. In other words, practicality is not just about what we do, it is also about how we think about things.
Ultimately, what I’m getting at here is that doctrine is practical. Doctrine simply means the teaching of the Bible. We must believe the Bible when it says that all Scripture is useful for instruction, rebuke, etc., so that the man of God may be complete. All Scripture, not just some of Scripture.
What we believe about God has the profoundest ramifications for our lives. If God is a cosmic bully, or homocidal maniac, that will drastically affect how we live. If God is our loving heavenly Father, that drastically affects how we live. If Jesus is the only way to God, that affects how we live. If Jesus is one choice among many, that drastically affects how we live. If Christ’s death and resurrection saves us from our sins when the Holy Spirit grants us faith in Jesus Christ, that will drastically affect how we live. We cannot separate doctrine and practice.
For preachers, this means that we need to have all different kinds of application: immediate, and not-so-immediate, hands-on, and also doctrinal application.
For those who listen to sermons, we need to have our minds open to all the truth of God, not merely to the kind of truth we think we need. After all, no one else in the congregation will be in precisely the same place that we are. They will need different things at different times. We need to believe that all Scripture is useful. We need to believe that God will show us something helpful from Scripture. We need to come to the sermon with the expectation that God will feed us by His Holy Spirit. And we will need to have some method to store away those nuggets that we get. We shouldn’t reject any truth just because we cannot see the immediate application. We should rather be busy bees and store that truth away, so that it will be available when we do need it.