Preaching, part 9


It seems to me that this is the one of the most contentious portions of preaching.

  • Some seem to think that application is left for the Holy Spirit to do in the hearts of the hearers.
  • Some seem to think the application of the Scriptures never alter, or vary, even in nuance.
  • Some seem to think that the whole sermon is application.

And I am sure there are some who think about 40,000 other things about application. Well I think a sermon needs to be applied because:

  • Of Paul’s example in all his letters, where there seems to be a section heavy in theology and a section heavy in application (though he does mix it a little bit throughout)
  • Peter’s Sermon on the Day of Pentecost: Repent and believe. That is application.

So how do we make application? So I try to think about application I guess like Mark Dever, like a grid. Here is what I mean:

Who would this apply to?

First I would ask who does this apply to. Now this is not as scary as this might sound. Before I have gotten here in my explanation and proof I have laid out truths from the word of God, and somewhere in there, either in the explanation or in my application: I need to state the key truth that I am aiming at in point I am preaching, And I need to ask how does this impact believers today? How does this impact someone who is lost? How does this impact or interact with the lost world around us? How does this help or shape the church body? I might even ask who in terms of age groups within the church?

How would it apply to them?

Then I would take the who and think then how to apply it to them. For this I use another grid, that I think I got from David Murray, but I can’t swear to it.

Head – What truths need to be believed, loved, adored, absorbed and made part of this person’s life. Or what truths contradict the truths that they believe.

Heart – what attitudes do these truths demand and call for? There is at least an attitude of repentance, but there might be more, humility, worship, submission, and on and on.

Hand – What actions need to be taken? Is there any sin that needs to be stopped? Any action that needs to be started?


If I were preaching again through John 3:9-15 and I had my two points: Jesus is the revealer and Jesus is the cure. Let’s take one: Jesus is the cure. There are a whole host of application possibilities depending on what I am trying to accomplish with the sermon.

  • To Christians
    • Head –
      • I might be stressing the continuity of the Testaments and the use of typology in order to show believers how to read the Word.
      • I might be discussing the disease of sin, its nature and affects (from the type of the serpents)
      • I might be discussing how faith in Christ is but a look towards Christ and what that looks like theologically.
    • Heart
      • I might suggest that humility, repentance, faith, believing, loving and praising Christ for his cure.
    • Hand
      • I might suggest they read a book on the topic of typology.
      • I would suggest believers test themselves to see if they are in the faith.
      • I would challenge believers to make sure if they are cured, to stop living like they are sick.
  • To those who are lost
    • Head
      • I would suggest that they believe that Jesus is the only way to salvation
      • I would suggest that they believe rightly about their sin.
    • Heart
      • I would beg them to humble themselves and call on God for salvation.
      • I would paint the picture of the cure in Christ, and plead with them to take up something so gloriously beautiful.
    • Hand
      • I would call them to trust in Christ and be saved.
  • To the lost world
    • Head
      •  I would challenge the notion that all religions lead to the same place.
  • The Church
    • Heart
      • I would suggest that the church which is built by Christ, is built of healed people and that this body is to be an army of healed people
    • Hand
      • So there should not be a mixed group of believers and nonbelievers as members. And they ought to protect the membership better.

Now I would not make all of those applications in one sermon, but I think I could legitimately make those applications. I wouldn’t make them all because some of them might not be helpful for the congregation that would be before me. And frankly I just wouldn’t have the time to develop them all. I usually feel as though I only have time to do maybe four things in a sermon point. So either I have aim at one group the whole time, or mix it up.

I will almost never fail to speak directly to lost people in my sermons, even if looking out I believe it is possible everyone is a Christian. And I will almost always try to speak to the lost world. I think this helps our people know how to communicate to those around them when they encounter them.

A final word

Some I think if you leave out illustrations its fine. The sermon will be okay, I don’t think an illustration left out will make or break a sermon. (however I really bad illustration and totally ruin a sermon)

But Application? I am not so quick to say that application can be left out. I just don’t think any of us with our desperately wicked and deceitful hearts can be left to our own devices that we will actually spend time applying the sermon to our lives. Sure there are those super students who rehash the sermon two or three times, and that is the goal, but the truth is not many of the people in our churches do that. So while we have a captive audience, we ought to connect the dots for them and plead with them to turn to Christ.