What about Application?

Expository Thoughts “senior” contributor, Jerry Wragg, made his debut here on the new site with a comment that might have been missed so I will re-post it here in its entirety. On a side note we have cracked through the walls of obscurity and made it on to the blog role of fire in the “exceptional” category no less (Thanks Phil, the check is in the mail). Following is Jerry’s comment:

I’ve been pondering the prevailing ideas about preaching, and have concluded that one of the dominant reasons so many sermons focus on moralistic “practicalities” is because of entrenched misguidance about application in preaching. Here’s how I believe it has come about: It seems we have systematically trained this generation to believe that behavioral changes themselves are equal to whole life change. Said another way, we’ve come to think that new actions equal new spirituality. It is right to say that all true preaching exhorts the will of the hearer and calls for life change, but what does this really mean and how is it accomplished? Many books and articles on the subject make the case that the difference between boring exegetical sermons and powerful expositions is “practical application”. Are they correct? I believe this assertion is only partially on target. Preaching for life change is the duty of all shepherds charged with feeding the flock. However, just how true life change occurs cannot be reduced to making general (or even specific) suggestions as to how one might “practice” the principles of the sermon. What’s the missing piece? I believe the problem arises from not understanding the importance of preaching the implications of a text before we suggest practical life changes. By “implications”, I mean every way in which the scriptures confront and expose wrong thinking, errant convictions, unholy motivations, and idolatrous affections. It is not enough to explain the meaning of the ancient text in its context…assume contemporary parallels…outline some principles…and offer circumstantial “ways to apply” the principles. The Bible is clear that life transformation occurs when the mind is renewed! Preaching should first renovate the hearers reasoning, confront their humanistic worldview, cement new theological convictions, bring sinful motivations under the captivity of Christ, and smash all idols of the heart. By the time a sermon has traversed these crucial “implications”, first for the original hearers and then for today, practical life changes will become much clearer as the Spirit “applies” the surgical word, renewing the heart and mind.What about application? Should preachers include practical ways of changing one’s life? Application should involve two kinds of material: (1) The preachers own life changes which have resulted from new convictions, fresh theological depth, and corrected thinking; (2) General suggestions for practical change that naturally and universally rise from the implications of the text. Congregations should be cautioned, however, that such suggestions are limited and mere behavioral changes without mind renewal will lead to superficiality, weakness, and hypocrisy. They should be encouraged to walk by faith, think deeply about the implications by meditating on sound biblical truth, and never become dependent upon someone else’s practical suggestions. Where the universal practice of a principle is obvious, change your life…but the Spirit may desire other specific changes in your personal life that others cannot see and wouldn’t themselves be helped by applying to their lives. A few thoughts…


11 responses to this post.

  1. Posted by CK on August 18, 2006 at 4:35 pm


    Great post. I put this reply under the Driscoll section but thought it applied here as well.

    One of the (many) things that concerned me about Driscoll’s recent preaching statements was his diss on not following the model of “radio preachers.” His argumentation was that men like Swindoll and MacArthur preach for the tape and not for their congregation. I have never asked Pastor Swindoll or Pastor MacArthur if this is true but i would guess that they don’t do this (atleast not %100). Are they mindful that their sermons are going around the world? Sure, but does that eliminate their pastoral concerns while preaching? I dont think so. I think Driscoll’s comments here are motive judgments, which in my mind is dangerous.

    How can John MacArthur’s sermons be so relevant and powerful to so many people around the United States (let alone the world)? I think your recent post on Application sort of explains this matter….

    Also, Pastors of mega-churches (churches w/over 2000+ people) have an even greater challenge (in my opinion). When i attended Grace Community Church in CA, Pastor MacArthur had to preach to people w/many different backgrounds: rich, poor, & middle class; Many different ethnic backgrounds (Thai, Hispanic, Korean, Japanese, etc); Many different social backgrounds (doctors, teachers, janitors, lawyers, etc); Many different ages (children, teens, adults, and seniors); Many different physical condictions (healthy, sick, deaf, handicapped, etc); and the list could go on and on.

    When the Word is faithful exposited the eternal truth of God penetrates the believer’s heart.

    John Calvin probably had no idea how popular his sermons (now his commentaries) would be, hundreds of years down the road. What makes these sermons timeless? I believe it is the in-depth, profound, clear, and accurate preaching of Spirit-led preachers (not just their application).

    I do not know if Driscoll understands this concept or not? I for one have not chosen to invest any time in his books or sermons.

  2. Posted by Rich on August 18, 2006 at 8:07 pm

    Great, great post Jerry. Of course that raises the bar in terms of how a preacher must prepare. That kind of “application” requires a decent to profound awareness of the world in which we live and the ideologies that are prevalent.

    Do you do this process of “implications” as you do the actual exegesis or after you dig out the structure and proposition? I find that this kind of application only comes for me after I have the sermon essentially written so that I can meditate on the implications. Sadly, that part often comes too late in the week and I am regretting not getting done earlier. I’d love to hear your thoughts.

  3. Something I always think is both funny and sad are the folks who have come to our site looking for sermon outlines for Sunday. Here it is getting late on Friday and guys (gals?) are hitting us looking for a late hour crutch. You wouldn’t believe some of the searches that have brought preachers here. I might post some of these later.

  4. Posted by CK on August 19, 2006 at 2:15 pm


    Great thoughts and questions


  5. Rich –
    Here’s my process…
    I first finish my exegesis work and interpretation of the text (ie, what it says and what it meant in its original context).
    Then, I develop and write out the spiritual implications for those for whom the original text was intended. This involves thinking through the main point and arguments as to how they confronted unbiblical thinking, unholy motivations, and idolatry for those in the ancient context—in other words, inner man transformation. These are the most crucial “implications” of a passage.
    Then, I note which implications can be bridged to us (a difficult discipline, but determined by bridging contextual, cultural, historical, theological, and geographical gaps wherever they naturally parallel).
    Then, I meditate upon and develop these “timeless” implications along contemporary lines.
    Then, I weave these into the sermon throughout, letting the weight and conviction of such truth fall upon human hearts in the grace of the Holy Spirit.
    If I find that I’ve been able to change some practical behavior in my life as the outworking of these new convictions, I may offer the same changes as perhaps an effective “test”, “manifestation”, “outcome” of true inner life transformation. I do not typically give a practical list of “things to do” as an application of biblical principles. I would much rather allow the implications to sink in, suggesting some very general and obvious life alterations to move people toward righteousness.
    Honestly, in my experience (10 years of ministry alongside John MacArthur at Grace Community Church), once the implications are truly preached with passion…most people already know several practical ways they need to manifest on the outside the new convictions being forged on the inside.


  6. Very helpful Jerry…thanks.

  7. CK –
    You nailed it! Driscoll has unwittingly drifted into the same confusion as today’s preaching gurus, namely, that people need to hear a precise action plan fairly soon in a sermon or the truth will not be applicable, relevant, pastoral, need-saavy, etc.

    What they don’t realize is that people typically “desire” this approach because it demands less serious heart-examination, substituting easily manipulated and superficial outward changes for the Spirit’s inner work. What they call “relevant application” is merely the meringue without the full crust and lemon-filling. In an effort to speak quickly on the average complaint and struggle of everyday life, they’ve rushed to make “applications” which offer little more than a surface rearrangement of people’s complaints and struggles.

    Over time, this approach further dumb’s down our ability to think deeply about any biblical implications, and we’re left disconnected and unable to relate to sound exposition! How sad…

  8. Fantastic, its truth, and yet, its tough, in that I have been trying to do it right, but it is taking me 35+ hours each week, and now I guess this means it always will…but its worth it, for sure. Thanks very much for this…

  9. Great discussion here…

  10. It’s time to praise the godly fruit that is easily recognized which has come from the oversight of GCC. The institutions of TMS and TMC are truly treasures that that all Christians should continually pray and give thanks for.

  11. Renewing heart and mind

    At Expository Thoughts, Jerry Wragg writes that simply changing behavior is not the same as building true discipleship:

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