Is personal application necessary?

Is personal application necessary in expository preaching? Short answer: yes. However, there are many who say no.

If you haven’t already noticed there is a sort of rebirth happening in regards to the “Biblical-theological” school of preaching which stands in the line of Geerhardus Vos. Those who are quick to jump on this bandwagon should be careful to note that many of its chief proponents (Vos included) view application as “moralistic.”

However, by saying application is necessary should not mean that it must be contrived, forced or “moralistic.” Some of the most effective forms of application are more organic and permeate the message throughout. Accomplishing this takes diligence and careful thought. One way to immediately apply a message is to remove generic application pronouns like “we” and “some people.” There are times where these make sense but a personal “you” can be more to the point. Ryle, using the example of George Whitefield, makes this point:

“For another thing, Whitefield was a singularly bold and direct preacher. He never used that indefinite expression “we,” which seems so peculiar to English pulpit oratory, and which only leaves a hearer’s mind in a state of misty confusion. He met men face to face, like one who had a message from God to them, “I have come here to speak to you about your soul.” The result was that many of his hearers used often to think that his sermons were specially meant for themselves. He was not content, as many, with sticking on a meager tail-piece of application at the end of a long discourse. On the contrary, a constant vein of application ran through all his sermons. “This is for you, and this is for you.” His hearers were never let alone.”

6 responses to this post.

  1. […] Paul Lamey on the Expository Thoughts blog asks an interesting question: “Is Personal Applicatio… […]

  2. Posted by tom shuck on July 4, 2007 at 8:06 am

    Yes! In fact, “application” must be part of an expository sermon. 2 Tim. 4:2 makes this very clear. “…, Reprove, Rebuke, and exhort with complete patience and teaching” (ESV). 1 Tim. 4:13 also makes “application” a mandate! You can even see this illustrated by Paul in Col. 1:28, “We proclaim Him, admonishing everyman and teaching everyman”. Application-admonishing, rebuking, correcting, comforting-must be an emphasized part of the expository sermon or it is not pleasing to God.

    Now, I did not always think this way. I can remember being in the latter days of my seminary experience, when a woman heard my preaching and asked if I believed that application was a necessary part of biblical preaching. My quick reflex of an answer was “The Holy Spirit does the application, not the preacher. That is not the role of the preacher” It took me about three more years of exegesis and preaching experience to realize I was wrong. Actually very wrong. Yes, certainly, praise God-the Holy Spirit does apply His word to the hearts of our flocks. But it is the preacher’s duty to “apply” the text he is preaching to the flock. This what the Holy Spirit says to every preacher (See the verses above).

    In the past I have heard one TMS grad. say, “We should only give suggestions from the pulpit-not applications”. Another grad. told me that a preacher should not give exhortations. Let the Holy Spirit have that role. These remarks -to me -are shocking.

    Much thought and care needs to be given to application by the pastor when he is preparing his sermon. The text and its intention is always THE priority-“preach the Word”. Explanation must also be an emphasized element of the expsoitory sermon, but too often now days many expositors are giving what is akin to class room lectures and the Church suffers for it.

    Those are my quick thoughts as I quickly go to teach a class on the Doctrince of the Spirit.

  3. I believe strongly the the preacher should purposefully make application in the message for the hearers.

    However, I am a very young preacher, I don’t pretend to be any expert in biblical preaching, even though I have strong convictions.

    This is my first visit to this site, but I don’t think it’ll be my last. Thanks!

  4. Posted by Caleb Kolstad on July 5, 2007 at 3:29 am


    Great to hear from you brother!


    Hope to see you here again.

    Happy 4th to all!


  5. 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 dynamics of thoroughly preaching the “inner-man” 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, outline some principles, and then 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. As I’ve said before, by the time a sermon has traversed these crucial matters of the heart (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) Exhortations for practical change that naturally and universally rise from the implications of the text. Congregations should be cautioned, however, that such exhortations are limited, and that 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 (a lost practice), and never become dependent upon someone else’s practical applications. 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.


  6. […] Paul Lamey on the Expository Thoughts blog asks an interesting question: “Is Personal Applicatio… […]

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