3 Kinds of Sermon Application

3 Kinds of Sermon Application

Every preacher is different. Some men, by the grace of God, are masters of illustration—I am not. Others, their explanation of the text is so riveting that an hour goes by in minutes (at least, that’s what it feels like). And for most preachers—me included—applications tend to sag. They are there, but they aren’t fresh; it seems like the came from someone else’s fridge. Or maybe they are half-baked. Still a little doughy in the middle. It’s hard to get nutrients from that.

We need solid applications. Something the church can get their mitts on.

Our goal as preachers of God’s word is to help the church be not just hearers of the word but doers (James 1:22-25). We have a responsibility to lay out what God has laid out in the text (Neh. 8:8). God has designed his word to do stuff to his people: reproof, correction, and training in righteousness (2 Tim. 3:16). God’s word is meant to be applied. It’s meant for action. If we aren’t doing that, we might be helping our people disobey James 1:22.

3 Kinds of Application

Simply, application is answering the question: How does God want us to obey him in light of this text?

Here are three ways we can bring application to the front.

  1. Interrogative. Ask a question.
  2. Indicative. A truth to believe.
  3. Imperative. An action to take.

Think of them like flavors. And when you spice in all three–it’s savory.

Interrogative

Ask probing questions. Interrogative application is aimed at getting to the heart (Hebrews 4:12). This is the attempt to reveal sin, and maybe even get to the sin beneath the sin. We have onion-style hearts. Layers and layers of yuck. And God’s grace is for each layer. Questions bring sins—actions, thoughts, inactions—into the light, to be examined in the light of the gospel and then acted upon.

Examples for the believer and unbeliever:

The rich young ruler couldn’t give up his stuff to follow Jesus. Before we tisk-tisk him, what do you find hard to let go? What do you clutch and won’t give to Christ?

——-

Do you think you are a good person?

Do you believe that Jesus died and rose again?

Indicative

A lot of people, most of us, really struggle to believe what the Bible says about us. But we must apply the Scriptures, and believe what God says about us. We are saints. We are forgiven. We are new. We are loved.

Indicative application is showing the church who they are in Christ. “So we have come to know and to believe the love that God has for us. God is love, and whoever abides in love abides in God, and God abides in him” (1 John 4:16).

Like John shows us, indicative application is also showing the church what is true about God. “God is love”—believe it. And this leads to changed actions (1 John 4:20); it ties in with imperative application.

Examples for the believer and unbeliever:

Church, you must believe that God loves you. Don’t doubt it. The cross and the empty tomb stand as sermons, “You are loved. You are forgiven. You are freed.”

——-

If you don’t know Jesus, the Bible says that you are in trouble. You are dead in your sins and the wrath of God is around the corner. But you can be delivered.

Imperative

“Don’t do __.” Yes, that’s true. Imperative application is saying what God says we are not do as followers of the risen Lord Jesus. However, that’s not all.

Imperative application should consider more than sanctifi-cannots; consider more than don’t do and bring in some do. Yes, we are to not engage in sexual immorality (1 Thess. 4:3). And yes, we are to encourage one another (1 Thess. 5:11).

Look at the text, pray, think, and ask, “What is God telling us to do or not do?”

Examples for the believer and unbeliever:

In Acts 4, we see the church pray for boldness to preach the good news. Friends, let’s pray for boldness. Right now, let’s pray—and tomorrow, let’s pray. We need boldness.

——-

Repent of your sin. Turn from your ways and look to Jesus. Believe that he rose again, paid for your sins on the cross—and you will be saved.

Final Example: Bringing it all together.

How is your anxiety meter? [interrogative]

God tells us, by the hand of Paul (Philippians 4) and Peter (1 Peter 5), that we shouldn’t be anxious. Anxiety doesn’t get a pass because we are stressed out Americans. We are Kingdom of Peace citizens [indicative]. Confess your anxiety as sin [imperative]. Call it what the Bible does—what God does. And trust the Lord at all times [imperative]. He is good. He only does good [indicative]. The cross, with the empty tomb, shows that God is always in control, even in the midst of chaos, for your good. The Lord Jesus trusted the Father, and he empowers you, he is alive in you, you can trust the Father because Jesus did [Gospel application].

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Maybe you don’t know God. You’ve heard about him. You even come to church from time to time. But if you haven’t trusted him with your life, your eternity, laying your life down and believing that Jesus died for sinners and rose again, offering eternal life–of course you have anxiety in this life—and you should have anxiety about your life to come. But God can save you.

  1. Great post! I’m always trying to find new perspectives on how to do application. Putting application into categories is helpful for a categorical thinker like me.

    Our preaching pastor at Immanuel also suggested something I found quite helpful – while writing the sermon, try to think of at least 4-5 people in your congregation and think about how the text applies to them. He recommends this because if it will resonate with 5 people, it will probably resonate with most of the people in your congregation.

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