The role of application in a reformed preacher’s sermon is critical today particularly because this is the area where reformed preachers, many times, can fall short.
In fact, there are some reformed preachers today who say I shouldn’t do the application because the Holy Spirit needs to do the application. So I’ll just exegete and the Spirit has got to do the work to apply it.
Application is important because you want the sermon to live in your hearers after the sermon is over.
I totally disagree with that. You are hired as a minister in your church to be a preacher—not just to expound the Word, but to apply it so people know what the application is from that text.
If they make additional applications for themselves that are biblical, praise the Lord. But this is your job, preacher. You’ve got to apply the word to the hearts of your people and you’ve got to do that because the Word is always there to apply. This is God’s purpose in bringing you the Word.
A Sermon That Lives On
Now that doesn’t mean, as Spurgeon (I think a bit exaggeratedly) said, “The sermon doesn't begin until the application begins.” I understand Spurgeon’s point. He’s saying a sermon without application really isn’t a sermon because you've got to bring it home to the mind, you’ve got to bring it home to the heart, you’ve got to bring it home to the hands and the feet so that people know what to do with a sermon.
Application is important because you want the sermon to live in your hearers after the sermon is over. It’s not just something to digest and walk out a church and saying That was a great sermon and then forget it.
Speak and Apply
When you apply it, you keep the sermon memorable and you, without saying so directly, are really giving homework assignments to your people. This is how you’ve got to live or this is what you've got to do because you love the Lord and this is what Christians do when they love the Lord. You apply the Word at every point.
I teach homiletics. I teach students that for every significant doctrinal point they make in the sermon, there needs to be an application right behind it. We no longer live in a day as we did forty years ago (when I first became a minister) when you could preach a three-point sermon. Preach the three points and then have fifteen minutes of application at the end because people no longer can remember what you said thirty minutes before.
So now you speak, you apply, you speak, you apply, you speak, you apply—and then at the end, you tie it all together by giving two or three additional applications.
What is preaching really all about? How should we approach it, as preachers and ordinary Christians?
Grace is slow sometimes. But grace is also powerful. The Lord will do his work.
Reformed preaching aims to take all of the Bible into account and to apply it.