Is a Sermon Incomplete Without Application?

This is not just a post for preachers. It’s for anyone who takes the Bible seriously. So many of us sit in the pews (or chairs) on Sundays waiting for the “most important” part of the sermon: the application. It’s so important that many preachers and many congregants think that unless a sermon gives you a “to do” list, it is incomplete. The problem, of course, is that Christianity is not a “go and do” religion. There are obviously exhortations and commands to follow, and some sermons need to say, “You just need to do this if you are a Christian.” Paul did this (see Eph. 4). However, those are rooted in our new identity. The Christian life is a fight to always “become what we already are in Christ.”

Sidney Greidanus is an author and former professor and in a lecture he talked about looking at the goal of the human author in the Bible. If the author’s intention wasn’t to get people to “do something,” we have to be okay with that. Much of the Bible, after all, is simply trying to get people to believe and trust in Someone. Greidanus writes:

Even today, I know of quite a few preachers who don’t think the sermon is complete unless they can tell the congregation to do something. Now think about that…at the end, the application is that you have to “do something.” I always work with, “What is the goal of the author?” And the goal of the author is sometimes just to teach something. Well, can we be satisfied with that? [For example] can we just teach the sovereignty of God? Isn’t that enough?

It needs to be enough. In our sermons, in our quiet times, and in our Bible studies, we can’t always try to find something to do. This can get very dangerous. When Jesus was on earth, people asked him, “What must we do, to be doing the works of God?” Jesus responded not with a list of five things to make life simpler or loving people easier. Instead he told them the one thing that takes all doing out of the equation: “This is the work of God, that you believe in him whom he has sent.” (John 6:28-29).

As it has been said before, when God’s grace causes you to realize that you don’t need to do anything, because Jesus has done it all for you, it makes you want to do everything. Believe, and ask God to believe it deeply. Then, you will find something to do. I promise.


One reply on “Is a Sermon Incomplete Without Application?”

Thank you James. This is unusally insightful in this day and age when a lot of preachers are more concerned about packaging, the presentation and the application of a sermon, rather than just conveying God’s words to the congregation. How individual receives the words, and apply to their lives, can just be between God and themselves.


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