Every preacher of the gospel ought to have the end in mind when beginning his sermon. As we all know great gospel preaching begins with a creative introduction, a clear explanation, and a convincing application. Let me say it another way. You need to ask yourself before the delivery these 3 questions: What… So What… Now What.
The “now what” is vital to the communication of the message because God’s Word was not meant for information, but for transformation. Great sermons from preachers in the Bible have already modeled for us what practical application looks like in God’s Word. For instance, when Peter preached on the day of Pentecost he finished his sermon with this invitation and application. “Save yourselves from this crooked, corrupt, perverse, untoward generation (Acts 2:40). Joshua said, “Choose you this day whom you will serve (Josh 24:15). Even the Apostle John ended the book of Revelation with these words, “And the Spirit and the Bride say, ‘Come.’ And let him that is thirsty, Come. And whoever desires, let him take of the water of life freely” (Rev 22:17).
The application of any sermon is the verdict you’re asking God to create. We can preach truth, but only the Holy Spirit can impart truth. Jesus said, “The words I have spoken to you are spirit and life” (John 6:63). Those words are life and they cause us to know, believe, and do. Application connects us to God through the Holy Spirit and causes us to turn those words into action. Consider three things application does to your sermon. First of all, it asks the question,
What Does God Want Me to Know?
As believers, God has given us the mind of Christ (1 Cor 2:16). Romans tells us we are transformed by the renewing of our minds (Rom 12:1, 2). We do what we do because we feel what we feel. We feel what we feel because we think what we think. If we are going to change our behavior we must start with our mind. Expositional preaching exposes wrong ways of thinking about God, others, and even ourselves as we use His Word to frame our worldview. Application isn’t just about “doing.” In fact, we’re must be careful that our application does not so drive the text that we quickly default into a performance gospel and a works-oriented response to the biblical text. If we are careless here we will communicate Christianity is “what we do for Christ,” and not what Christ has done for us. It will lead to a performance-based faith.
What Does God Want Me to Believe?
We can understand truth at an intellectual level without believing it that shapes how we live. Faithful preaching exposes sinful desires, inclinations, and feelings that can lead us away from the Lord. As we are driving people to application of the text, we must also understand; behavioral change can only happen when our mind and heart are connected to the truth of that text. Application belongs to the Spirit. The shallowest part of our life is our emotions. The deepest part of our life is our spirit. God will not do His deepest work in the shallowest parts. As I’m preparing my sermon, before I get to the “Now What,” part of my message I must be very disciplined to deal with the What and the So What of the passage.
What Does God Want Me to Do?
Faithful preaching not only exposes sinful thoughts and sinful desires, but it also exposes patterns of behavior that are not in line with or in step with God’s ways. Faith without works is dead and a faith that doesn’t work is dead as well. Application that makes us the hero or makes our behavior as the integral part of the text—as opposed to making Jesus hero or making Jesus integral to the story—is bad hermeneutical preaching and makes it all about us. That kind of preaching leaves us discouraged, despondent, and makes us always feel “less than,” because the emphasis is never “Christ in you, the hope of glory,” but doing for Christ brings me the glory. It is the Spirit of Christ that brings transformation in a person’s life and the primary tools God uses are biblical preaching and faithful application.
Keep in mind when you preach you have 3 arrows in your preaching quiver:
Biblical Explanation… Textual Implication… Personal Application
You ask yourself, what did it mean then? What does it mean today? What does it mean to me personally? It is the Holy Spirit’s job to convict, convert, and to convince. Our job is to stand before God, clean, and stand before our people convinced. And in the words of Dr. Adrian Rogers, when you close your message and you give that invitation that has that application, you give it “Courageously, Clearly, Concisely, Convincingly, Consistently, Compassionately, and Creatively.” And when you stand ready to leave even the preacher walks away and asks,” “Now what am I going to do with what I just heard?”
Ken Whitten is Senior Pastor of Idlewild Baptist Church in Lutz, Florida.