Applying the Text: Functions of a Text-Driven Sermon

 |  September 23, 2016

Engaging exposition that is faithful to Scripture will not only explain the text, it will, of biblical and theological necessity, apply the text. It will be God-centered and Christ-focused even as it exhorts hearers to respond, react, and conform to the message of the text.

Such text-driven application requires a decision on the part of the listener, and, if done well, it provides a specific action plan that allows the Spirit of God to take biblical truth and make it a part of who we are and are becoming in Christ (Rom. 8:28-29). By practicing faithful application, preachers take a significant step in fulfilling the ultimate goal of biblical exposition: a community of believers who think and live differently as a result of their confrontation with the Word of God.

Ten Principles

In what follows, I want to provide 10 principles for faithful application in text-driven preaching:

  1. Application should be theo-/Christo-centric. Jesus is the hero of the whole Bible. He is the Savior in that He delivers us from the penalty of sin (justification), the power of sin (sanctification), and ultimately the presence of sin (glorification). Text-driven application will point to the complete salvation that is available in Jesus because this is what the story of Scripture is about!
  2. Weave application into the outline or movements of your sermon. Let the outline of your message be the application points of your sermon. The best way to help your audience understand the implication of the text to their lives is to make your main headings application-oriented.
  3. Aim for specific action on the part of your audience. We must not assume that people will just “get it” on their own. We must help them draw the connections between the text and their lives. Practical steps that are challenging but obtainable by God’s grace and Christ’s strength is the goal.
  4. Tie application to illustration and provide some practical examples of Scripture at work. There is no question that some applications of a text will more readily apply to the mind (belief), while others will more readily apply to the will (behavior). Some will actually speak to both. In any case, it will be helpful to give illustrative examples that show how we might conform our minds and hearts to the will of God.
  5. State your application in the form of a universal principle. Look for that which is true anywhere, anyplace, anytime and under any circumstances. As you state your universal principle, be in line with the needs, interests, questions, and problems of today. Your principles must be in harmony with the general tenor and totality of Scripture. The analogy of faith is crucial here: “Scripture will not contradict Scripture.” As you state these principles, be specific enough to indicate a course of action. Thirteen questions to always ask any text include:

6. Saturate your mind in terms of the many relationships of life. Examine the text with relations like education, social life, business, church, values, thought life, worldview, marriage, family and sex in view.

7. Remember the meaning of the text is always one but the applications are many. There is a distinction that must be made between “meaning” and “significance.” The former is limited to what the author intended. The latter is manifold as the text meets us in everyday life.

8. Consciously put into practice the application(s) gleaned from the exegesis of the text. Never forget: you have not applied until you have appropriated and put into practice what you have learned. It will be extremely difficult for you to apply to others what you have not first applied to yourself.

9. Beware of the challenges and problems to application. Howard Hendricks warns us of what he calls “substitutes for application.”[1] He raises five:

We substitute communication for transformation

10. Be on guard against “the heresy of application.Here we make an application that, though true, does not come from the text we are expounding. It is what Haddon Robinson calls, “a good truth applied in the wrong way. Exposition and application must be true to the text before us.”[2]


To do faithful application effectively we must know the Scriptures and the culture, the world of the Bible and the world in which we find ourselves. Above all, we will need to ask of the Holy Spirit of God, who must apply the biblical truth to the heart of the people of God.[3]

[1] Hendricks and Hendricks, Living By the Book (Chicago: Moody, 1991, 2007), 291-97.

[2] A detailed and excellent treatment of this point can be found in Ed Rowell with Haddon Robinson, “The Heresy of Application,” Leadership 18.4 (Fall 1997): 21-27.

[3] You can find my more thorough discussion of application in preaching in “Applying a Text-Driven Sermon,” in Text-Driven Preaching, edited by Daniel L. Akin, David L. Allen, and New L. Mathews (Nashville: B&H Academic, 2010), 269–93.


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