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Application Without Moralism

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It surprises me how much the people of God truly want to be challenged in their Christian walk. We get scared as speakers. We think, I can't talk about that, because there are people I know who are struggling with that. Yet the heart in which the Spirit lives desires to walk with God, desires to be challenged. I don't mean people want to be beaten over the head or dealt with tactlessly or angrily, but they desire to be challenged. And when the preacher is willing to say things everyone knows are difficult for him to say, they trust him more, because they know he put himself at risk for them.

Think how we joke about pastors who always play it safe: " He's always going to word it politically. He's never going to say anything that upsets anyone. " And think how little respect we have for them. So the willingness to say things that put us at risk by doing application that comes into people's real existence, though it is scary, is necessary in terms of being able to have a hearing long term.

One reason we're troubled about application is what I just mentioned — the courage required to be specific. If you look at traditional messages, they move from explanation to illustration to application: here's the truth; here's the truth demonstrated; now here's the truth applied. But how do people listen to a message? Typically, if it doesn't go on too long and isn't too dense, people listen to explanation. Then they wake up again when you do illustration.

Then, when you go to application, this is the breaking point. This is where people often cut it off, because the preacher has now stopped preaching and has gone to meddling. Again, in the hearts of the redeemed there is often a desire for this. But it is also the place that is most risky, because you may say things that are foolish; you may say things that are wise but highly disagreed with; you may simply say things people aren't ready to hear.

Another thing that troubles us about application is the hermeneutics required to be specific: How do I move from that biblical principle to a present imperative? We say things like, " Paul was a missionary, and therefore you should reach out to your neighbors. " And " Jesus wore sandals, so you should " What do we say? Where are the exemplars truly instructive and where are they culturally bound? The people in the Acts 2 and 4 passages held all things in common. Are we supposed to do that in our churches? And where does the Bible talk about cloning? We struggle with the hermeneutics required to be specific, even though we talk about the importance of it.

A final thing that troubles us about application is the grace denied, or at least presumed to be denied, by requiring specific duties. I have a number of people who have come out of " grace circles " — the " gracers, " as they are sometimes identified today, who don't even let you use the word duty. They say it's not biblical to talk about grace and obligation in the same sentence.

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Jeri

August 19, 2011  2:56pm

Excellent discussion. It is rare, in my experience, for those preaching to actually invite application. Excellent exposition, sometimes wisely chosen illustration, but to bring it into today, into current experience towards discipleship? Rare. Leaves me to wonder whether the preacher is really involved (beyond commentary study) with the Word, and/or whether he is afraid to "bring it home"?

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Zam

August 16, 2011  3:34pm

Definitively Informative! Thanks.

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Kevin

May 19, 2011  9:46am

Not bad...although the statement, "to teach that God rejects for disobedience is ungracious", is contrary to the scriptures. Paul states that Jesus will come "in flaming fire, inflicting vengeance on those who do not know God and on those who do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus. They will suffer the punishment of eternal destruction, away from the presence of the Lord..." 2 Thess. 1:8-9. I would call that rejection for disobedience.

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Bill

May 17, 2011  3:25pm

An excellent, well thought out article that causes me to think more about my preaching. The thought: "Even when we preach grace, people hear law. It's the human reflex" is helpful. More realistic examples would have been helpful when moving to present imperative: "Jesus wore sandals and so should you" is cute and fills ths space, but I think we are usually more subtle and complex: "The Bible commands us to come out from among them and be separate; how can we have that tv in our home allowing all that garbage into our lives?...." Many thanks.

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Dick Braun

May 16, 2011  9:43am

Please put a print option on the site that allows the whole document to be printed at one time rather than in multiple sections.

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