This idea, that applying a text is not the preacher’s responsibility, requires a little further explanation. If applying the text is not the preacher’s responsibility, then whose responsibility is it? The answer is twofold: it is the responsibility of the hearer in the power and instruction of the Holy Spirit to connect the preached Word of God with his or her own life.
Every life is different. Every person’s struggles are uniquely fitted to that person. While we can agree that we might share certain struggles in common, the exact contours of every person’s life are different. Therefore, it is an impossible request that a preacher apply a text to anyone’s life. The role of the preacher is to articulate the truth from Scripture. From there, each person must invite the Holy Spirit to help him or her apply that truth to the realities of his or her own life. This application has two parts. First, the person must identify the relationship between the biblical truth and the circumstances of his or her life. Second, the person must put the biblical truth into practice by the way he or she chooses to live. A preacher can and should deliver the truth and provide some practical assistance for application, but the rest is up to each person who is listening in the power and partnership of the Holy Spirit.
These realities are sobering for preacher and hearer alike. As preachers, we must come to terms with our own limitations and the extent of our call. As hearers we must also recognize the role we all must play. The miracle in all of this is that the Spirit of God will use one sermon to bring about the healing and transformation of His people in a multitude of unique ways.
By contrast, application-based sermons run the serious risk of missing the mark more often than not. Rather than inviting people to learn a transformative truth, an application-based sermon must give specific exhortation for immediate implementation. Forget that the pastor is powerless to ensure this happens. Who has successfully applied all the application points of application-based preaching? Surely this approach is doomed to failure from the outset. For example, say a church-goer receives three application points a week, forty-six times a year. That person will have received one hundred and thirty eight (138) must-do’s, could-do’s, or should-do’s in that year alone. If that person keeps up that pace for a decade, then he or she will have received one thousand three hundred and eighty (1,380) how-to’s to try to integrate into his or her life. If that person is given the gift of health and he or she continues to attend church at that rate for forty years, then the number has increased to five thousand five hundred and twenty (5,520). Why stop there? It is not inconceivable that a person could go to church regularly to listen to a sermon for eighty years. If this were the case, that person could hear upwards of eleven thousand and forty (11,040) ways to live a Christian life. Even if we lower the number on account of duplicate application points, this scenario illustrates a powerful point. Who could remember all that application? And, who could successfully apply all that application? This makes the Law of Israel, which only contains 613 laws, tame by comparison.