Sermons need an application

By Pastor David Cox

In this article, we look the importance of preaching moral change, of using and pressing applications in our sermons.

It is sad that so many preachers today preach “great sermons”, but they never “go anywhere.” In other words, they have lost or missed (never had it) the whole point of preaching. We preach to make people moral. It begins with a new birth, salvation. This the preach can present what the Bible says, but he cannot save anybody. But he can press home the importance of “Ye must be born again.”

But the entire point of preaching and “church” is to effect moral change, changing our people (and ourselves) from the carnal, earthly, sinful man into the image of Jesus Christ. This doesn’t happen if facts and figures are the bulk of the preaching and teaching. Teaching should build on facts to give us some kind of helpful understanding. But preaching should be pointed to moral change. In my own ministry, I have tried to use the 10 AM hour on Sunday to teach some, and to also preach in that hour. In the 11 AM hour, I try to keep it to just preaching.

Preaching the Word

2Tim 4:2 Preach the word; be instant in season, out of season; reprove, rebuke, exhort with all longsuffering and doctrine.

Note that the exhortation of Paul to Timothy is that his preaching of the Word of God is for the purposes of reproving, rebuking, and exhorting. This all speaks of moral change. Th

Requirements for Moral Change

The first and most important requirement is simply that the person must be saved. God must be working in his heart, so whatever change happens, it will not please God. Only through a saved heart can man improve his life morally.

Secondly, the person must meditate or be confronted with his sins. This is the job of church and preaching. Why do so many preachers talk for hours on Sunday, and what they say does not promote moral change? There is no rebuking. There is no reproving. There is no exhorting. People sometimes ask, “What did you learn today in church?” No, the correct question is “what did the sermon convince you to change in your life today?” Every sermon should be directed towards some kind of moral change.

Thirdly, the one preaching should live those moral principles he is trying to advocate. He should be a good example of what he is preaching for others to become. It is called hypocrisy when somebody who smokes tells you that you should not smoke. Equally, when some preacher is trying to convince you to some moral change, and he is not an example of that morality.

Fourthly, there must be clarity and authority in the message. If the preacher does not clearly exposit Scripture, then the person will take it as a personal exhortation from the pastor, and take it or leave it. No problem. When the preacher says that the people should bring their Bibles to church, if he uses no Scriptures to back that up, then it is simply his opinion. The authority of the Word of God must be used to effect moral change. To link some teaching or exhortation back to the Bible in a way that the verse does not teach it is also wrong. You cannot twist Scripture and still have the authority of God.

Fifthly, there must be an application. Without the pressing of the moral principle against our conscience mind, against our conscience, there will probably be no moral change happening. Preaching is just that, pressing moral principles into people. We exhort, rebuke, reprove. Peter’s famous application on the Day of Pentecost, “Thou are the people that crucified the Christ!” Nathan’s rebuke of David, “Thou are the man!” These are applications making people’s conscience get involved in the sermon. When the preacher applies the principle to the people, either they aren’t abiding by Scripture or they are. If they are, it is consolation and encouragement that they are complying and pleasing God. But if they aren’t then they either have to admit that they are in default in their own personal life, or change. Even if they don’t decide to change, they have had this pressed into their consciences, and later on, God’s Holy Spirit may cause them to repent.

Good sermon application needs to be sought after

Over the years, I have come to believe that developing good application actually works a lot like doing good exegesis. Both arise from asking good questions of the text. Both exegesis and also application involve intentional listening to the passage by bombarding it with questions. In exegesis we’re ultimately asking, “What does this passage mean? What is its main point?” And in application we’re asking, “How does the original message of this text apply today?” ( Posts August 1, 2019)

A good application does not happen by accident. It is by design and careful crafting and a very strong desire to make a moral change that a good application happens. I understand John MacArthur’s point that the Holy Spirit makes the application. Yes. He does. But there is nothing wrong with strongly exhorting also. That is in place in the preaching of Scripture. Also, there is nothing wrong with a preacher adding some actual, tangible examples of application to help us understand how to apply the spiritual principle behind the teaching. (my comments in an upcoming post, The Non-Applying of the Scriptures).


When a sermon or better stated, when the entire preaching platform of a ministry does not seek application of the moral truths in the passages that they exposit and deal with, then it is like a doctor that decides that the patient is dying and needs a life-saving medicine. He gets a needle, a bottle of the medicine to inject into the patient, and with great care, he draws out the correct dosage. But at that point, he stops. HE NEVER INJECTS THE MEDICINE INTO THE PATIENT!

This is what ministries that don’t apply Scriptures to their people MORALLY do. They fall short of the final step in the remedy process.

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Pastor David Cox is a missionary. See my ministry updates here.