Help For New Expositors: Applying the Bible to Your Hearers


In some circles, there is a question whether the preacher needs to apply the Word of God or whether that is strictly the domain of the Holy Spirit. I don’t think there needs to be an either/or question about application. When John the Baptist preached about repentance, those who heard him asked what exactly they were to do to prove they had truly repented (Lk 3:10-14). John gladly gave specifics for each  group of people present. The fact remains that you are to bring the Word of God to bear upon the hearts and lives of your hearers. This is assumed in the preaching act.

  1. Find the universal principle(s) given in the biblical text. Some passages have clear applications while others you will need to find the timeless, universal principle that can be applied to your hearers.
  2. Meditate on how you will respond to the text.
    • Does this text impact your life?
    • What will you now do, believe, be thankful for or repent of?
    • If you can’t answer, neither will your listener know what to do, either.
  3. Think about your listeners.
    • Who are they? (What are their careers, education, marital status, children, etc.?)
    • What are they going through right now? (joys, trials, spiritual life)
    • How will this text impact them when they hear it?
    • Will it help them? How?
  4. Be pointed and specific.
    • Don’t fall into the trap of just telling people to “pray more” or “read your Bible more” or “have more faith.” Tell them how.
    • Be specific enough that they have a few ideas about how they can apply the text—this is helpful for the newer believer.
    • Be generic enough that the more mature believers can see other application in their own life outside of your suggestions.
    • Use “You” in your application. Don’t shy away from being the messenger of God. He is speaking to them through his Word.
  5. Point people to the Cross and the Holy Spirit
    • You don’t want to err into moralism, where your sermon application simply tells the listener to “be better” or “do more.” Unbelievers and believers alike need to know that the imperatives can only be accomplished because of Christ’s atoning work on the cross through the power of the Holy Spirit.
    • Preach the need for Christ to unbelievers who are unable to obey without salvation. If you do not, at best you will frustrate your hearers; at worst you will lull them into a self-righteousness that only condemns.
    • Preach the necessary power of the Holy Spirit for the believer to change.
    • Preach the Gospel! As Spurgeon said, “Make a bee-line to the cross.”


Find help for other sermon preparation skills here:

Sermon Preparation Checklist

Help With Introductions

Help With Illustrations

4 thoughts on “Help For New Expositors: Applying the Bible to Your Hearers

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