We all want to be “doers of the word, and not hearers only” (James 1:22).
Who wants to feel the failure or share in the shame of being pegged like one “who looks intently at his natural face in a mirror . . . and goes away and at once forgets what he was like” (James 1:23–24)? It would seem like Bible application is an essential spiritual discipline to consciously pursue every time we encounter God’s word — but that depends on how we define “application.”
The key question we need to answer is what effect should regular Bible intake have on our hearts and lives — and how does it happen?
God’s Word Is for You
For starters, we should be clear that aiming to apply God’s words to our lives is grounded in the good instinct that the Bible is for us. Optimism about life application makes good on these amazing claims that all the Scriptures are for Christians:
“All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work” (2 Timothy 3:16–17).
“Now these things took place as examples for us, that we might not desire evil as they did. . . . [T]hey were written down for our instruction, on whom the end of the ages has come” (1 Corinthians 10:6, 11).
“Whatever was written in former days was written for our instruction, that through endurance and through the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope” (Romans 15:4).
The whole Bible is for the whole church. We have good Scriptural warrant to come to God’s words expecting them to be understandable and applicable. We should make good on Puritan preacher Thomas Watson’s counsel,
Take every word as spoken to yourselves. When the word thunders against sin, think thus: “God means my sins;” when it presseth any duty, “God intends me in this.” Many put off Scripture from themselves, as if it only concerned those who lived in the time when it was written; but if you intend to profit by the word, bring it home to yourselves: a medicine will do no good, unless it be applied. (Spiritual Disciplines, 57)
Yes, take every word as spoken to yourself, with this essential anchor in place: Seek to understand first how God’s words fell on the original hearers, and how it relates to Jesus’s person and work, and then bring them home to yourself. Expect application to your life as God speaks to us today through the Spirit-illumined understanding of what the inspired human author said to his original readers in the biblical text.
Specific Applications for Every Day?
So then, is it right to think of “application” as an everyday means of God’s grace? Is this a spiritual discipline to be pursued with every Bible encounter? The answer is yes and no, depending on what we mean by application.
Some good teachers have claimed that every encounter with God’s word should include at least one specific application to our lives — some particular addition, however small, to our daily to-do list. There is a wise intention in this: pressing ourselves not just to be hearers of God’s word, but doers. But such a simplistic approach to application overlooks the more complex nature of the Christian life — and how true and lasting change happens in a less straightforward way than we may be prone to think.....