Application should be the ultimate goal of studying the Bible. Howard Hendricks is correct when he claims “Interpretation without application is spiritual abortion.” The goal of application is life transformation–becoming progressively more conformed to the image of Christ. Yet despite this, most believers receive very little instruction on how to apply Scripture to their lives. The assumption seems to be that we will somehow just “pick it up along the way” as we grow spiritually.
In light of this, I have decided to write a series of posts on application. Today’s post will attempt to briefly sketch a basic theological framework for application. Our starting point is a familiar text:
Therefore, my beloved, as you have always obeyed, so now, not only as in my presence but much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling, 13 for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure. (Philippians 2:12-13 ESV)
Paul commands us to work out our own salvation, while at the same time emphasizing that it is God who is at work in us for his good pleasure. Thus application is the work of God and it is the work of the believer. So as a starting point let’s look at each of these.
God’s Work. Not surprisingly, all three persons of the Trinity are involved in the work of application. According to 1 Peter 1:14-17, it is the Father who calls his children to be holy as he is holy. Paul makes a similar point in Romans 8:29, when he asserts that the Father “predestined [us] to be conformed to the image of his Son.” Thus the Son is the ultimate pattern of God’s work in our lives. Of course, it also the Son’s work on the cross that makes conformity to him even possible, as our union with him enables us to share in his death and resurrection (Rom 6:1-11). The Spirit is the one who applies the benefits of Christ’s work to us, and this is true in application as well. He is the one who enables believers to put to death the deeds of the body (Rom 8:13).
The Work of the Believer. Growth in holiness does not come by waiting for God to zap us. As a starting point we can begin with Paul’s paradigmatic claim in Romans 10:17 that “faith comes by hearing and hearing through the word of Christ.” We are responsible to believe the good news about Jesus Christ and his work on our behalf. All proper application flows out of the gospel. Thus it is imperative that we expose ourselves to the word of God and believe what it says. It is also crucial that we pray for God to do his work in our lives; without prayer our efforts to apply Scripture quickly devolve into self-effort that is rooted in self-righteousness. We must also prioritize the role that other believers play in our lives to assist us in application. Other believers identify our blind spots and confront and/or encourage us when necessary. As we live in fellowship with other believers we are able to grow together in godliness.
Much more could be said, but this is a sufficient foundation for us to build upon. The next post will deal with what I regard as the single most important principle of application.