Preparing to preach (or teach) a text requires thoughtful application.
I am the chief sinner of “winging it” in application because I spent too much time “preparing and studying the text” and not enough time on “application.” If we stop short of meaningful application and only convey information in an organized fashion, we haven’t done our job.
The Difference Between Confession & Repentance
Aren’t confession and repentance the same thing? I think not. The clear distinction between confession and repentance can bring life to application and illustration. Definitions:
Confession is the event of speaking, praying, or recounting specific sin acts. “God forgive me for sinning against you today when I…”
Repentance is the turning away from self-justifying, self-centered, and self-gratifying pursuits and towards God in Christ. Repentance says, “Not my will be done, but Thy will be done.”
Repentance includes confession, but…
Repentance has to do with the directedness of our every action (in life). Sin acts that we confess before God are clearly selfish and cannot be otherwise. But every day actions like working, loving, thinking, and feeling can be directed in self-centered (sinful) ways or God-centered (glorifying) ways…
We cannot sin to the glory of God, but we can love to the glory of self.
Why Lazy Illustrations Deceive Our People
One way our sermons suffer, and our listeners suffer, is when our sin applications/illustrations focus on easy targets (i.e. the 7 deadly sins) or generic “sinfulness” or “brokenness” (“out there” examples like tabloid gossip, headline news, or “all those” homosexuals). All of these sins are further away from us, often times easier to avoid, and are generally not the sins of our people (insiders are good at not doing “headline” sins).
We must do the difficult task of unmasking temptations and sins in the every day lives of our hearers. Have the loves of our people become distorted and grotesque a la C. S. Lewis’ masterful The Great Divorce? Loves that cease to be training grounds for the highest Love (love-images of the Divine love-Image) and become an end in themselves (religious love); these are “demoniac” loves.
- What do our people obsess about and twist into little idols?
- What good things have become god things?
- How do stay-at-home moms, elderly curmudgeons, or know-it-all pastors self-justify in light of this text?
Note to self: illustrate that; apply that.
Why The Repentance/Confession Distinction Matters For Application
To call people to repentance means more (certainly not less) than confession of sin. It means doing the difficult work of exposing the directedness of every pursuit: singing worship to God, preaching a sermon, washing the dishes, disciplining our children, and walking the dog.
Followers of Christ are a tangled mess of self-justifying doing and God-glorifying doing. Repentance is not an action or a moment in time, but it is the direction or flow of our entire life. As C. S. Lewis said (my paraphrase from Mere Christianity), “Repentance is not what we do to get back to God, it is the very process of getting back to God.” To paint a picture: a life of repentance flows toward God within the River of Life and constantly resists the inclination to swim upstream towards myself (the Dead Sea of selfishness).
“Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is here.” (Matthew 4:17) The first words of Jesus’ public ministry were not a call to get on your knees and list out before God all of your sins. Jesus’ call to war against the principalities and powers was a declaration of directedness:
- Leave everything and follow me.
- Turn from yourself and turn to me.
- Die to self, and live to God.
- Stop following after whores (Ezekiel 17) and know your true Love.
- Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is here.
Repentance is not an event. Repentance is simply a description of a life well lived.