Thursday, January 5, 2012

The Application Trap










The "application" part of the sermon works by making people anxious about whether they're living the way "we as Christians" are supposed to: faithful, loving, caring, experiencing the fullness of the Holy Spirit, and so on.  It's a trap.  Either you believe that stuff about yourself, which makes you self-righteous, or you don't, which makes you anxious.  Either way you're stuck.  You can try to convince yourself you're oh-so-loving (so much more loving than your neighbours - now isn't that nice!)  or you can worry about how shabby your Christian life is (haunted by that feeling, "what's wrong with me?").  There's no escaping the trap unless you believe that Christ came to save sinners and that includes you. As the apostle Paul wonderfully put it:  "Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am the foremost" (1 Tim. 1:15).  For each one of us, the foremost sinner is the one we're talking about when we say the word "I".  
Such a comfort that is - you don't have to play the game of showing that you're as loving, caring and faithful as "we as Christians" are supposed to be.  That's not in fact who we are.  We are more like Paul, the foremost of sinners, or Peter, who denied Christ.  But these are the same Peter and Paul that Christ called to be his apostles.  It's okay to be in the same boat with them, rather than plunging into a sea of anxiety as we attempt to convince ourselves that "we as Christians" are doing a better job than the apostles did.
So here is another thing that the preachers who want to be "practical" don't get.  They are apt to conclude the sermon with an application that goes like this: "We need to ask ourselves: Am I really following Christ, focusing on him, loving God with my whole heart, caring about my neighbour," etc.  The most truthful answer to such questions is surely, "Of course not!  I'm not like that!" But then I want to ask the preacher, "Now do you have any good news for sinners like me?" Unfortunately, there's usually no good news coming, because that's the end of the sermon.  The whole point is to throw the ball in our court, and see what we can do with it.  It's a "practical" sermon, so it leaves us trapped, left to our own resources and cut off from Christ.  

 Phillip Cary, Good News for Anxious Christians (BrazosPress, 2010)

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