The Danger of Leaving the “Why” Out of Your Application

This is a guest post by Jeff Brewer, lead pastor of Hope Fellowship in Lombard, IL (Acts 29). Hope is the most recent church plant of College Church. Jeff also wrote “5 Enemies of the Productive Church Planter” for this blog. You can follow him on Twitter

It’s tempting to only give the how when you preach on verses your church is familiar with and loves. Too often preachers leave out the why. This is a mistake because the why contains inner parts of obedience. The how only contains the external parts.

Here are three inner parts of obedience that get left out when you only teach how to apply your sermon.

1. Right practice, by itself, doesn’t teach right doctrine. When you tell people how to obey without the reason, you teach blind obedience. There is no vision of the character of God. That has more in common with a cult than it does with the true and living God.

When the Lord gave the Ten Commandments to Moses he gave the why first:  “I am the Lord your God who brought you up out of Egypt, out of the house of slavery.” Then spelled out the how in the commands.

In the New Testament, you often see the how and why together: we love, because he first loved us (1 John 4:17). I press on to make (knowing Christ) my own because he has made me His own (Philippians 3:12).

2. Right practice, by itself, doesn’t necessarily come from the heart. Obedience from the heart requires knowing why we live one way, as opposed to another.  Obeying from our heart requires knowing God’s heart.

When God’s people are near to him, his people grow in wisdom and understanding for the purpose of obeying him (Deut. 4:7).

Remind your congregation why obedience is better than disobedience.  The blinding nature of sin hides how disastrous it is.

3. Right practice, by itself, doesn’t motivate obedience. We rob our people of the joy of following Christ when we just tell them how to live.

But trusting him in our obedience is meant to be a great source of joy. We are commanded: “Taste and see that the Lord is good. Blessed is the man who takes refuge in him!” (Psalm 34:8).

Sometimes you can pull off the why without the how

As you move away from doing application that focuses only on the how, you will find that your people are changed when they just hear the why.

The reason we should obey is because we have a God who has done amazing things to save us. We have a God how graciously loves us.

Teach your people that, and they’ll have the desire to figure out how to obey him on their own.


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