“So how do we apply this?” he asked rather sharply. After I’d finished explaining the Gospel in Ephesians 2 and the glorious truth that children of wrath have been saved by grace through faith, this gentlemen’s initial reply came in the form of a question. On the surface, it was a very relevant question. Perhaps the most important question for a Christian. But after his next question, his real meaning was unmistakable: “How are we supposed to live this out?” I have these kinds of conversations about Christian obedience quite frequently. And usually they stem from a James 2 mindset: “faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead.” (2:17) However, very often these kinds of questions betray a deeper misunderstanding about the reason God saves sinners and the primary goal of a Christian. Indeed, faith without works is dead, but so is faith without worship.
Today, when I’m asked about “applying” a certain passage from Scripture, and I perceive that someone is making an abrupt B-line from Scriptural understanding to practical behavior, I don’t immediately respond with a line about works. I respond with another word: “Worship.” If that sounds too simplistic, we’ve found the problem. For someone who has been truly redeemed in Christ, that’s not a nebulous word. It’s the very reason for their existence. Whether in a small group, in a Sunday School class, or in private Bible study, the way that we ultimately “live out” and “apply” what we learn from the Bible is by worshipping the One for whom and about whom every word is written. (John 5:39) Before we can live out James 2 obedience, we’re called to offer Matthew 2 worship. Before the wise men opened their treasures, they got on their knees.
Inevitably, these kinds of conversations lead to the topic of the nature of worship. And more often than not, if someone believes Scriptural “application” is something that can only be performed physically, that person more than likely believes that “worship” is only something you do in a pew on Sundays. As a pastor, my first job in these moments isn’t to simply provide concrete examples of how to imitate biblical principles for a specific text; it’s to bring people to the reality that one can “store up” God’s Word in their hearts and that in itself is “application.” (Ps. 119:11) The most practical thing a Christian can do is worship God. When worship become too “impractical” or meditating on Scripture becomes too “intellectual” in a particular church culture, that local body has abandoned praise for pragmatism, faith for Pharisaism, Mary for Martha.
The Apostle Paul wrote to the Corinthian church, “Whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God.” (10:31) It’s my experience as pastor that Christians often focus too much on the word “do” and not enough on the word “glory.” As a human being made in the image of God, I don’t have to remind myself to “do.” I’m always doing. On the contrary, it’s God’s glory that I’m continually working to behold and treasure. (2 Cor. 3:17-18) This is where the Scriptures are so vitally important. The challenge of sanctification isn’t the possibility of our doing; it’s the purpose of our doing. Which brings us back to worship. Across America, Christians raised on moralistic preaching and Gospel-less “do this” sermons must be constantly reminded that Jesus died and was raised to give us new hearts and that this is precisely where worship begins. This is where the battle was waged: in our cold, dead hearts. And these cold, dead hearts are more than willing to “do” just about anything without first surrendering and relishing the truth of the Gospel. What’s the “takeaway”? The Gospel is the takeaway. Our worship is the application. Our minds studying the Word and our hearts celebrating Jesus by the Spirit of God is the most important thing we could “do” on this earth. And that fuels our obedience.
So how do we apply what we learn in the Bible? We worship God in Christ. If a Christian hasn’t the time to “do” that, or if that sounds a bit too elementary, any conceivable action or service done in the name of the Lord is worthless before the eyes of a holy God. Churches are called to destroy the god of pragmatism and legalism and self-centered Christianity by “doing” exactly what we’re created to do: worship. (Ezek. 36:22, Col. 3:17) Application begins by “being still” and praising Jesus. (Ps. 46:10) Without that, our faith is dead.