Studying God’s word requires proper heart preparation, careful observation of what the text says, rightly interpreting the author’s intended meaning of what the text says (please refer to the previous posts), and lastly it involves applying what the text means.
Once we have examined the text and have come to a conclusion about what the biblical text means according to the intention of the author, we must relate that meaning of the text to the circumstances of our life and the lives of others. In other words, application is the living out of the facts. It is submitting your life without reservation to the authority of the text. Text-driven application seeks to answer the question, “now what?”
Observation asks, “what does the text say?” Interpretation asks, “what does the text mean by what it says?” Application asks, “what does the meaning of the text require from me?” It is important to understand that there is only one meaning to a text of Scripture, though many applications can be made from that meaning to everyday life.
The interpreter’s personal needs, concerns, and desires must not be allowed to influence his or her understanding of the author’s intent. Only once that intent has been determined can these needs, concerns, and desires be addressed appropriately in light of the objective meaning of the text.
You cannot apply a text if you do not know the meaning of the text. Interpretation controls application. In other words, the applications made from a passage must be consistent with and firmly connected to the meaning of the text. True application is the relationship between the intended meaning of the text and another person or audience. Since application is ultimately dependent upon the results of interpretation, it is clear that if faulty principles are used during the interpretive process, the application of the results of such interpretation will also be misguided.
Wrongly applying what the text means can result in a form of legalism – when interpreters claim the authority of a biblical passage to prescribe a certain application that in reality was never intended by the biblical writers. That is why it is necessary to determine what is directly applicable and what is indirectly applicable. In other words, there is a distinction between descriptive texts and prescriptive texts.
Descriptive texts contain teachings, commands, or directions which are limited in their direct application to a particular person or people. Prescriptive texts contain teachings, commands, and directions which are extended in their direct application to all people and places universally. So how do you distinguish between the two? A helpful rule is that every teaching of Scripture is to be received universally, unless the Bible itself limits the audience, either in the context of the passage itself or in other biblical teaching. When the context limits the recipient of a particular teaching, limits the extent of the application of that teaching, or limits application through progressive revelation, it is a violation of the authority of Scripture to make it universal. The application of a text should not go beyond what the text says. In other words, if a passage comments on an issue only to a point, do not press the application of that passage beyond that degree.
Once you have distinguished between the descriptive and the prescriptive, you are then ready to put into practice that which is taught by the author. Application is the process where truth is made relevant to life situations and so we should ask: How does the writer of the text intend for his readers to respond to the truth being heard? Is there a truth to believe about God? Is there a truth to believe about some other doctrine? Is there a command to obey? Is there a promise to trust? Is there an example to follow? Is there an error in behavior to avoid? Is there an error in thinking to avoid? Is there a principle to follow for personal guidance? Is there wisdom to shape my thinking? Is there a prayer to pattern?
As you study God’s word take time to think about what was learned and what changes should be made. True application comes only when you rely upon the guidance and illumination of the Holy Spirit (1 Cor 2:14; Rom 8:14; Gal 5:18). Therefore, prayerfully ask God to reveal what changes should be made and obediently practice the truth. Biblical truth is not applied until it is believed and lived out. Write down specific applications based on the text studied. Ask, “what must be done immediately to apply this truth in my life?” Good application is specific, achievable, and measurable. Avoid application that is too general to put into practice. Avoid application that is not practically feasible. Also, develop applications so that there will be a clear indication when they are lived out or not.
Without application, interpretation is merely a mental exercise. You must do more than just understand what God’s word says. The faithful interpreter must also obey it (Jas 1:22-25). The Bible was not written to satisfy our curiosity. It was written to transform our life through the Holy Spirit who empowers believers to obey the will of God. The ultimate goal of studying God’s word is to allow the Bible to do something to you so that truth is lived out to the glory of God.
I want to encourage anyone reading this to begin reading the Bible this very day (Ps 19:7-11). Read it daily and read it with child-like faith and humility with an earnest desire to understand it (Ps 86:11). Read it in a spirit of obedience and self-application (Ps 119:4-5). Allow Scripture to influence your heart and life (John 17:17). Read all of it (2 Tim 3:16; Matt 4:4). Read it carefully by observing what the text says, interpreting the author’s intended meaning and applying what the text means in your life, so that the work of the triune God is put on display. And pray, pray, pray!