Application is one of the most difficult aspects of preaching to get right. It would be a travesty to avoid it altogether and leave people with nothing more than a lecture on good Bible interpretation. Similarly, it is fairly useless to go the other way and give people detailed steps on what to do next in their lives. The Bible is NOT a manual for Christian living, full of step by step self help guides. The Bible is all about Jesus, and its purpose is to continually point us towards him.
Failing to apply a passage at all gives people the impression that the Bible is irrelevant, doesnt really have an impact on their lives, and can safely be ignored. Applying a passage by handing people a to-do list gives the impression that Gods word is a self-help guide, and that with the right set of instructions we can fix all of our problems on our own.
Clearly both of these are mightily inadequate, so how on earth does a preacher give life changing application within a sermon? The key is to apply a passage in such a way that the hearers discover that they must respond to the Bible, but that their response must be via the cross. If there is some clear practical response to a passage, then it must be done in light of the cross, through the power of the Holy Spirit. Indeed this is the only way we can truly respond to the Bible.
We mustnt leave people thinking that they have learnt a great deal about the passage and that is all. We must leave them with a sense that the passage demands some change in their lives, and that the change will come as a result of the cross, through the power of the Spirit. That means avoiding a specific to-do list, but it also means being really practical, giving clear examples ofhow a principle might work itself out in their lives, and most importantly it means bringing their focus back to Jesus.