How the ‘Temptations of Jesus’ relate to everthing about you, society and the world

My friend, theologian Rob Knowles, who has featured on this blog before, has allowed me to publish his basic outline of the Temptations of Jesus and how they are a paradigm for every Christian disciple of Christ.  PDF available here:  The 3 Temptations of Jesus Christ.

What we will find here, is a profoundly insightful hermeneutical work on something that (big assumption alert) close to all readers of the Bible kind of skim over, and I write this placing myself firmly in that category.

Rob has kicked me up the exegetical backside with this excellent study, and if it’s too long for you to read, I make no apology save that this is one of the very ‘conditions’ that will be exposed in the study.  If this doesn’t get your interpretive juices flowing, I don’t know what will.

I hope you enjoy….

temptation-of-christ

The Temptations of Jesus Christ: Explanation

1. Overview and Preliminary Points
The temptation narratives occur in the Synoptic Gospels (Mark, Matthew, and Luke), but not in John, and are only present in embryonic form in Mark. Matthew preserves the original order of the temptations, whereas Luke alters the order because Luke’s focus is often on the temple, and so he wishes to emphasize the temple by putting the temptation that features the temple last. Below, as in the Bible study, we will follow Matthew’s ordering of the temptations.


First of all, we may note that commentators stress that Mark’s account of the temptation of Jesus may hint at parallels and contrasts between Jesus’ temptation and that which was suffered by Adam and Eve. If Adam and Eve fail to resist the tempter, with the result that Paradise becomes a wilderness, then the Second Adam enters that wilderness, resists the tempter successfully, and so restores the wilderness to its original paradisiacal condition.


Second, commentators also stress that Matthew’s and Luke’s temptation narratives parallel and contrast with Israel’s testing in their desert wanderings, where many argue for this inter-textual relationship with respect to Mark as well. If Israel were baptised in the Sea of Reeds, Jesus was Baptised in the Jordan; if Israel was then tested in the Sinai, Jesus was then tested in the Negev; and if Israel went on to inherit a Promised Land, and a Ministry (in the case of the Levites), Jesus went on to inherit the Kingdom of God and a Ministry too. The contrast comes in that whereas Israel failed to resist Satan, Jesus succeeded. The desert, then, as a harsh place of testing, is also God’s place of preparation for the reception of inheritance. Israel’s failure to resist temptation delayed – but did not ultimately overrule – God’s fulfilment of divine promise.


Third, in 1 Corinthians 10 Paul parallels the Christian experience with Israel’s desert wanderings. Thus, by implication, Jesus’ temptation experience tells us something about Christian experience too. As we are tempted, so Jesus was tempted. As Israel often failed the test, so we often fail the test. But, if this is so, how can we see ourselves – our failures – in Israel’s behaviour? And how can we see ourselves – our successes – in Jesus’ behaviour? How do the relevant passages of Scripture interpret us?


Fourth, John the Baptist also tells us that Jesus will baptise us “with the Holy Spirit and fire” (Matt. 3:11; Luke 3:16). But, if fire signifies refinement, or discipline, and if the desert signifies the place where God refines and disciplines us, then we may even draw parallels between seasons of discipline within the Christian life and the temptation narratives. As Jesus was tested for a season, so we – having received a baptism of fire into a season of discipline – after we have “suffered for a little while” will be “made strong, firm, and steadfast” (1 Peter 5:10). And St. Peter should know, for he himself was handed over to Satan, the sifter, to be sifted like wheat, where sifting, like fire, is a purification or refinement motif. And if even apostles are handed over to Satan during special seasons of discipline – (and Satan cannot be made to “flee”, even by exorcists, during such seasons) – then will God not hand us over to Satan as well when we need a specific “sifting” kind of discipline? Of course he will! And during such times, will not the devil tempt us in every manner possible? Of course he will!


And, of course, fifth, if Christians experience discipline individually, then churches experience it corporately according to Revelation 2 and 3, as the risen Lord specifically states. The Bible is not individualistic, unlike us modernists, and so can mean groups when we think only of individuals. According to one Old Testament scholar, what would have struck Jesus’ original Jewish audience as hilarious about the rich man deciding to build bigger barns for his grain was the fact that he decided what to do by himself, rather than by taking it to the elders and the community.


In other words, Adam and Eve, Israel, Jesus, individual Christians, and Christian churches all experience baptism, testing, and inheritance. It is a revealed pattern for what spiritual life is. If spiritual life, positively speaking, is love for God and neighbour, then spiritual life, negatively speaking, is about resisting material self-empowerment or “self-feeding” in relation to the physical appetites, about resisting spiritual self-empowerment or seeking to “control God” or god-like power in relation to being rescued from our predicament in this world, and about resisting sociological self-empowerment or seeking to “enthrone self” or “exalt self” socially or competitively, whether overtly or covertly.


To these three temptations we now turn, because we have fallen into them very badly. And as one famous Welshman once said: “There’s no news… like bad news”.

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‘Thin Soup’ Church

Jesus said, “I will build My church and the gates of hell will not prevail against it!”  But because we live in a global business age of organisation, efficiency and profit, there are thousands of books on growth.  If you are more organised, more efficient and more profitable, you will grow….if you stick to our new-fangled formula!

The Western church has been swallowing this bitter pill for decades.  We’ve put down our Bibles, and picked up secular ideas and initiatives – why?  church numbers are declining, people are leaving the church, pews and seats are becoming empty, coffers are down, bills are up, and then someone said, “Hang on a minute, if we just branded ourselves like Nike, or glamorised ourselves like L’Oreal, or popularised ourselves like celebrities, we too can achieve what they achieve!  And should the gates of hell get too close, we’ll just sloganeer them out of town with a TV ad campaign!

What does it mean to be a growing church in this context?  In fact, what does it mean to be a growing church and be faithful?  Can the Church ever be faithful and successful?  Can we do sexy marketing, or shall we just stick with cheesy slogans to do with baby’s and mangers, bunnies and daffodils?  How can we claim to proclaim something better, something the world needs, something unknown and un-buyable?  Can the church compete with a world that clamours for everything but Christ and him crucified?

Can we ever be faithful and successful?  What does it mean to be a Growing Church?

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Christian Community

LifeTogetherRe-reading Life Together by Dietrich Bonhoeffer, I have been re-staggered by his sheer realism of Kingdom perspective.  Bonhoeffer is no religious hack mass producing religious visions of a utopian ideal – an ideal that only serves to wear thin before wearing out the Christian community.

“Innumerable times a whole Christian Community has been shattered because it has lived on the basis of a wishful image.”

Of course, he admits there are those who come in among the community with a definite image of what it should look like and what it should be, and lo and behold, they often have the plans to enable the community to get there!

“But God’s grace quickly frustrates all such dreams.  A great disillusionment with others, with Christians in general, and, if we are fortunate, with ourselves, is bound to overwhelm us as surely as God desires to lead us to an understanding of genuine Christian community.  By sheer grace God will not permit us to live in a dream world even for a few weeks and abandon ourselves to those blissful experiences and exalted moods that sweep over us like a wave of rapture.  For God is not a God of emotionalism, but the God of truth.”

The point is quite wonderful.  The genuine Christian community is one that sees, identifies, experiences all the garbage that goes with its own manufactured dreams and visions; its own “great disillusionments.”  The community that clings to man-made visions (even if they are wrapped up in religious language and presented with biblical texts), fails to recognise this inherent idolatry.  Such a community, or church, may look and sound like a religious gathering, may even be great at social action, and evangelism, but the die is cast:  “Sooner or later it is bound to collapse.”

“Every human idealised image that is brought into the Christian community is a hindrance to genuine community and must be broken up so that the genuine community can survive.  Those who love their dream of a Christian community more than the Christian community itself, become destroyers of that Christian community even though their intentions may be ever so honest, ernest, and sacrificial.”

n-BONHOEFFER-large570This is liberating news, it is good news.  The Church is not to succumb to man-made idolatries, nor is she to succumb to fads and gimmicks, visions and utopias that smooth out the necessity and urgency of being the Community of the Christian Church.  God will not be mocked!

“The bright day of Christian community dawns wherever the early morning mists of dreamy visions are lifting.”

Dreamy visions are an idolatrous plague on the Church, especially in the management controlled, targets obsessed West, because they become a means of assessment and measurement.  That is why we often count success in numbers attending, or by the state of the bank balance.  We are conditioned this way, and so we take it into church, devise plans and strategies, and so lose the heart beat of the Christian community.  Bonhoeffer reminds us, the Christian community is not measured by trendy techniques ripped from a secular world, but by the continuing, nurturing, profoundly simple act of thankfulness.

We cannot engineer the Kingdom of God among us.  Pity the fool who tries.  But what we can do is grow into the community by practise and communion.  We are all bent on a self-centred, self-serving, self-focused love.  It is precisely why we need saving.  But when we bring this into the community, unchecked by the Word of God, we masquerade as angels of light among our brothers and sisters, when in Kingdom reality, we are shadowy fools neither under-standing nor standing-under the Word of Christ.

“Christian community is not an ideal we have to realise, but rather a reality created by God in Christ in which we may participate….In other words, a life together under the Word will stay healthy only when it does not form itself into a movement, an order, a society, a collegium pietatis (Association of Piety), but instead, understands itself as being a part of the one, holy, universal, Christian Church, sharing through its deeds and suffering in the hardships and struggles and promise of the whole church.”

Bonhoeffer

“We hold fast in faith to God’s greatest gift, that God has acted for us all and wants to act for us all.  This makes us joyful and happy, but it also makes us ready to forego all such experiences if at times God does not grant them.  We are bound together by faith, not by experience.”

 

Hello Baals

Idolatry is alive and well in the world today.  We can too easily scoff at our alleged 21st century sophistication when we consider the claims of idolatry in the Bible, but idolatry is around us everywhere and in us all the time.  I recently described idolatry as anything that de-centres God from the place only God should be.  It is the thing that keeps us from a true worship of the Father.

Baal, as mentioned in a previous post, was a constant rival to YHWH, to God’s own covenant people.  It is quite astonishing that after four hundred years of Egyptian slavery, which, it must be said, was a total immersion into Egypt’s idolatrous culture, idolatry was the very thing that would plague the Israelites, even as they had been rescued by plagues from Egypt.

In Numbers 25:1-3 we read of the old generation making one final catastrophic mistake in the newly formed Yahwistic community:  “While Israel lived in Shittim, the people began to whore with the daughters of Moab.  These invited the people to the sacrifices of their gods, and the people ate and bowed down to their gods.  So Israel yoked himself to the Baal of Peor.  And the anger of the LORD was kindled against Israel.”  The very next chapter deals with the new census and the new generation that would go in to the new land.

Baal worship is a horrendous sexualisation of the human being.  2 Kings regularly refers to the ‘High Places’ of Baal worship, where sexual orgies, cultic dances, intoxicating binge drinking and debauchery, almost as if on an industrial scale.  The High Places were a massive problem.  “I look to the hills, where does my help come from…” as Psalm 121 begins.  He looks to the hills because they are so debauched and idolatrous, but thank God his[our] help comes from the LORD, the maker of heaven and earth.

lionThe simple point in this post that I want to make is this:  Idolatry as it was alive and well in Biblical times, is certainly alive and well today.  1 Peter refers to the devil as one prowling around looking for someone to devour.  And just as idolatry is a state of human affairs that leaves nothing but devastation in its wake, we can say that idolatry, will, like the devil, stop at nothing until you are raviged – not merely in the sating of sexual desire by debauchery, but in the de-humanising of your very humanity, so that in your consumption, you are consumed.  This is what idolatry does, it consumes, like the locust, only the human heart is far more rapacious than any mere locust plague.

It is therefore a natural connection to make, that Bible idolatry seen in crass statues of little men, the symbol of the god and rival to the true God, are simply symbols denoting the human problem, they are the obvious outcomes of the human condition: sin.

'HELLO BOYS' WONDERBRA ADVERTISING HOARDING.. POSTER. BILLBOARDSSin twists and distorts, it makes good bad, and beautiful ugly.  And thus, in the sexualisation of culture, from Baals to porn, we see that Baal has a new face, it is seen in the porn industry, the advertising industry, the film industry, the pop music industry, and is a way that Baal of Peor is seen around the globe and that this reach is but a metaphor of his reach into every human heart.  Baal is brand, he is multi-named, he is black and white, he is your next door neighbour and your best friend.  Baal might have found a home in you.  The devil truly does prowl around like a roaring lion seeking someone to devour (1 Peter 5:8).  It’s not so much as Hello Boys but Hello Baals!

It is no accident that when Adam and Eve sinned they turned a paradise into a wilderness.  When Israel sinned at Shittim (perfectly named for the topic in-hand), they were literally in the wilderness when they sinned in their whoring after Baal.  The point is simple.  If you are in a paradise when you chase after Baal, you’ll end up cursed in the wilderness.  If you are in a wilderness and you chase after Baal, you will not inherit your promised land.  Either way, you yourself will become a waste land because waste is what Baal does best.  Only Jesus can save you from that state.

jesus feetThank God Jesus resisted the devil; that he did not attempt to force God’s hand through the idolatrous worship of the great deceiver.  Thank God, that in Jesus, it is he in the wilderness who, by his victory, will complete salvation history and turn heaven and earth into that great Paradise of God, and Baal, or whatever he’s called, will be banished forever.

Demanding Baal Stewards

British_Museum_from_NE_2After taking a group of budding Bible enthusiasts around the British Museum to look at the Assyrian and Babylonian displays, it becomes apparent that what one is faced with at every turn, is the prevalence, nay, dominance of gods. Dominance in the sense of world-view, and their necessity at every level of society, social, civic, legal and religious.

Ancient Israel never completely purged the idolatry of Egypt from her heart! In this regard she was not uniquely idolatrous in the world, just typical of all. Even during the Exodus, in the wilderness, the intoxication with idolatry is told plainly, “…the people…yoked themselves to Baal of Peor” (Numbers 25:1-3). Baal is a truly demanding god, a god of which the nations seemed to be in an insane love-affair with.

BaalBaal, whose name means ‘master’ was one of the major gods of the Canaanite religions. Often he will be anthropomorphised as a small, thin man, slightly larger than a figure made of pipe cleaners; one hand raised in a gesture of victory (as figure above at the British Museum shows). The bull is also a symbol of Baal, and there have been discoveries of this on a hilltop in what was Samaria, dating to the period of the Judges. It must be said, that there is very strong archaeological evidence to suggest that Baal worship was syncretised with YHWH worship, and any cursory reading of Judges will leave the reader unsurprised by this! This syncretism never really left the Southern Kingdom of Judah, and was totally dominant in the Northern Kingdom.

Worshiping_the_golden_calfThe bull as a symbol is fairly significant in the Biblical text. From the Golden Calf during the Exodus, as Israel were encamped at the foot of Sinai, with Moses actually receiving the Ten Commandments, the Israelites forged an idol because Moses was taking too long. The pathetic and familiar story is found in Exodus 32.

This clearly left an impression because after the division of the United Monarchy following the death of Solomon (931 BC), Jeroboam, a self-proclaimed King, a self-proclaimed appointer of priests and a self-locator of worship, installed two Golden Calves – in the south at Bethel, and in the north, at Dan (1 Kings 12:1-33). This set a monstrous pattern of idolatry, one that the Northern Kings never shook off; with the Southern Kings barely much better!

 

So as one reads through Scripture, it is clear that idolatry is the plague upon the human heart, and one that Yahweh insists must be healed, by Exile (722 & 587 BC) if necessary (2 Kings 17 and 25). This is what drives the prophets. It is seen clearly that idolatry is the outcome of covenantal unfaithfulness, and the call to repent and turn back to a patient and forgiving YHWH becomes ever urgent. It is noteworthy that Amos refers to the “Cows of Bashan” (4:1), the wealthy woman of Samaria, feeding and gorging themselves at the expense of the poor and needy.

This is what idolatry does, it is a self-feeding at the expense of everyone else, and everything else. It is the exact opposite of the Temptations of Jesus , who refuses to be a self-feeder, and a self-glorifier, and a self-promoter (Luke 4:113). He is the only One in history who has resisted the very things that everyone else has failed to resist.

Baal was a demanding monster and a liar. He consumed nations with a lust for wealth and fertility and war. He is the arch-enemy of mankind, and the destroyer of all that is good. He truly is demanding of those who look to him, of those who are stewards of him in any and every capacity.

In another post we will see how Baal as consort to Asherah and/or Astarte, is linked through the fertility rituals that would in Jeremiah’s time (if not before), promote enforced ritual temple prostitution of men and women, boys and girls, including homosexuality and bestiality – and this just the covenantal people of God!! At the British Museum, you can see this in the figures of large breasted women, holding them out as though tempting desire. The Apostle Paul faced the almost comical if it weren’t so sad scenario of this when he faced a mob at Ephesus, mad with religious fury and patriotism for their multi-breasted goddess, Artemis of the Ephesians (Acts 19:28-41). Artemis

This link to sexualised idolatry is, I think, seen in the present day obsession with sexuality being used as a perversion of relationships seen in the breakdown of marriage, the sexualisation of culture, meaning everything we see is often brought down to two lowest common denominators: If not money (a subject for another time), then sexuality, seen most obviously in pornography and paedophilia, not to mention advertising and film – nothing but locust like consumption, grabbing and taking, self-feeding and self-satisfying. It is this very thing, the self-feeding and self-satisfying, that the Israelites became good at when they hoarded the daily provision of manna (Exodus 16) – revealing a twisted view of their Redeeming and Providing God. They were rightly judged for this and their ‘additional Manna’ was fast-tracked to grow mouldy. Baal’s demands are as insatiable as death itself, even if, in the end, as Isaiah says, he is but wind.

By contrast, it is the One True God who is good, and he alone saves. Martin Luther called the human heart a factory of idols, and this is precisely why we need saving by a faithful Saviour, the true God, not some fictitious invention from our idolatrous heart! Freud said that God is a mere projection of our own desires. That may well be in part a truth, but God as He is God revealed in Trinity is no projection of any human heart. What is a projection of the human heart, is the vile thing that can often find a home in the heart – Baal. And we not only house him, we steward him.

If Christ is not our Saviour, the only One who can purge the human heart, remake it in fact, then we truly will become Baal-stewards, every last one of us. But, as Isaiah says,

“I the LORD speak truth, I declare what is right. Assemble yourselves and come; draw near together, you survivors of the nations! They have no knowledge who carry about their wooden idols, and keep praying to a god that cannot save….there is no god beside me, a righteous God and a Saviour; there is none beside me. Turn to me and be saved, all the ends of the earth! For I am God and there is no other!”

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Damned Money

There are lots of generous wealthy people in our world.  I get that.

There are lots of generous poor people too.  I get that.

There are lots of practically minded people.  I get that.

There are lots of non-practical philosopher types too.  I get that.

But why when money rears its ugly head do we suddenly see how secular and goddless we really are?

Why is it that great riches can be a web of deceit that it blinds people to the Kingdom of God?

What kind of Church is Jesus the Head of?  A Church with everything in order?  All sinners purged?  All accounts robust and healthy?  All the building needs taken care of?  The minister’s salary way beyond the minimum wage?  A godly investment in mission and ministry?  Clean carpets?  Clean teeth?  Cleen sheets?  Is Jesus the Head of this kind of Church?

When will we learn that faith and damned money are diametrically opposed?  Don’t misunderstand me.  Godly people can be very generous and in my experience often are, but why are so many people who let others know of their wealth, so damned atheistic in their worldview?  Why do these people impose a pathetically rigid, humanistic, managerial order onto something (the Church) that doesn’t funtion like that?  When will Churches stop being like Corporations?  When will we stop reinventing biblical faith as ‘the bottom line?’

british-money_thumb

Let me defend why faith is diametirically opposed to money.  Money will divide the closest of families when there’s a sniff of money to be had.  Money will tear apart loving families as people made in the image of God become animals clawing at every last damned penny like wild animals, devouring anyone who stands in their way.  Money brings out the worst in people – because we’re greedy at heart.  In fact, we’re idolatrous at heart, which is why Paul likens greed to idolatry (Col 3:5).

The tensions within ministry are obvious.  We will always have needs and wants.  Our resources will always be stretched between the maintenance and the mission of the Church.  But if the Church does not recover the heart of the Gospel, of generosity, of sacrifice, of giving, then we will see churches fall prey to the zeitgeist of centralised secular bureaucracy meddaling in Church affairs with ever-increasing loopholes of complexity that we must just through, like performing religious poodles, in order to recieve our prize – the all conquering reclaimed tax!  The Golden Calf of British Churches!

The Church is Gospel centred or it is nothing.  Even tax reclaimed on giving in the UK is a massive mistake.  Since when did churches rely on the prevailing generosity of short-term governments.  When this generosity ends (and it will), we will see thousands of churches close overnight – why – because they will all have relied on the altruism of Government.  This is a big mistake, and in this setting, secularism will strike a massive blow against the Church in the UK.  But what we will be left with is a leaner and ‘meaner’ church.  Or as I like to imagine, a Church more biblically faith-FULL.

Imagine if Abraham had insisted he knew the ram was going to be caught in the thicket.  He didn’t know how or what or when God was going to provide.  He just obeyed God!  He stepped out in faith, even if it seemed to suggest that God wanted child-sacrifice.  But Abraham was so in tune with God that he trusted – even for God to raise Isaac to life again if need be.

Abraham-sacrificing-Isaac

But imagine where his faith was at, as Isaac lie there, bound and gagged, atop a pile of fire wood, his own dad stood over him, one arm raised with a razor sharp dagger in his hand – ready to plunge into the heart of his boy.  He didn’t know, but he trusted.  This is the kind of faith required “to please God” as Hebrews says.  This is the kind of faith we must never allow mere money to interfere with.

I want that for myself and for all God’s people.  I want this kind of trusting to take place.  Not driven by the bottom line but the last word.  Not what we can see now, but what faith reveals in the not yet.  I want us to see God and have our own stories to tell, of when God took us up on a mountain, confused but obedient, and how he brought us down, changed.

SeaRocks

Application Consternation

goldencalfFor years I have been concerned with the way people approach the text of the Bible, not in order to merely read it, not in order to be immersed in its world, not to stay awhile and chew the cud, so to speak, not to observe the text and the context, but that great Golden Calf of many Bible study groups:  Application.

Maybe you’ve had a conversation along these lines:  “It’s all very well reading the text together and asking questions, but how do we apply it?  Tell us what to do?”  This is idolatrous short-hand for, “How can I systemise the text so that the Holy Spirit has no room to move or speak; how can I order my life so that there’s no mystery and disorder?  How can I remain in control?  How can you reaffirm my belief that I am the centre of all things and not Christ?  TELL ME HOW TO APPLY THE TEXT!!”  Maybe that’s one reason why Life Application Study Bibles are so popular, I’m sure people read the “applications” under the text and not the text!!  These Bibles can be helpful, but their great danger is in treating the Bible like a one-level-only game of Pac-Man, once you’ve ‘done it’, you’ve done it!  And where’s the fun in that?  Where’s the life?  Where’s the Holy Spirit?

Application, as is often understood, is a way to be in control of the text, to flatten it and to take out the colour.  I actually believe in application.  We all should, but when the clamour for application precedes exegesis and hermeneutics, when application is the code-word for control and order, when application is the buzz-word for mediocrity and sentimentality, when application is the starting point of our engagement with Scripture, preachers of this world need to stand up and be counted!

preachingI was so grateful today to finally get my copy of Darrel W. Johnson’s book The Glory of Preaching – Participating in God’s Transformation of the World.  In chapter 7, entitled Walking the Sermon into Everyday Life – Implication and Application, he begins by writing, “I want now to do what I can to lift a horrible burden off preachers.  It is the burden of “applying the text” to the everyday life of the listeners.  Yes, we can, and we should, try to help people understand the text’s radical implications.  But applying the text is not the preachers responsibility” (p.158).

Even though this sounds contradictory, even to much teaching on homiletics, it isn’t.  He suggests application is simply too mechanistic, too modernistic, too humanistic (i.e. anthropocentric).  He says the pressure to apply is a modernist pressure not a biblical pressure.  Quoting William Willimon, he suggests that the “subtext” of so much of this must-apply preaching is, “You are gods unto yourselves.  Through this insight, this set of principles, this well applied idea, you can save yourselves by yourselves.”  Rather than application then, he argues for the implication of the text.  Implication is more relational, more empowering.

I think this is a very healthy distinction.  It isn’t pedantic semantics.  When we apply, we make something happen, we do it, we’re in charge.  But under the Living Word of God, by the Holy Spirit who speaks through the text, we imply the text.  To imply the text requires greater biblical literacy, it guards against entrenched views, it keeps the Word living and active.  Implication requires trust.  Application when used badly, requires no trust, just the satisfaction that now that verse has been applied, you can move on to other things.

God’s Word doesn’t just inform.  God’s Word performs.  From the preacher, through the text, to the listeners, in all manner of ways.