More Than...

The Almost Christian - A Devotional Paraphrase

(Sermon 2 in the Standard Sermons of John Wesley)
By: Michael Roberts

“Almost thou persuadest me to be a Christian” Acts 26:28

So many go right to the edge and are almost convinced to be fully committed Christians. Many, however, stop at the “don’ts” -- don’t steal, don’t cheat, don’t lie, don’t oppress the poor. Faith is equated with what we are not to do. The temptation is to think that this is enough, when in fact it is nothing more than “common decency,” for believers and non-believers alike.

Many go beyond the negative, and actually make some effort to do good -- when it is convenient. They may feed the hungry, if they have food to spare, or provide clothing with their own hand-me-downs, making room in their closets for more. In this state, it is easy to justify such acts as good and faithful. This is where many set the bar of faith. It is so easy to achieve. It is at the base level of being an “almost” Christian.

The second thing implied in being “almost” Christian is following outwardly forms of faith, initially expressed in the negative. In this state, we try not to curse, or not to take God’s name in vain. We avoid obvious uncleanness, gossip, slander and the like. We may even abstain from wine in excess, from gluttony, strife and contention, and endeavor to live peaceably with others.

Many, out of a desire for meaning and purpose, go far beyond “cheap and easy acts of kindness.” With great courage, they engage in good works -- comforting the afflicted, teaching those who need help, providing for those in need. In such acts, we see forms of godliness that we can graciously affirm and encourage. Living in this way is an important part of the journey to being more than an “almost” Christian.

Some, at this place on the journey, are also committed to the “means of grace” – worship, prayer, fellowship, and service. And they engage in these practices not just for “show,” as some do -- those who are “loaded with gold and costly apparel.” No, the “almost Christian” approaches faith with much more seriousness and attention. They are sincere and devoted. There is a real desire to serve God and to lift others up.

But here is the question: Is it possible to go so far as this and still be an “almost Christian?” Another way to ask it is, “What more is implied in being an ‘Altogether Christian?’” First and foremost, the altogether or complete Christian, is filled with God’s love – in heart, soul, mind and will. In this love, our desire is for God – not for the things of this world. In this love, all forms of pride and selfish gain have been crucified with Christ and we have been raised as new creations in Christ. (Mark 12:29-31; 2 Cor 5:17).

Secondly, for an altogether Christian, this love of God, planted deep within, springs up into love of neighbor. If any ask, “Who is my neighbor?” the heartfelt reply is “everyone.” We want to love as Christ loves us. This love is patience and kind. It is not “rash or hasty in judging.” It is not “puffed up” with pride and knowing all the answers. It seeks not its own will, “but only the good of others, that they may be saved.” The altogether Christian knows that God’s love always comes to us on its way to someone else. (See I Cor 13).

Finally, although not separate from this love, is faith. This faith is more than believing, knowing that even the devil believes. The right and true Christian faith is more than believing that the Holy Scriptures and the Articles of Faith are true; at its core, it is a sure trust and confidence that, by the merits of Christ, our sins are forgiven and we are reconciled to God’s favor, and that this love leads us into love. This faith is a gift which “purifies our hearts” and fills us with a love that is stronger than death itself. In trust, we give our lives to this love after we have received it as a gift. To be clear, a faith that does not lead to love is “a dead and devilish one.”

In our scripture, we see the Apostle Paul, in chains, before King Agrippa. And, even in this circumstance, he proclaims the gospel. The king says, “You are almost persuading me to become a Christian?” (Acts 26:28). That is Paul’s hope, but Paul can’t do this for him. Only the Holy Spirit can make this connection. Like Paul, we can give testimony, and show the way. We can spark this movement of the Spirit needed self-examination: Do I abstain from evil? Do I try to be good? Do I have a sincere desire to serve God? Or maybe you haven’t even come this far. But if you have come this far, the Holy Spirit is there to help you overcome your fear and give you this desire to devote all your words and works to God’s glory and to live fully in God’s love. Deep within, do you want this? Do you desire to be truly happy, able to rejoice in the life God has given you, knowing that this life is a part of something so much bigger, even eternally bigger? Can you envision the possibility of this love springing up from the depths of your soul to be shared with everyone you meet, even your enemies, even those perceived to be enemies of God? Will you open your heart to God’s forgiveness, given to you through Christ’s redemptive sacrifice on the cross, where Christ took away our sins and cast them into the sea and opened, for you, the door to new life? Do you want to live in relationship with the One who shines the light that can overcome all forms of darkness and death? One more question: Do you know that the Holy Spirit is bearing witness with your spirit, even now, that you are indeed a child of God?

May these questions awaken you who are spiritually asleep. Call on your savior while you have breath. The Lord who is merciful and gracious, abounding in steadfast love, forgiving all sin, is there for you and calling for you. Don’t stop short of this high calling. Don’t stop at “almost” embracing it. May we all experience what it is to be, not almost only, but altogether a child of God and follower of the One who brings redemption, peace, and life. As we leap into these gifts, the love of God comes pouring out, into our beings, and through us to the world. That’s God’s method for our salvation and the salvation of the world. Amen.