After reading a sermon by the Anglican divine and theologian named John Wesley, I could feel blood dripping out of the very core of my heart. Flaming arrows of truth piercing my conscience right from start to end, it was impossible to duck. The sermon titled ‘The Almost Christian’ was preached at St. Mary’s Oxford, on July 25, 1741. A sermon so old one can literally smell the scent of ‘so long ago’. A 273 year old documented preaching that carries with it the ability to question the 21st century man who claims to be a Christian. This is a modern day adaptation of the original sermon by John Wesley. [I will make references to him from time to time]
John Wesley starts by saying: “AND many there are who go thus far: ever since the Christian religion was in the world, there have been many in every age and nation who were almost persuaded to be Christians. But seeing it avails nothing before God to go only thus far, it highly imports us to consider, first. What is implied in being almost, Secondly. What in being altogether, a Christian.”
The first glance at the title makes you wonder if there is any such thing as an ‘almost’ Christian in the Bible. What do you mean by almost? What makes them almost and not completely or altogether, a Christian? Is there any standard rule for such a categorization? The Bible does not expressly distinguish the two by virtue of name. However, the concept behind the difference can be clearly deduced from a careful study of the Holy Scriptures— and this is where I humbly ask to pay rapt attention to the writings that are about to follow.
How does an almost Christian differ from a complete Christian?
Let me start by saying that a complete Christian is NOT a perfect disciple of Christ. No human being is perfect. Only God is. He does not get better or improve as time elapses. To attempt any of these is to either imply He goes from better to worse or vice-versa for which we know isn’t consistent with His personality. Just as He was, He still is and will forever be. It’s a different story when it comes to human beings. The concept of growth and development is inevitable in our lives and that makes us imperfect.
What then does the almost Christian look like?
The almost Christian is well abreast with moral and ethical codes. He makes strenuous efforts to keep up with the code of morality. He does not steal. He does not cheat his neighbor. He considers drunkenness, gluttony, greed, gambling and anything that appears evil as immoral. To envision any of these vices alone is a heinous crime to him, much more committing them. This person makes every effort not to grow weary in doing good. In living his life, he may consistently quote the Golden Rule, “Do to others what you want them to do to you”.
The almost Christian is very honest in his dealings— with himself as well as others around him. His integrity matters to him a lot. He is very truthful to them that deserve it. He does his best to tell the truth always despite the possibility of painful consequences. He avoids lies (unless lied to) and oath breaking. Slandering his neighbor is total repugnance in his sight for it is a disgrace to human kind. No way does he give advantage to those who would harm him. ‘Be forthright with those who are forthright with you’ is his motto.
Another implication of being an almost Christian is the form of godliness, which I like to call the Christian suit. Let the church open its doors on a Sunday morning, he is the first to make way to his seat [preference is given to the seats directly behind the elders of the church]. He prefers to pray in the tongues of men and probably angels knowing very well that “He that speaks in an unknown tongue edifies himself”. How fluent he is when he decides to pray in a known language; “Oh Omnipotent, Omnipresent King of Kings, of whom is referred to as Tetragrammaton, I come before your Holy throne…” You cannot help but to see him nod and shout “Amen!” occasionally as the pastor preaches what he calls a “powerful” word. He is more often than not, a member of at least two departmental wings. Meet him after church and ask how he is doing; he will definitely tell you how ‘blessed’ he is.
He is very religious in his speech. He abhors foolish talking and jesting, which are inconvenient to him and (probably) to those around him. Make a little mistake to be careless in your speech or actions and you will be called CARNAL! He is very familiar with the scriptures and has in-depth mental knowledge to defend the doctrines in the Bible.
He doesn’t joke with his dawn prayers. He spends at least thirty minutes to have his quiet time before starting his day. If he is the master of the house, Family prayer is never optional. Every forehead in the family surely tastes the anointing oil before the grace is shared [You have to be SPIRITUAL!]
He is very hospitable. Visit him at home and you will be offered a drink and something to eat. You are rest assured to leave for your home with hefty gifts. His generosity is however not limited to the home alone. He is ever ready and willing to lend help and assistance to the poor when he can, when it is needed. How considerate and polite he is by treating needy people decently. He has his limits though as he does not give room for anyone to use him as a doormat.
“Uhuh! This is the exact description of a true Christian. Are you trying to say you can do all these and still be an ‘almost’ Christian? Can you really go this far and still be far from being an altogether Christian?” These are the words of John Wesley to a similar question and I quote:
I did go thus far for many years, as many of this place can testify; using diligence to eschew all evil, and to have a conscience void of offence; redeeming the time; buying up every opportunity of doing all good to all men; constantly and carefully using all the public and all the private means of grace; endeavouring after a steady seriousness of behaviour, at all times, and in all places; and, God is my record, before whom I stand, doing all this in sincerity; having a real design to serve God; a hearty desire to do his will in all things; to please him who had called me to “fight the good fight,” and to “lay hold of eternal life. Yet my own conscience beareth me witness in the Holy Ghost, that all this time I was but almost a Christian.
This he realized after spending 13 years in ministry living a religious life and preaching religious sermons. 13 years yet he was but almost a Christian!
What then does it mean to be an altogether/complete Christian?
The altogether Christian does everything he does ultimately because of the love of God shared abroad in his heart. He looks to the heavens every single day and knows deep within his spirit (not mere intellectual knowledge) that there is none like Jehovah. His sincerest desire to please God’s heart is strongly influenced from within unto the outside. He knows that nothing in this world can satisfy his hunger but Jesus. Whatever he does, he does it to the glory of God alone. He does not in any way wish to claim praise for himself. He may be tempted once or twice but he reminds himself of the fact that, ‘It’s all about You Jesus’.
His love for his neighbor is driven solely by the love of God flooding his heart. He does not only show love to those who reciprocate it, he also shows love to his enemies (knowing that they are generally the same people) not because it is commanded, his obedience IS the expression of his love for God. He is patient and endures a lot, not keeping any record of wrongs against him. He lets his reputation suffer for the sake of the gospel. He will let himself decrease if Christ has to increase.
He is a godly person with a different concept of what true godliness is. He knows godliness positions man to be like God. He knows godliness sets man apart for his spiritual act of worship. He is very certain about the fact that true godliness never denies the power of Jesus. He knows that to have a form of godliness devoid of spiritual power is like a body without the spirit. It decays gradually filling the heavens with a stench of deception. Such form looks good on the outside but is spiritually barren on the inside. Perfect example is the devil; clothed like the angel of light but…well, you know what lies beneath!
I read an article one time and this is what the writer had to say concerning almost Christians:
You see, they are ethical, moral, and religious people as long as being ethical, moral, and religious serves them well. They like to be recognized as good citizens, sitting in places of leadership, admired by their fellow citizens, making the necessary connections to further their business, their good name, or their political ambitions. They love the respect and honor showered on them for being such outstanding people. They love being offered the seat of honor at the banquet. They love seeing their name and picture in the newspaper. They love their positions of leadership in the church because of the respect, the power, and the control that comes with such positions.
The almost Christian is very likely to become less ethical, less moral and less religious as long as these do not serve their purposes in his life any longer. It is not so with the complete Christian. The two may be superficially similar but they are so different fundamentally. The almost Christian is driven by love for ‘self’ while the altogether/complete Christian is driven by love for Christ.
Perhaps, you have read this post and you are thinking, “Well, nothing in there points to me as being an almost Christian. I clearly identify with the altogether ones. I’m all set!” That’s great! Keep it up and more grace, my brother/sister in the Lord! A piece of advice and I quote from 1 Corinthians 10:12 MSG version, “Don’t be so naive and self-confident. You’re not exempt. You could fall flat on your face as easily as anyone else. Forget about self-confidence; it’s useless. Cultivate God-confidence.”
The Lord Himself speak to us all in His own ways that we may return to true discipleship and become the complete Christian He expects us to be. Far be it from us that we be counted among the lot who will say ‘Lord, Lord’ and miss out on heaven.