Summary: What seperates the Altogether Christian from the Almost Christian is love for God, love for others, and love for discipleship. Based on John Wesley’s sermon of the same title.
“The Almost Christian”
John Wesley Sermon Series
(taken from John Wesley on Christian Beliefs, The Standard Sermons in Modern English, Vol. 1, Abingdon Press:2002)
June 29, 2003
Last year, one of the “Hot Topic” sermon requests was simply, “Are Christians today really Christian?”
It’s an interesting question because it was something that needed answering over 200 years ago as well.
If you’ll read the introduction in your bulletins (47-49), John Wesley stood before a group of seminarians at Oxford and tried to answer it. In short, he laid out the difference between “Almost Christians” and “Altogether Christians.”
The message was well excepted. In fact, immediately after his sermon presentation, “The Almost Christian” went into print, and became the basis for a major part of our United Methodist Discipline to this day.
I. Let’s look at his sermon a little more closely. First, we need to define terms…
THE ALMOST CHRISTIAN
…Almost Christians have some sense of right and wrong, truth and justice, a set of common virtues.
Wesley said, “even the heathens gave the things they could spare to those in need even without the
full knowledge of God.”
…Almost Christians often look like altogether Christians by practicing the fruits of the Spirit.
Wesley words again, “the almost Christian does nothing that the gospel forbids. He or she does not make wrongful use of the name of God, but blesses others and refrains from judging them. They do not swear oaths, they speak with a simple yes or no. They do not desecrate the Lord’s Day or even permit it to be defiled by their guests. The almost Christian avoids adultery, fornication, and unchaste behavior—even the slightest word or glance that tends toward these things.” Overall, almost Christians do not participate in social interchange that is not useful or constructive.
…Almost Christians abstain from wine, which leads to debauchery, and from carousing and gluttony.
…Almost Christians avoid strife and altercations, always seeking to live peaceable with everyone.
…Almost Christians do not willingly harm, hurt, or grieve anyone. In every situation almost Christians act a speak by the golden rule.
…Almost Christians help friend and foe, assisting evil folk and good folk, whenever they have the
opportunity they work for the good of all.
…Almost Christians correct evil people, instruct uninformed people, and comfort those in distress.
…Almost Christians faithfully attend worship, giving attention to every part of worship, not asleep or in a
comfortable posture, as though they assumed God were asleep,
…Almost Christians , by sincerity, feel an intense need to serve God, and also desire to do His will.
…Almost Christians are almost “altogether Christians.”
On the face of it, it looks almost impossible to be even a decent "almost Christian" doesn’t it? What greater standard then could there be for the altogether Christian?
Wesley laid out three characteristics…
1 – the Altogether Christian has a love for God.
Jesus said, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, and all your soul, and with all your mind and with all your strength” This kind of love completely lays hold of the entire self. It claims affection, fills the entire capacity of the soul, and engages the full range of its abilities. Those who abide in love, find that God abides in them. A love for God is at the core of the Altogether Christrian.
2 – the Altogether Christian has a love for others.
Jesus also said, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” Wesley said, “If anyone should ask, ‘Who is my neighbor?’ we reply plainly. Your neighbor is every person in the world, every human being created by God, the maker of us all. In short, we are to live lives of love for others, just as Christ lived and loved for us.
3 – the Altogether Christian is grounded in faith.
Scripture speaks an abundance of good things about this spiritual virtue. John said, “Everyone who believes that Jesus is the Christ has been born of God.” “To all who received him, who believed in his name, he gave power to become children of God.” “This is the victory that conquers the world – our faith”
Jesus even said “Very truly, I tell you, anyone who hears my word and believe him who sent me has eternal life, and does not come under judgment, but has passed from death into life.”
Wesley said that Altogether Christians have a “steadfast faith and confidence in Christ to save us from everlasting condemnation. It is a certain faith and confidence that one places in God, trusting in the merits of Christ that one’s sins are forgiven and that reconciliation to God has occurred. From this faith proceeds a heart that loves him and obeys his commandments.”