“Almost thou persuadest me to be a Christian” Acts 26:28.
In every age there are those who will not go all of the way to Christ. They are almost persuaded to be Christians, but they falter at some point. Not only this, but the Church is full of almost Christians who have not gone all the way with Christ.
What is an Almost Christian?
The almost Christian knows that God’s word is true, but will not commit himself to following it. He may live a good, moral, even religious life, and even go beyond others with regards to human compassion. His humanitarian spirit causes him to give to others that which he has need of.
He may hate all unrighteousness and sin in society to the point of protesting and petitioning against it, but does not recognise sin in his own life. In this he has a “form of godliness” but reveals that he does not have “the power thereof” (2 Timothy 3:5). He does not partake in those things forbidden by God; instead his life is conducted according to divine principles. He abstains from alcohol, does not party, and is not a glutton. So he may appear like a good, solid believer to those around him. Being good natured, he desires to live peaceably with everyone. He never thinks of being unkind to others, and certainly would never return evil for evil. He may pray stirring public prayers, but it is all part of the outward appearance of godliness, and such devotion is simply hypocrisy, since he enjoys the praise of men (John 12:43). Yes, the almost Christian is a hypocrite. This is not to say that he does not have a sincere desire to please God, but he usually settles for the pretence instead of the real thing. He does not think that he needs to be born again; he is a good enough Christian as he is.
Is it possible to go so far and still only be an almost Christian? We are all aware of those who profess to be Christians and yet totally refuse to be faithful to the Lord. They love to be seen as Christian people, but they will not “lay hold on eternal life” (1 Timothy 6:19). They try to live in the world as well as the Kingdom of God. They will not make a commitment and are lukewarm towards God (Revelation 3:16). The almost Christian may love God, but not with all his heart, soul and might (Deuteronomy 6:5).
What is an Altogether Christian?
To begin with, an altogether Christian is someone who loves God with his whole heart, soul, mind and strength (Mark 12:30). This love consumes all of his affections, and he has a constant desire to rejoice in God his Saviour (Luke 1:47). From deep within he cries out, “Whom have I in Heaven but Thee? and there is none upon earth that I desire beside Thee” (Psalm 73:25). The world has no control over his life, for he is crucified to the world, and the world crucified to him (Galatians 6:14). His life and mouth proclaim, “I am crucified with Christ: nevertheless I live; yet not I, but Christ liveth in me: and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by the faith of the Son of God, who loved me, and gave Himself for me” (Galatians 2:20).
Secondly, he has true Christian love towards his neighbour … “Love thy neighbour as thyself” (Matthew 19:19). This love is not restricted to a few close friends, but extends even to his enemies and those who persecute him. Because this love is not puffed up [proud and self-serving] (1 Corinthians 13:4) he is willing to be a servant to all, for this kind of love “seeketh not her own” (1 Corinthians 13:5). Such love is not easily provoked, does not entertain evil thoughts towards others, and is willing to forgive any wrongs done to it.
Thirdly, an altogether Christian has true faith. This is the foundation of his Christian life, because everyone who believes is born of God (1 John 5:1). It is impossible to be a Christian without being born again. Those who do put their faith solely in Christ for salvation become the children of God … “Which were born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God … For God sent not His Son into the world to condemn the world; but that the world through Him might be saved” (John 1:13, 3:17). Therefore an altogether Christian enters into eternal life through faith and repentance. The sign of a true Christian is a life of holiness and righteousness (Hebrews 12:14). Anything else is simply dead and devilish, since Satan, though believing, does not have the nature of true Christian faith (James 2:19).
Lastly, the altogether Christian knows that his sins are forgiven, and is delivered from damnation through the blood of Jesus Christ. He knows that his new life is given upon the merits of Christ rather than of self, thus his confidence is in God alone. He lives a godly life by the power of God.
The question must be asked, “What kind of Christian am I?” Am I almost or altogether Christian? Am I a hypocrite pretending to be a Christian? Do I only live by the form (outward appearance) of godliness? The ultimate question is, “Am I willing to be obedient to all that God requires of me as a believer?” If we are honest with ourselves, many of us are not even close to being almost Christians let alone altogether Christians. We have never laid down our lives as living sacrifices (Romans 12:1). We think that it is enough to go by the name of Christ, doing a few good works here or there, and attending church occasionally, but we continue to fall far short of God’s standard.
We must get back to believing that Christ alone saves our souls from sin, and gives us the power to live godly lives (John 15:5). His Holy Spirit must bear witness with our spirit that we are truly children of God (Romans 8:16). Those who die without being altogether Christians damn their own souls. Let us awake from sleep (self-deception) and call upon the Lord (Romans 13:11; 1 Corinthians 15:34). Do not rest until you can say, “My Lord and my God!” (John 20:28). Pray and do not faint (Luke 18:1).
God knows those who truly love Him. May we all experience what it is to be, not an almost, but an altogether Christian. That we might know what it is to be justified, have God’s peace, and sealed with the Holy Spirit.
[Preached by John Wesley 25 July 1741].