Wesley’s Standard Sermons: The Almost Christian

In reflecting on the final product of my blog post on John Wesley’s First Standard Sermon I have decided to change up the tone and focus of my articles. Instead of focusing on an academic approach to the theology of the sermon I want to provide a more devotional response to the text. So instead of rephrasing what Wesley wrote I will provide my response back to the sermon and hopefully allow you to share your thoughts as well.

My first impression on reading “The Almost Christian” is that John Wesley was not meek or mild in his preaching. He addressed the issues of his day in a straightforward manner and in doing so offered a message that can still pierce hearts to this day. Today we live in a society much different from that of John Wesley. People are no longer living in a majority Christian society that expects people to live according to common social norms found in Scripture. John Wesley was trying to open people’s eyes to the reality of true faith in a culture that seemed to numb them from the truth of the Gospel. Today we find ourselves rapidly become a minority voice in society and therefore we are preaching to people who might have never heard the Gospel and who live in a culture that does not expect people to follow any Scriptural norms whatsoever. However, the commonality we share with Wesley is the need to be bold in preaching the Gospel. We cannot allow the culture, either that of “cultural Christianity” or secularism, to tame the Gospel into something that will not save souls and transform lives. We must be bold so that people may hear the Gospel and have a chance to respond.

The major focus of this sermon is to discuss the idea of an “almost Christian” meaning that person that is so close to belief and true faith yet is not persuaded to completely believe in Christ. Wesley describes the life and lifestyle of the almost Christian and it would be a life that would be both then and now a life that is beyond reproach. The almost Christian is kind, generous, church-going, and avoids sin. They are practicing the methods and disciplines of spiritual growth and yet something is missing from their life that keeps them from true faith.  At this point in the sermon I found myself asking “What more could a person do to demonstrate true faith than this almost Christian?” Then it hit me the “thing” that separates the almost Christian from the true Christian is not an action. In other words, there is nothing more that a person could “do” what makes the difference is a condition of the heart.

The difference between an almost Christian and a true Christian is the motivation of the heart. The true believer is motivated out of a love for God and for neighbor that comes out of a heart that has been transformed by true repentance and belief. On the outside the life of an almost Christian and a true Christian will look virtually the same with both studying Scripture, volunteering time to serve, and giving to help others. What makes the difference is the “why” behind these actions. The almost Christian is motivated by fear of punishment and an attempt to please God; however, the true Christian is motivated by the love of God shed abroad in their heart and a faith that is secure of their salvation found in Christ alone.

One final thought from this sermon: are we pursuing holiness? When Wesley described the almost Christian they were at least changing their lives in an attempt to please God. Yet how many sermons are preached today about “Christian liberty” that justify and explain the logic behind how close we can get to sin without sinning. I know I have been guilty trying to justify whatever action I might want to undertake explaining how it is OK and no problem. Wesley wrote, “what can he [true Christian] desire beside God not the world, or the things of the world: for he is crucified to the world, and the world crucified to him, he is crucified to the desire of the flesh, the desire of the eye, and the pride of life.” It seems to me that we as Christians should be, because of the love of God filling our hearts, be fleeing from sin towards God and holiness. We should not look to how close to sin we can get but how much like God’s nature can we become and in doing so become light in a dark world.