Then Agrippa said to Paul, “You almost persuade me to become a Christian.” Acts 26:28 NKJV
The Almost Christian is one of the most impactful sermons I've ever analyzed. John Wesley delivered deep soulful prose to listening ears at St. Mary's, Oxford, before the University, on July 25, 1741. Mr. Wesley delivered his message with deliberate, elegant and convicting style similar to that of Jesus before the Pharisees. This message still disturbs me. Mr. Wesley's elegant poetry challenged me to explore my own motivation for being a follower of Christ.
Evidently, there were many 18th century Christians who practiced a solid outward religion. One may even define it as living a life of good solid morality. For example, self-professed religious people practiced regular prayer times with family, actively participated in church and abstained from behaviors unbecoming to a Christian. But, for Wesley, there needed to be one more thing in order to distinguish someone from being almost a Christian to being a Christian altogether and that was, sincerity of heart.
Wesley unabashedly drilled deeply into the bedrock of belief. He asserted, 'Good men avoid sin from the love of virtue; Wicked men avoid sin from a fear of punishment.'* This statement alone is like electricity to my bones. For years, the pulpits of well meaning churches preached the message of 'Turn or Burn.' Wesley investigated the motivation behind our desire to avoid eternal damnation and hellfire. In one poetic sentence that continues to convict me, I am challenged to contemplate whether I am good or if am I wicked. Do I preach, pastor and lead from a heart full of the love of Christ or from the fear of punishment? Which of these is God-honoring?
Sunday we continue the exploration of Luke's Travel Narrative. Jesus went through towns and villages teaching as he made his way to Jerusalem. Someone from the religious crowd inquired of Jesus if only a few will be saved. Jesus responds deliberately. Make every effort to enter through the narrow door. Salvation is exclusive. It requires a crucial conversation. So, a religious person may ask if the saved will be few. Jesus responds with the question: will the saved be you?
May we all thus experience what it is to be, not almost only; but altogether Christians; being justified freely by his grace, through the redemption that is in Jesus; knowing we have peace with God through Jesus Christ; rejoicing in hope of the glory of God; and having the love of God shed abroad in our hearts, by the Holy Ghost given unto us! The Almost Christian, John Wesley
*Read the entire transcript here.