ALMOST NOT BEING ENOUGH: My Biggest Fear For Our Church

I spoke a little bit on Sunday about John Wesley and his conversion but there was lots more that I wanted to say but there wasn’t time in the sermon. So, I thought I would talk a bit more about it here.

At St Mary’s Church in Oxford on July 25th, 1741, three years after his own conversion, John Wesley preached one of his most famous sermons. (I think he preached it a few times down the years and he reproduced it so his preachers could use it in their churches) His message was based on the words of King Agrippa in the King James translation of Acts 26:28. “Almost thou persuadest me to be a Christian.”

He gave his sermon the provocative title, “THE ALMOST CHRISTIAN.”

Hopefully from Sunday, you remember that Wesley was brought up in a very religious home, his grandfathers and father were all ministers and his mum made sure that she gave all her children a personal Christian education. Wesley went on to study theology at Oxford, became a church of England minister and eventually a chaplain to the settlers and missionary to the indigenous people in what is today the state of Georgia in the US.

He was an utter failure as a pastor and missionary and had to flee back to England.

Wesley through this experience of failure met some Christians from very ordinary backgrounds called the Moravians. He discovered that they knew Jesus in a way he didn’t despite all his knowledge about Jesus and religious activity.

Back in London in a bible study in 1738 Wesley’s heart was “strangely warmed” as he finally trusted Jesus as his Lord and Saviour and was converted, born again.

 Wesley was then deeply worried that churches might be full of people like he had been. People who were very religious in every way and yet hadn’t been born again and hadn’t personally taken the final step of trusting Jesus for their salvation. That was why he preached this sermon THE ALMOST CHRISTIAN. I think courageously he chose to preach it for the first time to people who were like him before his conversion, the church in Oxford that day was full of sceptical academics, students, deist ministers and respectable religious folks.

I want to quote the essence of what Wesley said in that sermon:

“A second thing implied in the being almost a Christian, is, the having a form of godliness; of that godliness which is prescribed in the gospel of Christ; the having the outside of a real Christian. I answer, First, that it is possible to go thus far, and yet be but almost a Christian, I learn, not only from the oracles of God, but also from the sure testimony of experience.

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.”

I find this incredible to read.

If you read the whole sermon, you’ll hear Wesley say

  • Following the commandments in the Bible doesn’t make you a Christian.
  • Doing kind deeds for others doesn’t make you a Christian
  • Being generous to others doesn’t make you a Christian
  • Taking sacraments or going to church doesn’t make you a Christian
  • Praying and studying the Bible doesn’t make you a Christian
  • Even “sincerity,” and genuinely wanting to be good doesn’t make you a Christian.
  • Avoiding sin doesn’t make you a Christian.

What Wesley is saying is that it is possible to live a moral life, be committed to doing good for others, even have the desire to serve God and be a regular churchgoer and yet have “only the outside of a real Christian” not have the inner reality.

Wesley says you can outwardly appear to everyone as a genuine Christian and do everything people expect Christians to do and yet not be an authentic believer. That’s a sobering thought, isn’t it?

How does he know that? Wesley says I know you can be an “almost Christian’” from personal experience. His life before his conversion had been full of religious activity and religious knowledge but lacked a personal relationship with Jesus. He confesses in the sermon how despite his life looking outwardly Christian “I was only almost a Christian.”

Wesley’s life before his conversion is a warning to us that religiosity is a poor substitute for a relationship with Jesus.

We can so easily convince ourselves that we are Christians because of our outward actions, but Wesley’s words and experience remind us that we need to look inwardly and ask ourselves a tough question, do we have a genuine personal trust in what Christ has done for us?

The Apostle Paul had the same sort of experience. As a Pharisee, he had been very religious and knew a lot about God but after his conversion, he knew God personally through his relationship with Jesus. He wrote about what that experience meant to him like this

But whatever were gains to me I now consider loss for the sake of Christ. What is more, I consider everything a loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them garbage, that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ – the righteousness that comes from God on the basis of faith. Phil 3:7-9

I believe Paul and Wesley are right, nothing compares to the surpassing worth of knowing Jesus personally.

So, are you an ALMOST CHRISTIAN or what Wesley went on to describe in his sermon as an ALTOGETHER CHRISTIAN? A person who like Paul and himself doesn’t just know about Christ but KNOWS Christ? My biggest fear for Westlake is that someone could come along and be content with being an “almost Christian” and not hear the challenge to become an “altogether Christian”

Wesley ended his sermon by saying this and I can’t think of a better way, to sum up what I am trying to say

“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!”

If you want to read John Wesley’s sermon you can read it here: The Almost Christian – a Sermon by John Wesley | Christian Faith (

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