Wednesdays with Wesley: Almost and Altogether a Christian

Derek Ouellette —  July 13, 2011

“Ever since the Christian religion was in the world, there have been many in every age and nation who were almost persuaded to be Christians. From my own experience, I know that it avails nothing before God to go only this far….

The first thing implied in being almost a Christian is simple heathen honesty.”

Wesley goes on to define what he calls “heathen honesty” as someone who knows that lying is wrong, they know the difference between justice and injustice, and they basically adhere to the Ten Commands. They also love other people and serve other people and go out of their way to help other people. These are “good people”.

“The second thing implied in being almost a Christian is having a form of godliness. This is the godliness which is prescribed in the gospel of Christ – having the outside of a real Christian.”

He goes on to describe this person as knowing Christian stuff and doing Christian things; not taking the Lord’s name in vain, not swearing, letting his “yes be yes” and his “no be no”, going to church, et cetera. He avoids gossip and backbiting and he “avoids all conversation which is not edifying and which grieves the Holy Spirit”. He goes on to describe the “almost Christian” as being in every way identical to the “altogether Christian” even to the point of awakening “those who are asleep spiritually. He attempts to lead those who are seeking God into an understanding of Jesus. His purpose is to get sinners to accept the forgiveness that is in Jesus.”

“But the almost Christian cannot be accused of having only the form and not the content of religion. He is serious about his worship. He pays attention to the services… The almost Christian also sets apart times for daily and family prayer and maintains a piety – seriousness of behavior….

The almost Christian has one more quality. He has sincerity. By sincerity, I mean a real inward principle of religion. It is from the inward principle that all of his actions come.”

When John Wesley describes the character of an “almost Christian” what he is really doing is describing his younger self. He writes,

“Is it possible that anyone living could go so far as this, and be only almost a Christian?… my answer is that I know from personal experience… that it is possible to go this far yet be but almost a Christian. I went this far for many years.”

So what is the difference between an “almost Christian” and an “altogether Christian” in Wesley’s mind?

  • Loving God Passionately: in describing this person John is describing someone who is ostentatiously loving towards God in every possible way.
  • Loving Others Wholeheartedly: in describing this person John is describing someone who loves “every person in the world“.
  • Has “Foundation-Faith”: This person must have faith in “Jesus as the Christ”.
  • Faith-Producing Repentance: This faith is not some “devilish faith”, that is, believing in Jesus as the devil and his demons believe. Rather this faith is a faith that produces repentance.
  • Right and True Faith: Faith is not just believing the Scriptures and the “historical doctrines” (to use Wesley’s language), but true faith is sure trust and confidence in God, in the “merits” of Christ, in forgiven sins and in reconciliation with God.

A summary of John’s sermon titled “The Almost Christian”.


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Derek Ouellette

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a husband, new dad, speaker, writer, christian. see my profile here.
  • Aaron

    I love Wesley – probably my evangelical hero. But where do you draw the line with this thinking? How can I ever be sure that I love God enough to be a real christian? I would doubt my salvation everyday. Plus I thought I remembered Hearing Wesley come around to say that he did consider himself to be a saved christian even before his Altersgate experience.

    • Derek Ouellette

      Hey Aaron, I hear you. My source for this sermon (Holy Spirit and Power) did not lay the context out very clear. I don’t know at which point along Wesley’s journey he wrote this, but you are right, he did believe he was a Christian for about a decade before Altersgate.