- The Washington Times - Sunday, July 13, 2003

Excerpts of a sermon given yesterday by the Rev. Ralph W. Rowley at Messiah United Methodist Church in Springfield.

Our text comes from the 26th chapter of Acts, in which Paul has been arrested and has been called upon to make his defense before the Gentile governor, Festus, and King Agrippa.

Paul proclaims the Gospel of Jesus Christ and His resurrection.

Festus, in spite of Paul’s powerful testimony, is unwilling to be convinced, and cries out with a loud voice, “Paul, much learning doth make thee mad.”

To which the courageous apostle replies, “I am not mad, most noble Festus, but speak forth the words of truth and soberness.”

Paul then turns his attention to King Agrippa. Paul says, “The king knoweth of these things; before whom also I speak freely; for I am persuaded that none of these things are hidden from him.

“King Agrippa, believest thou the prophets? I know that thou believest them.”

And Agrippa replies, “Paul, almost thou persuadest me to be a Christian” — almost.

John Wesley [founder of the Methodist movement] reminds us that, “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.”

Let me, as did Wesley, invite us to consider what it means to be “almost” a Christian, and conversely, what it means to be “altogether” a Christian.

There are many in our society, and indeed in the Church, who are almost Christian. There are many who subscribe to all the right ideas, yet possess a heart that is far from God.

They do not lie, cheat or steal. They do not bear false witness, or accuse others falsely. They do not oppress the poor. To the contrary, they are moved with compassion to help those less fortunate. And, in all of these ways, are “almost Christian.”

Secondly, there are many in our society and in the Church who, being “almost” Christian, also have the form of godliness.

They have a spiritual hunger within them. There are many who do not take the name of God in vain. They observe the Sabbath. They not only avoid adultery and other sexual sins, but also every word, look or habit that might lead to such sin.

They frequent the house of God. … They are respectful of the sacred nature of the Church, of worship, and of the sacraments.

There are many in our society and in the Church who are sincere in their faith and in their desire to fill the spiritual void that exists within us all. They have a real desire to serve God and to do His will.

Is it possible that any person living should go this far and, nevertheless, be only “almost” Christian? To be moral, religious and sincere, and still be only “almost” Christian, in the same way that a woman might claim to be “almost” pregnant. …

May I be so bold as to say that this also is the experience of many in this very room?

If one can be moral, religious and sincere, and still be only “almost” Christian, what would it require for one to be “altogether” Christian? …

One thing more is required, which is the ground of all: a living faith.

John 3:16 tells us that, “God so loved the world that whosoever believeth in Him might not perish but have everlasting life.”

In the Gospel according to John, we also read that, “Everyone that believeth, is born of God.

“To as many as received Him, gave He power to become the sons of God, even to them that believe on His name.”

And “this is the victory that overcometh the world, even our faith.”

Jesus Himself declared, “He that believeth in the Son hath everlasting life; and cometh not into condemnation, but is passed from death unto life.” …

Ask yourself if it might not be possible that indeed, you, yourself, might with all sincerity be a decent, moral and outwardly religious person, and still find yourself to be merely “almost” Christian.

Do you desire nothing but God? Are you happy in God? Is He your glory, your delight, your crown of rejoicing? Do you believe that Christ loved you, and gave Himself for you? Do you have faith in His blood? Do you believe that the Lamb of God has taken away your sins, even yours, and has cast them like a stone into the depths of the sea?

Do you believe that Jesus has blotted out the handwriting that was against you, and nailed it to the cross?

Have you indeed been redeemed by the blood of the cross, and so that you know your sins to have been forgiven and that you are a child of God?

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, through the Holy Spirit which is given unto us.

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