"Incomplete Christian"

Adapted from sermon by John Wesley in 1741

In 1741 John Wesley, at St Mary's Chapel in Oxford, England preached on today's scripture readings and is the inspiration for today's sermon.

Over the years many people have claimed to be true Christians. But the truth is many of us are conditioned to keep our distance from the claims of Jesus. We often step back to think things over. We want to be sure, cautious about what we believe.

Yet Jesus' message carries with it a demand for decision, an earnest claim that must be heard. A verdict must be given. Life on the edge, not really being a disciple, yet not really rejecting Christianity either, is not a responsible stance.

In God's eyes being Christian is an all or nothing position. There is no fence walking. So we must consider first, whether we are Christian, and if so where we are on our journey. Are we an incomplete Christian or are we a whole Christian. Let's look first at what it means to be an incomplete Christian.

Incomplete Christians are honest. They exhibit an honesty, which people typically expect from one another. Even from a worldly view, people are suppose to be fair; they shouldn't rob or steal from one another; they shouldn't oppress the under-privileged; and they don't resort to extortion, fraud, or any kind of cheating.

Incomplete Christian's are truthful. Again our culture expects some regard to be paid to truth and justice. Incomplete Christians have little tolerance for perjury or slander, or making false accusations. Persistent liars are regarded as a blight on society.

Incomplete Christians are charitable. Worldly people care for others and help them, as long as it doesn't cause them any inconvenience. They give any extra food they have to the hungry, and they give away any extra clothes they have to those who need them. In general incomplete Christians pass on things to others they no longer have a need for themselves.

Incomplete Christians are outwardly religious. They maintain an outward appearance of the godliness, which is described in the gospel. Incomplete Christians don't do anything, which the gospel forbids. They don't swear, use vulgar language, or say anything that would be deemed blasphemous. They keep Sunday as a day of rest, and they encourage others to do the same.

They remain faithful to their spouses in thought, word, and deed. Incomplete Christians restrict their conversation to serious topics, avoiding gossip, flippancy, and anything, which might cause concern for the Holy Spirit.

Incomplete Christians are temperate. They eat and drink in moderation. They avoid arguing as much as possible, and strive to live in peace with all of humankind. They don't seek revenge against those who have done them harm. They don't make fun of others faults or idiosyncrasies. Everything they say and do is governed by the rule "do unto others as you would have them do unto you."

Incomplete Christians are devout. They are prepared to go out of their way to help others, whether they are friends or enemies, good people or bad. They use every moment of the day to do good to all, both to their souls and bodies. They correct the wicked, instruct the ignorant, strengthen doubters, encourage the good, and comfort the afflicted.

They try to wake up the spiritually dead and lead them to Jesus. They encourage those who are already saved through faith to be good examples of Christian living.

Incomplete Christians go to church. With an outward appearance of godliness, incomplete Christians use all the many ways to get God's blessing. They attend church regularly, and pay attention throughout the entire service. They pray and listen intently to God's word. They participate in the sacraments in a profound spiritual way. And if we add daily prayer, private times of meditation, and a seriousness about how they behave, they still remain incomplete.

Incomplete Christians are sincere. They have a true inward foundation of religion from which good outward actions flow. The truth is if we don't possess sincerity we don't even possess worldly honesty.

Horace once wrote, "Good people avoid sin through love of virtue: Wicked people avoid sin from fear of punishment." In other words if you abstain from evil in order to avoid being caught, then your reward is you won't be punished. But is this really setting a very high standard for yourself?

Suppose you not only abstain from evil but you also do some good, and yet your motive is still only to avoid such things as the loss of your reputation or your respect in the eyes of others, then you can hardly call yourself even an incomplete Christian.

So to be an incomplete Christian you must be sincere. You must really intend to serve God and do his will, for his sake and not yours. Being an incomplete Christian means that you must sincerely decide to please God in every way, by word and deed, in all things done and not done. The goal of pleasing God must be the guiding principle of anyone who aspires to becoming at least an incomplete Christian.

Well by now you must be asking, "How can I get this far in my faith walk and still be considered incomplete?" What more is needed to become a whole Christian? To answer this question we need to turn to the Bible.

The Bible says first, we need to be in love with God. The first commandment is "Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength." (Mark 12: 30). This love fills the heart, fills the emotions, fills the soul, and fills the whole of one's very being.

If you love the Lord your God in this way you are continually rejoicing in God your savior (Luke 1: 47) Your delight is in the Lord who has now become everything to you, and you thank him for everything. Whoever is in love with God in this way is forever saying to him, "What else have I in heaven but you? Since I have you, what else could I want on earth? (Psalm 73: 25)

Because you love God you are dead to the things of this world and the desires of the flesh. Love of God is the number one motivation of one who is whole. Whole Christians must love their neighbors. Jesus said, "Love your neighbor as you love yourself." (Mark 12:31) If anyone asks you who is your neighbor your response must be "everyone." Friends and enemies alike, even the enemies of God, we must love them as much as Jesus loves us. This is a tall order isn't it?

Paul describes this kind of love in 1 Corinthians 13: 5-7. "Love is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered; it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil, but rejoices with the truth. Love always protects, always trusts, always hopes, and always perseveres."

"Loving your neighbor as you love yourself" far exceeds the idea of "doing unto others as you would have them do unto you."

Whole Christians must have faith. Throughout the Bible excellent things are said about faith and belief. "Whoever believes," says John, "is a child of God" (1 John 5: 1). John also says, "Some, however, did receive him, and believed in him; so he gave them the right to become God's children." (John 1: 12)

We win the victory over the world by means of our faith (1 John 5: 4) Jesus declares, "Whoever believes in him who sent me has eternal life. He will not be judged, but has already passed from death to life." (John 5: 24)

Now we need to be careful because there are different kinds of faith. Even the demons believe that Jesus was born of a virgin, that he did all kinds of miracles, that he declared himself to be God, that he suffered a painful death in order to redeem us from everlasting death, that he rose again on the third day, that he ascended into heaven and is sitting at the right hand of the Father, and that at the end of the world will come again to judge both the living and the dead.

In other words the demons believe the Apostle's Creed, and they believe all that is written in the Bible. Yet they remain in their state of damnation and lack the true Christian faith, which results in repentance, love, and good works.

True Christian faith is not only to believe in the truth of the Bible and the creeds, but also to trust that Jesus will save us from eternal death. When you believe with every fiber of your being that your sins have been forgiven, and that you have been reconciled to God through the merits of Jesus, then you will find a new love in your heart.

You will be ready to obey God's commandments. This is the faith that purifies the heart from all sin and fills it instead with undying love towards both God and those around us, a love which does the work of God, rejoicing in every opportunity of helping others, a love which joyfully endures the reproach of being a Christian, and bears whatever trials God allows the forces of evil to inflict upon us.

Whoever has true faith, working by love, is a whole Christian. So to be whole requires a deep faith in God, energized by an unconditional love for God and all creation. This is where our faith journey must take us. This is the goal, the pot at the end of the rainbow, if you will, a deep faith in God energized by an unconditional love for God and all creation.

As we embark on our journey sometimes our biggest challenge is to admit that we are living by a point of view that's not entirely focused on Christ.

All of us are betting our life on something. We may be betting our life on the point of view that says, "I try not to have any specific belief or conviction, thus I walk the fence of life hoping that in the end I'll fall on the right side."

Or, there is a point of view that says, "I still have lots of questions about Jesus and his way; there is still much I don't understand, and I constantly fall short of being a faithful follower of Jesus, or a whole Christian, but I am trying, and I am committed to the journey." I am convicted that Jesus is the only way, the only truth, and the key to life, and I am doing my best to be faithful to this truth. I pray God will continue to lead me down the path to wholeness, and I pray God will do the same for you.

The following illustration I believes gives us some important insight as to what we need to do to become whole.

A famous artist was sitting at her easel in her gallery when a man came in to buy one of her paintings that he had admired for sometime. Pointing at a specific painting the man said, "I will buy this painting and make it the center piece of my living room if you will come and help me place it in my house." The artist agreed and met the man at his home a few days later.

The man led the artist to a wonderfully decorated room and began holding the special painting up over the couch, then over the mantle, then over a table, anxiously waiting for a response from the artist.

The man asked, "well what do you think, where should it go."

The artist said, "Empty the room of all its furniture. The problem is your trying to fit this painting in a room that's full of furniture. If the painting is that special to you, what you need to do is position the painting first, then place the furniture around the painting so that it compliments the painting." Isn't this true of Jesus also? Don't we often place Jesus in the special living room of our hearts and minds after it's already full of other stuff?

Augustine says, "Christ is not valued at all unless he is valued above all." Wholeness can only be achieved through a relationship with God, not through our jobs, not through our possessions, not through our family, and not through the church.

To become whole we need to empty our hearts of all the existing stuff, allowing Jesus to be the centerpiece of our existence, then position the other things of our life in a manner that compliments and supports the way of Jesus.

If we keep our eyes fixed on Christ, giving him first place in our life, we will move from being incomplete Christians to being whole Christians.


Read other messages by Pastor Wade