Sunday, June 03, 2007

Acts 26:28 -- Almost a Christian

Pray and Read: Acts 26:28

Acts 26:28 ὁ δὲ ᾿Αγρίππας πρὸς τὸν Παῦλον ἔφη· ἐν ὀλίγῳ με πείθεις Χριστιανὸν γενέσθαι.

Then Agrippa to Paul said, “Almost (lit. Only a little more,[1]and) you persuade me to become a Christian.”

Opening thought:

In this passage, Paul, having been arrested in Jerusalem and appealing directly to Caesar on the basis of his Roman citizenship, is in prison for two years in Cesaerea awaiting transport to Rome. While there, Felix and Herod Agrippa II, grandson of Herod the Great, who had grown up believing the Bible, wants to hear Paul’s case. Paul uses the opportunity to share his testimony and the Gospel with these Roman regional leaders. Felix prefers to wait until a better time to talk about spiritual things. Agrippa, our focus today, is almost persuaded to become a Christian.

Contextual Notes:

Albert Barnes: We are to remember:

(1) That Agrippa grew up in Judea and therefore was familiar with the Old Testament and Judaism. He would look on this whole subject in a different manner from the Roman Festus.

that he does not appear to have partaken of the violent passions and prejudices of the Jews who had accused Paul.

(2) The historian Josephus describes his character as mild, candid, and ingenuous. He had no particular hostility to Christians; he knew that they were not justly charged with sedition and crime; and he saw the conclusion to which a belief of the prophets inevitably tended. Yet, as in thousands of other cases, he was not quite persuaded to be a Christian. What was included in the “almost”; what prevented his being quite persuaded, we know not. It may have been that the evidence was not so clear to his mind as he would profess to desire; or that he was not willing to give up his sins; or that he was too proud to rank himself with the followers of Jesus of Nazareth; or that, like Felix, he was willing to defer it to a more convenient season. There is every reason to believe that he was never quite persuaded to embrace the Lord Jesus, and that he was never nearer the kingdom of heaven than at this moment. It was the crisis, the turning-point in Agrippa’s life, and in his eternal destiny; and, like thousands of others, he neglected or refused to allow the full conviction of the truth on his mind, and died in his sins.[2]

Exposition:

1. Almost (26:28):

a. Except a very little - ἐν ὀλίγῳ en oligō.

b. Agrippa was able to go only so far in making a commitment to Jesus Christ. He was ALMOST A CHRISTIAN. We never hear of him actually becoming one.

c. What does it mean to be ALMOST A CHRISTIAN? What does one who is ALMOST A CHRISTIAN look like? What distinguishes a person who is ALMOST A CHRISTIAN from one who is a Christian completely, entirely, and fully?

d. There are some fairly common characteristics of someone who is ALMOST A CHRISTIAN. These qualities would be a baseline of which most any person in our post-modern, post-Christendom, politically correct and tolerant society would expect of any other person. How would I compare to these characteristics? How would you compare to them? Among unbelievers there is first,

i. Common Honesty – By this we mean what common ALMOST CHRISTIANs expect from one another, and most actually practice, e.g., not to be unjust, not to take someone’s else’s property without permission, not to oppress the poor, not to use extortion, not to cheat or gouge customers, not to discriminate against a person’s rights, and stay out of debt as much as possible. A second character on an ALMOST CHRISTIAN is a

ii. Regard for Truth and Justice – not to lie under oath, not to slander another person, not to falsely accuse another person. Unbelievers commonly have an unfavorable opinion of liars of any kind. Third, one who is ALMOST A CHRISTIAN has

iii. A Sort of Love and Assistance for others. They expect from one another help when one needs it, not only in small things, but in giving to help those caught in natural disasters if they have extra money, feeding hungry children if they have food or money to spare, clothing those who have lost everything in a fire from whatever they cannot wear anymore. In general, those who are ALMOST CHRISTIANs are happy to give to others whatever they do not need themselves. Fourth,

iv. A Form of Godliness – Those who are ALMOST A CHRISTIAN like religious duty and expressing themselves in godliness. One who is ALMOST A CHRISTIAN does not want to do anything the Bible forbids. He looks down on taking the name of God in vain. He is careful not to cut grass, hunt, or fish on Sunday. He avoids anything including any word or look or action that has the image of adultery, or sexual activity outside marriage, or pornography or homosexual behavior, even if it is a constant on his brain. An ALMOST CHRISTIAN makes sure he never says anything in public if he cannot say something good. He frowns on backbiting, tale-bearing and gossip. Fifth,

v. Lives in Moderation – Because it looks bad on him, one who is ALMOST A CHRISTIAN knows how foolish it is to drink too much, eat too much, get involved in controversy, holds back from retaliation, of publicly pointing out others’ faults or infirmities. He lives by the principle of “do no harm,” tries not to hurt, wrong, or grieve any person willfully, but acts by the rule, “Do not do to others what you do not want them to do to you.” One who is ALMOST A CHRISTIAN also

vi. Works hard for others’ benefit – The ALMOST CHRISTIAN does not want to appear lazy and cheap, but he works hard for friends, even at times enemies, good and bad. The ALMOST CHRISTIAN volunteers in the community, adopts and cleans up roadsides, visits the sick in hospitals and nursing homes, does Relay for Life, works with at-risk youth. One who is ALMOST CHRISTIAN even works to see people come to a saving knowledge of Jesus Christ, provides Bibles and Christian materials, goes on mission trips, cooks meals for those who have been sick or have lost loved ones. Not only this, but this person

vii. Is Active in Church – One who is ALMOST A CHRISTIAN takes every opportunity to be in the house of God. She or he is not even like those who come all dressed up, completely accessorized, with a plastic smile and an overdone excitement at being in church. No, the ALMOST CHRISTIAN sees through all that. She refuses not only to these forms of godliness. She also knows nothing of its power.

viii. Still many of us don’t even measure up to the standards of an ALMOST CHRISTIAN. Some of us act as if we did not come today to worship God but instead to socialize or even worse, politic our agendas and have others bow to us. We come into this sanctuary, looking around with a careless indifference or a haughty attitude about who is not here today again and wondering what those men in the corner are talking about. Every now and then some one or two might appear to say a prayer for God’s blessing on the service while twenty or thirty more talk about the ball game Friday night or the race this afternoon or compliment someone’s new hairdo or cut down the preacher or make decisions about how a committee meeting ought to go later today. Or during this boring and awfully long service are either asleep, or sitting so he can doze and no one notice, or talking with someone else, or curiously looking around at others as if she is not here to worship God.

ix. You won’t accuse one who is ALMOST A CHRISTIAN of any of these things. No, she is serious and attentive, aware that this is a solemn service, and if it is communion Sunday, you won’t see the ALMOST CHRISTIAN approach the table carelessly, but only with the air of “God be merciful to me a sinner!”

x. One who is ALMOST A CHRISTIAN will not stop there, but he will take time in prayer and the Word of God each day, will even lead his family in prayer and devotion. All these actions will point to one more thing in the life of one ALMOST A CHRISTIAN,

xi. Sincerity – The ALMOST CHRISTIAN has a real, inward principle of religion in his heart, and it expresses itself in an outward flow of actions. The ALMOST CHRISTIAN believes that the most important thing is being sincere. Sincerity causes a person to desire to be good for both his own and others’ sakes, for his gain and reputation and the benefit of others. This sincerity often overflows in a

xii. Real Desire to serve God – This sincerity gives her or him a great desire to do God’s will in conversation, in service, and in all he does.

xiii. You may ask, “Is it possible for a person to live this way and still be only ALMOST A CHRISTIAN?” What more could one expect of a Christian? In what ways could one be more Christlike? Can such a person still be only ALMOST A CHRISTIAN? Brother or sister, the answer is yes. I can tell you of our own Southern Baptist missionaries who were saved while serving on the mission field in the Great Shantung Revival in China in the late 1920’s. I can tell you of evangelists I watched give their lives to Christ when Anne Graham Lotz preached at Amsterdam 2000. I can read you accounts of whole church memberships being converted under the ministry of Charles Finney in the 1820’s in New York and New England. You can sit in church all your life, have perfect attendance in Sunday School for fifty years, serve as a deacon, head up the WMU for thirty years, teach Sunday School for a lifetime, and die and bust hell wide open. My brothers and sisters, listen to me carefully. Being ALMOST A CHRISTIAN means that you are NOT a Christian.

2. Thou persuadest me (v. 28)

a. Agrippa said, “You convince me of the truth of the good news of Jesus Christ and persuade me to embrace it.”

b. What does it mean to be a Christian? Being persuaded to be a Christian means to agree with God that your condition is hopelessly sinful, that you have given up trying to do it yourself, that you have realized there is no such thing as making a good man better, that simply you trust in the work of Jesus Christ on the cross at Calvary as your one and only means to salvation, that you place your hope in Jesus and only Jesus. It means that you receive that new life and stop trying to earn your place in heaven through good work and living right and realize you cannot live well enough to measure up to God’s standard in the Bible. Loving Christ Jesus with all your heart, your soul, your mind and your strength is the open secret that you are looking for.

c. Flowing out of that salvation will come all the outward things that demonstrate love of your neighbor. You will truly be able to love yourself and others when you truly love Christ Jesus.

3. To be a Christian (v. 28)

a. The name, Christian is a new one, and a pejorative (Acts 11:26).

b. Here let no man, woman, boy, or girl deceive his own soul. A true and living faith brings repentance like I just described and all good works. The book of James tells us that even demons believe in the virgin birth, the miracles of Christ, that He declared Himself God, that He died a painful death on the cross to redeem us from eternal death, that He rose the third day, that he ascended into heaven and sits at the Father’s right hand and that He is coming again to judge the world. Demons believe these things! Demons believe every word written in the Old and New Testaments, which says more than a lot of liberal Baptists worshiping in churches across NC and VA today, and yet, for all this correct belief in the facts, they are devils who will remain condemned.

c. Right and true faith is not only to believe the Scripture, but also to have a sure confidence and trust in the person and work of Jesus Christ, that on his merit alone, my sins are forgiven and I am reconciled to God, resulting in a loving heart and desire to obey his commandments.

Application:

Albert Barnes: “On this deeply interesting case we may observe:

(1) There are many in the same situation as Agrippa- many who are almost, but not altogether, persuaded to be Christians. They are found among:

(a) Those who have been religiously educated, but they are not Christians;

(b) Those who are convinced by argument of the truth of Christianity, but they are not Christians;

(c) Those whose consciences are awakened, and who feel their guilt, and the necessity of some better portion than this world can furnish, but they are not believers in Jesus Christ.

(2) such persons are deterred from being altogether Christians by the following, among other causes:

(a) By the love of sin - the love of sin in general, or some particular sin which they are not willing to abandon;

(b) By the fear of shame, persecution, or contempt, if they become Christians;

(c) By the temptations of the world - its cares, vanities, and allurements- which are often presented most strongly in just this state of mind;

(d) By the love of office, the pride of rank and power, as in the case of Agrippa; by a disposition, like Felix,

(e) To delay to a more favorable time the work of religion, until life has wasted away, and death approaches, and it is too late, and the unhappy man dies ALMOST A CHRISTIAN.

(3) There is no reason to believe that Agrippa ever became fully persuaded to become a Christian. To be almost persuaded to do a thing which we ought to do, and yet not to do it, is the very position of guilt and danger. And it is no wonder that many are brought to this point - the turning-point, the crisis of life - and then lose their anxiety, and die in their sins. May the God of grace keep us from resting in being almost persuaded to be Christians! May every one who hear of Agrippa be shocked into reality by his own convictions, and be alarmed by the fact that Agrippa hesitated, and his convictions ended there! With the help of God, forsake every thing that prevents your becoming an entire believer, and without delay embrace the Son of God as your Saviour!”[3]

Invitation:

I plead with you this morning in the presence of God before whom hell and destruction stand ready to receive your sincere and well-meaning soul, that each of you ask in his or her own heart, ‘Am I of that number? Do I practice justice, mercy, truth, and the rules of those who are ALMOST CHRISTIANs, deceiving myself that I am in the Kingdom? Am I sincere to restrain myself from what God’s word forbids? Do I have only the outside of a Christian? Do I have merely a form of godliness? Is my inside like a tomb full of dead men’s bones?

Are not many of you aware that you never came to be fully a Christian? That you were only almost persuaded? Do not your heart and the Holy Spirit agree that you are only ALMOST A CHRISTIAN? That the time when you were a child when you walked an aisle because your parents said it was time and you were baptized because that’s the way it’s done here, but you know you were never genuinely converted? You know that you simply went through the motions because you wanted to be a Christian and be a member of the church, so you went through the initiation ritual but there was never a change in your heart.

Do you not ever wonder what it is like to be a genuinely converted Christian? Do you not get scared when you have a near miss car wreck and remember you still haven’t taken care of that salvation thing?

Have you not had good intentions to make a commitment to Christ and like Felix, there just hasn’t been the right time? Do good intentions make a Christian? By no means. Hell, they say, is paved with good intentions.

Do you believe 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 and has blotted out the handwriting that was against you, nailing it to the cross? Do you receive today for the first time the free gift of eternal life? Do you desire to be bought by Him so that your freedom may be purchased?

Christ Jesus, who stands in our midst right now, knows that if anyone dies without this faith and this love, it would have been better for him or her if they were never born. Wake Up, sleeper! Call on your God, the Lord, merciful and gracious, patient with you, abundant in goodness and truth, holding out to you his mercy, forgiving iniquity and sin. Let no one persuade you to stop short of this prize of your high calling. Come, cry out to him while you have strength, while you have breath. Come. Come to Christ who saves you.



[1]John Nelson Darby (1800 - 1882), Synopsis of the Old and New Testaments, “Acts 26:1-32,” e-sword.net: Note 33: “It is hardly to be read ‘almost.’ Relieving himself, Agrippa says, ‘You'll soon be making a Christian of me,’ covering his feelings, as I have said, by a slighting speech. But I have no doubt his mind was greatly wrought upon.”

[2] Albert Barnes, Barnes’ Notes, Acts 26:28, e-sword.net.

[3]Albert Barnes, Barnes’ Notes, Acts 26:28, e-sword.net