The steep price of holiness and purity of heart

We must present our bodies as living sacrifices, sacrifices that are holy and acceptable to God through denying selfish impulses.

Today we will be looking at the core Bible principle of holiness, and how God has outlined a refining process for every individual who is seeking holiness and purity of heart.

2 Timothy 2:22 – Flee from youthful lusts; but pursue righteousness, faith, love, and peace with those who call on the Lord out of a pure heart.

As Timothy was a young leader within the Yeshua movement of Judaism, Paul was encouraging him to focus on being a positive example to the believers. His commitment to the Messiah would need to be evident in every aspect of his being so that people would sense his sincerity and pureness of heart, thereby spurring confidence in his teaching, and honor towards his Lord. This admonition comes amidst a discussion on faithful workers versus those who had been spreading falsehood among believers.

2 Timothy 2:16-18 – But avoid irreverent babble, for it will lead people into more and more ungodliness, and their talk will spread like gangrene. Among them are Hymenaeus and Philetus, who have swerved from the truth, saying that the resurrection has already happened. They are upsetting the faith of some.

Paul was encouraging Timothy to stick to these basics of Kingdom living to ensure he would remain separated from falsehood. To pursue righteousness, Paul argues, one needed only to focus on faith, love and peace with all, especially those within the community of Messiah. This would breed righteous actions, indicating pureness of heart among the believers and all would be encouraged.

While this may come across as being too simplistic, it certainly was not an easy task for the early believers. Maintaining faith and pursuing righteousness in an environment of doctrinal oppression and brutal, physical persecution was a lifestyle of daily challenge. Demonstrating real love not only for the brethren but also those who were opposed to the gospel of the Kingdom was a monumental task. And pursuing peace with everyone who was essentially against the teachings of Yeshua required the deepest levels of reliance on the Spirit of God working within them to establish God’s Kingdom in that generation.

John 14:25-26 – “I have spoken these things to you while I remain with you. “But the Counselor, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you all things and remind you of everything I have told you.

Yeshua had promised his disciples that the Spirit of God would bring to remembrance everything he had been teaching them, and in doing so, they would continually be taught how to interact with others. As God dwelt among his people, there was a unity that would stand as a testament to outsiders because the believers were operating within peace and love that God desires among his Kingdom people.

Acts 2:42-47 – They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching, to the fellowship, to the breaking of bread, and to prayer. Everyone was filled with awe, and many wonders and signs were being performed through the apostles. Now all the believers were together and held all things in common. They sold their possessions and property and distributed the proceeds to all, as any had need. Every day they devoted themselves to meeting together in the temple, and broke bread from house to house. They ate their food with joyful and sincere hearts, praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people. Every day the Lord added to their number those who were being saved.

In another teaching context with the Roman congregation, the apostle Paul highlights the fact that righteousness, peace, joy, and encouragement in the Spirit were what would unify the believers and build up the Kingdom.

Romans 14:16-19 – Therefore, do not let your good be slandered, for the kingdom of God is not eating and drinking, but righteousness, peace, and joy in the Holy Spirit. Whoever serves Messiah in this way is acceptable to God and receives human approval. So then, let us pursue what promotes peace and what builds up one another.

Here we can see how Paul was essentially laying out the foundation of all interactions in the Kingdom which had already been evidenced by the early believers within their emerging community of faith. Paul says in Romans 14 that, “The kingdom of God is…righteousness, peace, and joy in the holy Spirit. Whoever serves Messiah in this way is acceptable to God and receives human approval.”

Now compare this definition to the example of the early believers described in Acts 2. Look at how those first believers were “conducting themselves in righteousness”:

  • They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching
  • to fellowship
  • to the breaking of bread (eating of common meals)
  • to prayer
  • all the believers were together and held all things in common
  • They sold their possessions and property and distributed the proceeds to all, as any had need

They also demonstrated “peace and joy”:

  • They ate their food with joyful and sincere hearts

They were “acceptable to God and receiving human approval”:

  • praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people.

And the end result was:

  • Every day the Lord added to their number those who were being saved

So, how is it that this early group of Messiah believers could be so focused on the Kingdom and be such a bold and powerful witness to others? Is there a way that we can somehow mimic their faithfulness today so that we can also be a powerful witness to our own generation? In a moment, we will review a critical yet challenging teaching of Yeshua that can help us to do just that.

As we have seen so far, the early believers began operating within the dynamic parameters of peace and unity as they were taught by the holy Spirit through the apostles. As the Spirit brought to mind the teachings of Yeshua, the apostles were faithfully teaching and living out the principles for the believers to see and follow. And one of those principles of Yeshua is that he had said that those who were pure of heart and peacemakers would be blessed.

Matthew 5:8-9 – “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God. Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called sons of God.”

Yeshua also illustrated with his own life the steep price that that his followers would have to pay in order to live out these principles in the process of following him.

Matthew 16:24 – Then Yeshua told his disciples, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.”

So, now we get to the heart of the matter. Being set apart as pure of heart and a peacemaker involves a critical practice: denial of self. To deny oneself is to set oneself apart for some other, greater purpose. When we can get outside of ourselves and our personal, selfish impulses, it is then that we have the capacity to be filled with God’s Spirit so he can teach us how to become the pure and peaceful people he wants us to be. The characteristics Paul mentions in this passage to Timothy all involve our outward actions towards others based on an inward transformation: righteous actions involve denial of self; faith involves denial of self; love involves denial of self; peace involves denial of self. Therefore, we can conclude: the steep price of holiness or being set apart involves a continual outward focus on behalf of others.

But, since almost everything we encounter in this life and our current culture tells us the exact opposite (that we need to exert our rights, our privileges, our selfish impulses) we really need to evaluate ourselves in light of not only our personal walk, but in the context of our usefulness to the purposes of God.

Paul leveraged this concept of usefulness within the Kingdom by drawing an analogy to household articles.

2 Timothy 2:20-21 – Now in a great house there are not only vessels of gold and silver but also of wood and clay, some for honorable use, some for dishonorable. Therefore, if anyone cleanses himself from what is dishonorable, he will be a vessel for honorable use, set apart as holy, useful to the master of the house, ready for every good work.

Based on Paul’s analogy here, there is a purging or cleansing of oneself from what is dishonorable that allows one to become set apart and more useful to God. The root meaning of the Greek word means” to cleanse by taking away; to thoroughly scour and clean out that which is impure.” This, according to Paul, is something that one must do for oneself. God is the one who makes our hearts new, but we as individuals must provide a clean working environment for that new heart to operate within. Believers have a responsibility to scour and clean out those things that offend God because of his holiness and presence in our lives, and in turn we become set apart as holy, ready for every good work towards others.

This whole chapter in 2 Timothy is sprinkled with admonitions to faithfully conduct this work of cleansing oneself (mentioned in verse 21) in every area of life. Paul instructs Timothy to have his hearers work at the sanctification in their lives in the following ways:

  • 14 – avoid wrangling over words
  • 16 – avoid profane chatter
  • 19 – let everyone who calls on the name of the Lord turn away from wickedness
  • 22 – shun youthful passions
  • 23 – have nothing to do with stupid and senseless controversies
  • 24 – the Lord’s servant must not be quarrelsome

On the positive side of the equation, purity of heart is demonstrated by the following:

  • 15 – doing your best to present yourself to God as one approved by him
  • 15 – rightly explain the word of truth
  • 21 – being ready for every good work
  • 22 – pursuing righteousness, faith, love, and peace
  • 24 – being kindly to everyone
  • 24 – being skillful in teaching
  • 24 – being patient
  • 25 – gently correcting opponents

All of these actions, whether avoiding that which is not beneficial or conducting those things which are, come at the steep price of denial of self. Remember what Yeshua said: “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.”

The imagery conveyed here by Yeshua would have been a familiar one to his hearers, as they would have watched many crucifixions of capital offenders in their days. The offender would be forced to carry the very thing upon which he must die. I can think of no greater illustration of the life of the believer that conveys the necessity of continually bearing the instrument of death (denial of self) in the practice of doing what is right. Once we deny ourselves by avoiding that which is unhelpful, we then need to “pick up the cross” of doing what is right in place of those things. It is such a powerful metaphor for a very real and tangible discipline that should be touching every area of the believer’s life.

Paul calls this being a “living sacrifice;” a sacrificial offering that lives on and through the continual act of dying to self.

Romans 12:1-2 – I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.

This is the same message he is urging Timothy to convey to his hearers: to present their bodies as living sacrifices, sacrifices that are holy and acceptable to God through denying their selfish impulses, not being conformed to the world. But they are also to be transformed through renewal, learning through the act of being tested what actions are good, acceptable and perfect according to his will.

Paul himself suffered intense persecution, and he knew it was a reality for believers who were separating from falsehood, but that they should remain steadfast in their faith.

2 Timothy 3:12-14 – Yes, and all who desire to live godly in Messiah Yeshua will suffer persecution. But evil men and impostors will grow worse and worse, deceiving and being deceived. But you remain in the things which you have learned and have been assured of, knowing from whom you have learned them.

Paul reminds Timothy to rely on the faithful teaching which he had received as the basis of all he would strive to impart to his hearers.

How like Timothy and those early believers we should strive to be! We must remain steadfast in the things we have learned, cleansing ourselves from every false way so that we may live righteous lives that honor God. By demonstrating righteousness through faith, love, and peace, we will also be honoring the memory and faithfulness of those early believers which they had suffered through their sacrificial examples and through intense persecution. But we will also be honoring the God who calls us to the same life of useful work in our generation. As his people continue to set themselves apart for his use, he is glorified in every age and his Kingdom has opportunity to grow as it continues to fill the earth.


If you enjoy these articles, be sure to visit the growing archive of the Core of the Bible podcast. Each week we take a more in-depth look at one of the various topics presented in the daily blog. You can view the podcast archive on our Podcast Page, at Core of the Bible on Simplecast, or your favorite podcast streaming service.

Now also on YouTube, find us at: Core of the Bible on YouTube.

Questions or comments? Feel free to email me at coreofthebible@gmail.com.

Vigilance in worship

It takes effort, consistency, and sacrifice to worship God in a way that he desires.

It takes effort, consistency, and sacrifice to worship God in a way that he desires.

Worship today has come to mean many different things to different people. For most, worship is what happens every Sunday at the local church building from 10:30 am to noon. The style of worship varies; some prefer traditional hymns in a quiet, classical style from the European Middle Ages; for others, it is a celebratory party-like atmosphere with flashy performances and contemporary, upbeat tunes. In yet other congregations, it is complete silence, waiting for God’s Spirit to move upon someone to speak and provide insights from God’s holy perspective.

In the Bible, we see that worship encompassed many of these different expressions. The priesthood of Israel had specific and intentional responsibilities within the service of the Temple that had grown and morphed over time. While their primary sacrificial duties were laid down by Moses, as the temple was established in the days of David and Solomon, we find that other duties relative to music and singing became established within the realm of the priestly worship.

1 Chronicles 23:1-5 – When David was old and full of days, he installed his son Solomon as king over Israel. Then he gathered all the leaders of Israel, the priests, and the Levites. The Levites thirty years old or more were counted; the total number of men was thirty-eight thousand by headcount. “Of these,” David said, “twenty-four thousand are to be in charge of the work on Yahweh’s temple, six thousand are to be officers and judges, four thousand are to be gatekeepers, and four thousand are to praise Yahweh with the instruments that I have made for worship.”

These traditions carried on throughout the years and became part of the Israelite priestly and liturgical environment. However, with the destruction of the second temple in 70 A.D., the earthly priesthood and the liturgy of the temple worship were abolished. There were no more proscribed rites or ceremonies for the people of God in relation to liturgical worship.

Now, don’t think that I am saying it is somehow wrong or misguided to continue to create songs or sing together to honor and praise God; that is not the point. In fact, believers in Messiah have been encouraged by Paul to do so.

Ephesians 5:18-20 – …be filled by the Spirit: speaking to one another in psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs, singing and making music with your heart to Yahweh, giving thanks always for everything to God the Father in the name of our Lord Yeshua Messiah…

Rather, I am describing something that goes beyond any type of liturgical and sometimes mechanical praise toward to God. Even though the second temple was still standing in Paul’s day, God had provided him insights into the future of his Kingdom and the coming age. Paul knew that God was working a spiritual work among his people that would far surpass any physical representation or temple service that God could provide.

When it came to describing the type of worship that was acceptable to God, Paul naturally grabbed hold of a principle taught by Yeshua about what true worship in the service of God looks like:

Romans 12:1 – Therefore, brothers and sisters, in view of the mercies of God, I urge you to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God; this is your true worship.

The believers who were presenting themselves, body and spirit, to God were the ones who were honoring the true spirit of worship that God desires. Yeshua had taught this same principle.

John 4:23-24 – “But an hour is coming, and is now here, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in Spirit and in truth. Yes, the Father wants such people to worship him. “God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in Spirit and in truth.”

Living a life of sacrifice means diligently and consistently laying down our own desires at the feet of God and seeking to accomplish his purpose in our life. This is the path of believers in abiding in him, walking according to his commandments above the demands of the culture around them. To love Yahweh your God with all your heart, mind, and strength, and to love your neighbor as yourself, to truly do this, is to walk a sacrificial path of true worship that honors God and brings glory to his name. The new covenant is a martyr’s covenant; we must die to ourselves in order to live for him.

Matthew 16:24-25 – Then Yeshua said to his disciples, “If anyone wants to follow after me, let him deny himself, take up his cross, and follow me. “For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life because of me will find it.

This is the heart of true worship: becoming a living sacrifice where every thought is captive to Messiah and every action is an action based on the love of God for all of his Creation. This is where true worship lies, not in the halls of music and self-performance, but in the quiet and determined attitude of self-sacrifice.


If you enjoy these daily articles, be sure to visit the growing archive of the Core of the Bible podcast. Each week we take a more in-depth look at one of the various topics presented in the daily blog. You can view the podcast archive on our Podcast Page, at Core of the Bible on Simplecast, or your favorite podcast streaming service.

Now also on YouTube, find us at: Core of the Bible on YouTube.

Questions or comments? Feel free to email me directly at coreofthebible@gmail.com

We always have the choice to do what’s right

If we don’t, then there is no choice to be had.

Psalm 51:5 – Behold, I was brought forth in iniquity, And in sin my mother conceived me.

This verse is one of the key passages used to support the hypothetical concept of original sin. The theory of original sin generally states that every person is born sinful, stained with the genetic sin from Adam and Eve. Therefore, according to this theory, every person is born guilty of someone else’s sin and there is no way for anyone to please God because sin is in our very nature.

This premise is further substantiated through a famous passage in the New Testament written by Paul to the Roman congregation.

Romans 5:12 – Therefore, just as through one man [Adam] sin entered into the world, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men, because all sinned…

However, what Paul was doing in this passage was symbolically contrasting Adam with Yeshua, and showing how following the paths of either of their lives results in diametric opposites; one to death, and the other to life.

Romans 5:17 – For if by the transgression of the one [Adam], death reigned through the one, much more those who receive the abundance of grace and of the gift of righteousness will reign in life through the One, Yeshua the Messiah.

The sin of Adam and Eve was eating from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, which represents choosing to make one’s own decisions about what is right and wrong. The tree of life, however, is representative of following the instruction of God, since God knows what is best for us.

There are other passages which illustrate that we are responsible for our own actions, not the actions of others. Most famously in Ezekiel 18.

Ezekiel 18:20-21 – “The person who sins will die. The son will not bear the punishment for the father’s iniquity, nor will the father bear the punishment for the son’s iniquity; the righteousness of the righteous will be upon himself, and the wickedness of the wicked will be upon himself. “But if the wicked man turns from all his sins which he has committed and observes all My statutes and practices justice and righteousness, he shall surely live; he shall not die.

The whole chapter goes into much more detail regarding personal accountability, and I encourage you to read the entire context.

Additionally, if Paul actually believed in the concept of original sin, then he contradicts himself in his letter to the Corinthian congregation.

2 Corinthians 5:10 – For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Messiah, so that each one may be recompensed for his deeds in the body, according to what he has done, whether good or bad.

The reason that making this distinction about original sin is important is because we are urged by Yeshua to live lives of integrity. He directs each one of us to be a person of our word and not be hypocritical. Being born from above is representative of the new perspective that we can live according to the instruction of God, the tree of life, from the heart. We are no longer to just coast through life’s circumstances at the whim of our own best judgment; that is the path of Adam that leads to death.

If we are inherently sinful from birth, then there is nothing that can be done about our sinful actions, and we are destined to die in our sin. This also makes God an unjust judge by unfairly assigning blame to us for something we had no control over.

Matthew 16:24 – Then Yeshua said to His disciples, “If anyone wishes to come after Me, he must deny himself, and take up his cross and follow Me.

By contrast, Yeshua, through his sacrificial example, taught and demonstrated that we can choose to follow him and abide in the instruction of God by the Spirit of God working in and through us. Every admonition of Yeshua for people to follow and abide in him is hollow if they have no real choice in the matter.

We lead lives of integrity when we do what’s right, as defined by God, not by us. This involves us having the ability to choose to do so.

Matthew 5:20 – “For I say to you that unless your righteousness surpasses that of the scribes and Pharisees [that is, doing what’s right from the heart, not from legal obligation], you will not enter the kingdom of heaven.


If you enjoy these daily blog posts, be sure to visit the growing archive of the Core of the Bible podcast. Each week we take a more in-depth look at one of the various topics presented in the daily blog. You can view the podcast archive on our Podcast Page, at Core of the Bible on Simplecast, or your favorite podcast streaming service.

Now also on YouTube, find us at: Core of the Bible on YouTube.

Questions or comments? Feel free to email me directly at coreofthebible@gmail.com.

Jacob’s vision of the kingdom

Disciples would be made of all nations through faith in the seed of Abraham, that is, Messiah.

Genesis 28:10-14 – Jacob left Beersheba and went toward Haran. He reached a certain place and spent the night there because the sun had set. He took one of the stones from the place, put it there at his head, and lay down in that place. And he dreamed: A stairway was set on the ground with its top reaching the sky, and God’s angels were going up and down on it. Yahweh was standing there beside him, saying, “I am Yahweh, the God of your father Abraham and the God of Isaac. I will give you and your offspring the land on which you are lying. “Your offspring will be like the dust of the earth, and you will spread out toward the west, the east, the north, and the south. All the peoples on earth will be blessed through you and your offspring.

There is an ancient Jewish tradition that what Jacob viewed in this vision was a representation of the kingdom of God. This “ladder” (or stairway or ramp) was connecting the lofty realm of God with the earth. Through Jacob and his offspring, somehow there would be a connection between the realm of God in heaven and the earth, and it would extend to all people. The promise that was given to Abraham (Genesis 12:3) was reiterated to his son Isaac (Genesis 26:4), and here with Jacob, “All the peoples on earth will be blessed through you and your offspring.”

Interestingly, we find a reference to this story of Jacob’s dream issuing from none other than the Messiah himself.

John 1:49-51 – “Rabbi,” Nathanael replied, “You are the Son of God; you are the King of Israel! ” Jesus responded to him, “Do you believe because I told you I saw you under the fig tree? You will see greater things than this.” Then he said, “Truly I tell you, you will see heaven opened and the angels of God ascending and descending on the Son of Man.”

This is a clear reference to the story of Jacob’s dream where Yeshua is now further illuminating the text by stating that the connection between heaven and earth, the ladder, stairway, or ramp, is attained through himself!

If we are to look at other references within the book of Matthew where Yeshua refers to himself as the Son of Man and speaks of angels, we find some interesting verses.

Matthew 13:41 – “The Son of Man will send out his angels, and they will gather from his kingdom all who cause sin and those guilty of lawlessness.
Matthew 16:27 – “For the Son of Man is going to come with his angels in the glory of his Father, and then he will reward each according to what he has done.
Matthew 25:31 – “When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on his glorious throne.

These references of angels with the Son of Man all have to do with consequence and reward within the kingdom of God. These sayings allude to the spiritual truth of the authority of the kingdom of God, and the consequences of rejection or belief in him. Notice the summary of each of the Son of Man passages above concludes with unambiguous references to the kingdom of God.

Matthew 13:43 – “Then the righteous will shine like the sun in their Father’s kingdom. Let anyone who has ears listen.
Matthew 16:28 – “Truly I tell you, there are some standing here who will not taste death until they see the Son of Man coming in his kingdom.”
Matthew 25:32, 34 – “All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate them one from another, just as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. … “Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father; inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world.

We know that this paradigm of the kingdom is already in place, as after his resurrection, Messiah was quoted as saying, “All authority has been given to me in heaven and on earth. “Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations…” (Matthew 28:18-19)

This is the fulfillment of the promise of the kingdom made to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob! Disciples would be made of all nations through faith in the seed of Abraham, that is, Messiah.

The apostle Paul recognized this connection as well, when he wrote that the Messiah was the promised seed to whom this blessing would come.

Galatians 3:14, 16 – The purpose was that the blessing of Abraham would come to the nations by Messiah Yeshua, so that we could receive the promised Spirit through faith. … Now the promises were spoken to Abraham and to his seed. He does not say “and to seeds,” as though referring to many, but referring to one, and to your seed, who is Messiah.

In Messiah Yeshua, the kingdom of God has its fulfillment. As the promised seed of Abraham, he is the bridge between heaven and earth. All who believe in him, that is, who are “in” the seed, have access to the throne of heaven through faith. The ancient Jewish tradition of Jacob having a vision of God’s kingdom is substantiated through the revelation of the Messiah as the Son of Man through which God’s kingdom is come to earth!


If you enjoy these daily blog posts, be sure to visit the growing archive of the Core of the Bible podcast. Each week we take a more in-depth look at one of the various topics presented in the daily blog. You can view the podcast archive at https://core-of-the-bible.simplecast.com/ or your favorite podcast streaming service.

Now also on YouTube! Just getting started, but new videos will be added regularly on many different topics, find us at: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCvR_aNEyA7WEZJtF4B8fZ6g

Questions or comments? Feel free to email me directly at coreofthebible@gmail.com.