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.

Becoming a vessel of honor

All believers are charged with purging worldliness from our lives.

2 Timothy 2:20-21 – “Now in a great house there are not only vessels of gold and of silver, but also of wood and of earth; and some unto honor, and some unto dishonor. If a man therefore purge himself from these, he shall be a vessel unto honor, set apart, suitable for the master’s use, prepared unto every good work.”

Here in Paul’s instructions to Timothy, he shares an illustration to highlight for Timothy how he should fashion his routine behavior. He uses the example of different types of utensils or cups in a wealthy household as being made of different materials for different purposes. Those made of gold and silver would be used for special occasions of honor. Those made of wood and clay were for more common use. Through this illustration, Paul encourages Timothy to “purge himself from these.” What are “these” that Timothy is to purge himself from?

In the context of the passage, there are several different negative qualities that are mentioned. In v. 4, Paul says, “No one serving in the army gets entangled in everyday affairs; the soldier’s aim is to please the enlisting officer.” This intimates how believers should be set apart from participating in the mundane events that others get caught up in on a regular basis.

To make this point more apparent, Paul narrows the definition of what Timothy is to avoid as “quarreling over words.” Strong’s definition clarifies this as “to wrangle about trifling and empty matters.” In v. 16 Paul pulls even finer clarity on the concept by encouraging Timothy to “[a]void worldly and empty speech, since those who engage in it will produce even more godlessness…” The worldly aspect of this type of speech is defined in the Greek as being related to a threshold that one steps over, as a common entrance that is trodden under foot without care or concern. Anyone can cross that threshold into worldly speculation over the latest controversies. And when one does so, it produces only more irreverence for the things of God, more impiety and godlessness. For our generation, think of the latest social media trending topics, or political controversy du jour.

This is a consistent theme with Paul, as in his first letter to Timothy he had used the same type of language in his instruction there: “But have nothing to do with pointless and silly myths,” (1 Timothy 4:7).

To counter all of this empty and worldly speculative nonsense, Paul says in that place, “Rather, train yourself in godliness.” Here in his second letter, he expands on what this training in godliness is by saying, “Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved by him, a worker who has no need to be ashamed, rightly explaining the word of truth,” (v. 15).

Here we see that diligent training in the word of truth is the counter to the empty and speculative nonsense that the world engages in on a daily basis. Paul is charging Timothy, as a mature believer who is responsible for leading others, to do his best to engage deeply with the word of truth. He encourages him to make himself a vessel of silver or gold that becomes set apart for God’s use because it is special or unique, and not simply something that is subject to common use like everyone else.

All of this is just another way that the apostle is encouraging Timothy to demonstrate holiness in his lifestyle, to be set apart from the commonality and ordinariness that so many others simply wallow in with little thought of anything that could be godly or redemptive. According to Paul, this is something that the believers must do for themselves, to be trained in the word of truth so thoroughly that there would be no need to be ashamed before the master.

In the same way, it is up to us to avoid becoming entangled in worldly affairs, wrangling over trifling, empty matters and silly myths. We are the ones entrusted with the word of truth, and it is up to us to separate ourselves in order to faithfully represent God’s word of truth to others, and so become the vessels of silver and gold that God can use in special ways for his unique and holy purposes.


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.

Teaching the Word to instill trust and faith in God

Faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the Word of God.

Proverbs 22:17-19 – Listen closely, pay attention to the words of the wise, and apply your mind to my knowledge. For it is pleasing if you keep them within you and if they are constantly on your lips. I have instructed you today ​– ​even you — so that your confidence may be in Yahweh.

Solomon’s goal in providing the written instruction within the proverbs he was writing had the primary purpose of instilling confidence in Yahweh to the hearer or reader. The wisdom that God had provided a great measure of wisdom to Solomon and demonstrated that teaching in this manner is the basis of faith and confidence in God.

When God revealed himself on Sinai, it was with the purpose and intent that this event would be taught to successive generations so that they would learn to fear him and follow his ways. Moses explained this to the people before they crossed the Jordan.

Deuteronomy 4:7-10 – “For what great nation is there that has a god near to it as Yahweh our God is to us whenever we call to him? And what great nation has righteous statutes and ordinances like this entire law I set before you today? Only be on your guard and diligently watch yourselves, so that you don’t forget the things your eyes have seen and so that they don’t slip from your mind as long as you live. Teach them to your children and your grandchildren. The day you stood before Yahweh your God at Horeb, Yahweh said to me, ‘Assemble the people before me, and I will let them hear my words, so that they may learn to fear me all the days they live on the earth and may instruct their children.’

God’s method of creating faith and trust in his people is through the recounting of these stories through his Word. This is why teaching is such a great responsibility, to ensure one is not leading others astray.

James 3:1 – Not many of you should become teachers, my brothers, for you know that we who teach will be judged with greater strictness.

This is also why the apostle Paul encourages Timothy ensure that those to whom he is committing his message are faithful men.

2 Timothy 2:2 – What you have heard from me in the presence of many witnesses, commit to faithful men who will be able to teach others also.

All of this Bible teaching and recounting of the glories of the past events and workings of Yahweh is for the purpose of instilling faith and trust in people of all nations. This is the ongoing fulfillment of prophetic Zion, the New Jerusalem.

Isaiah 2:2-3 – “In the last days the mountain of Yahweh’s house will be established at the top of the mountains and will be raised above the hills. All nations will stream to it, and many peoples will come and say, “Come, let us go up to the mountain of Yahweh, to the house of the God of Jacob. He will teach us about his ways so that we may walk in his paths.” For instruction will go out of Zion and the word of Yahweh from Jerusalem.”

As we faithfully recount God’s Word in each generation, we are instilling faith in those whom God is calling to participate in his kingdom. The stories of Israel, the house of Jacob, are designed to give glory to God, so that all people may “walk in [God’s] paths.”


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.

The brightly lit fire of self-discipline

We must be vigilant over our own actions to remain fruitful and effective for God in the work that he has laid out for us.

2 Timothy 1:7 – For God has not given us a spirit of fear, but one of power, love, and sound judgment.

The apostle Paul was writing this to his young protégé, Timothy, in the wider context of reminding him of his spiritual heritage, and to encourage him that he is up to the task of being a leader among the congregations that Paul had been instrumental in establishing throughout Asia.

This “sound judgment” that Paul mentions is a word that also means self-control, self-discipline, and prudence. One of the clear earmarks of the Spirit of God’s influence in our lives is discipline and self-control.

Galatians 5:22-23 – But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. The law is not against such things.

In writing to Timothy, Paul implies that the intensity of the outworking of the Spirit in the life of the believer is partially dependent on the believer’s participation and focus.

Albert Barnes contributes the following thoughts on Paul’s instruction to Timothy:

“The original word used here denotes the kindling of a fire, as by bellows, etc. It is not uncommon to compare piety to a flame or a fire, and the image is one that is obvious when we speak of causing that to burn more brightly. The idea is, that Timothy was to use all proper means to keep the flame of pure religion in the soul burning, and more particularly his zeal in the great cause to which he had been set apart. The agency of man himself is needful to keep the religion of the heart warm and glowing. However rich the gifts which God has bestowed upon us, they do not grow of their own accord, but need to be cultivated by our own personal care.”

Timothy was tasked with a great many responsibilities, and through them all Paul is encouraging him to remain vigilant, to watch carefully, to be circumspect in all things so that his work can be effective and fruitful.

2 Timothy 4:2, 5 – Preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; rebuke, correct, and encourage with great patience and teaching. … But as for you, exercise vigilance in everything, endure hardship, do the work of an evangelist, fulfill your ministry.

It is necessary to exercise vigilance and self-control in all things, otherwise we are no better than a city without walls; i.e., we have no defenses against danger.

Proverbs 25:28 – Like a city broken down without walls is a man without restraint over his spirit!

If we are reminded to continually kindle the Spirit of God’s influence within us into a larger flame, we can stand against any onslaught that may confront us. We must be vigilant over our own actions to remain fruitful and effective for God in the work that he has laid out for us in the ongoing establishment of his kingdom on the 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.