Saved to Be Holy

Saved to Be Holy

Though I touched upon some background information when covering I Timothy—that Paul sought to encourage Timothy to challenge wrong doctrine, teach right doctrine, and provided instructions on how to rule and care for the church in Ephesus—as we turn to 2 Timothy, probably written a few years after his first letter, circumstances have changed for Paul who has been imprisoned again and is now awaiting his death.[1] As we’ve noted before, Paul is living during the time of Nero and his persecution of Christians. According to early sources, Paul was imprisoned in Rome and eventually martyred under Nero’s reign around 66–67 AD and this circumstance, Paul’s imprisonment and impending death, is evidenced in his second letter to Timothy who is still overseeing the church at Ephesus.

This background adds a poignancy to Paul’s words for we continue to see not only the dynamics of a father-son relationship played out but are also aware that Paul’s earthly life will soon end—and he knows this and is reaching out to Timothy in this chronologically final New Testament letter written by Paul. In 2 Timothy it’s evident that Paul could not have loved Timothy more even if he had been his biological son and his longing to see his son is palpable.

Paul begins this letter in a way that was typical in the ancient world. Whereas we begin letters with “Dear ‘X,’” during this period you began a letter by first identifying yourself, the sender; then noting the recipient; and finally providing some kind of greeting. So Paul opens, as he often does, by stating that he is “an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God” and that this is “in keeping with the promise of life that is in Christ Jesus” (1). Paul’s entire calling, identity, and mission revolve around God in Christ’s sovereignty and providence in his life.

And as in his first letter Paul called Timothy his “spiritual” son; here he refers to him as his “dear” son (2). And he greets him by sending or wishing him “grace, mercy, and peace” from “God the Father and Christ Jesus our Lord.” This union with the Father by means of Christ Jesus’ person and work is what united Paul to Timothy and all believers. This union with God is the basis of Timothy becoming Paul’s son and of both of them becoming children of the heavenly Father by Christ’s sacrifice.

In what follows, it’s evident that Timothy isn’t just a metaphorical or symbolic son, but that in Paul’s eyes, he is his son. Period. As our thoughts are often consumed with those whom we love, as Paul’s earthly days draw to a close, so his thoughts are consumed with Timothy. And what Paul is most concerned about for Timothy—and for himself, for that matter—is his relationship with God. In verse 3 Paul states, “I thank God, whom I serve, as my ancestors did, with a clear conscience, as night and day I constantly remember you in my prayers.” Prayer not only unites us with God as it is how we communicate, how we talk with God, but it also unites us with each other as we lift each before our Father’s throne. An important way in which we can express our love for others is by praying to our heavenly Father for them. So Paul’s words to Timothy focus upon the God who unites them. In his prayers for Timothy, Paul thanks God; he expresses his gratitude and appreciation to God for this dear son.

Paul notes as well his spiritual lineage. He is serving God even as his ancestors, those who came before him, did. Remember that Paul is able to trace his spiritual lineage all the way back to Father Abraham and the tribe of Benjamin that descended from him.[2] And, again, Paul thanks this one God as he remembers Timothy in his prayers. “[N]ight and day” Paul is talking to God about Timothy, letting him know his concerns for his son. As Paul’s days on earth are about to end, he finds himself talking with God about Timothy constantly.

Paul remembers Timothy’s tears—tears that may have resulted from when they last parted—and as he thinks about Timothy, this very act of recalling him has created a longing to see him that Paul “may be filled with joy” (4). What Paul is feeling is so very natural. If only he could see Timothy one last time, his joy would be complete. Again, though Timothy isn’t Paul’s biological son, in terms of how Paul felt about him, he might as well have been. This deep bond between people who are related not by the blood of their biological families but by the blood of Jesus Christ, is what God in Christ desires for all of us—that we would see each other, even this morning, not as strangers who happen to worship at the same church, but as family—as children—as brothers and sisters who each week are responding to Christ’s call to gather as his siblings as together we come to worship him and our Father in heaven by his Holy Spirit who indwells us.

In verse 5 Paul further comments on the bond that had been forged by his and Timothy’s shared faith as he is “reminded of [Timothy’s] sincere faith, which first lived in [his] grandmother Lois and in [his] mother Eunice.” We know from a mention in the book of Acts that Timothy’s father was a Greek and apparently an unbeliever[3] so in his case, his spiritual lineage came from his maternal side. The faith of both his grandmother, Lois, and mother, Eunice, had been passed down to him.

So Paul’s spiritual bond with and concern for Timothy naturally arose from and now revolved around their shared faith in Christ. Having expressed his gratitude for his own spiritual lineage and that of Timothy’s, Paul next does all he can to encourage and build up Timothy’s faith in Christ. In verse 6 he states, “For this reason I remind you to fan into flame the gift of God, which is in you through the laying on of my hands.” Given the faith and commitment to God they share, Paul reminds Timothy not to rest on his spiritual laurels or to take this faith for granted, but to fan into flame God’s gift of faith. Brothers and sisters, it isn’t enough for us to believe in Christ—or to say we believe in Christ; faith requires intentionality on our part. We saw last week how Paul referred to the Christian faith as a “good fight.” This is in keeping with Jesus’ teaching that those who follow him are to take up their cross daily.[4] If we call ourselves by Christ’s name—if we call ourselves Christians—then each day we must own and live in accord with Christ’s name. Just as our relationships with people we know fizzle out if we stop talking and getting together with one another, so it is with our relationship with the God. We must turn to him daily, seeking his help to live how he would have us live. As we acknowledge each week when we recite the Apostles’ Creed, we are even to ask him for our daily bread. Isn’t this what “saying grace” before each meal is about? In this simple act we acknowledge that even the provision of this meal, which is so easy for those who live in the United States to take for granted, comes from our loving and sovereign God.

Now it may be the case that the “gift of God” that Paul is encouraging Timothy to “fan into flame” isn’t simply his faith in Christ but also his particular call to serve Christ’s church since Paul states that this gift is in Timothy “through the laying on of hands.”[5] But the principle still stands. We need to be careful not to take our faith for granted—which is simply another way of saying that we need to be careful not to take our relationship with Jesus Christ for granted. Though he is faithful even when we are faithless[6]—which we’ll consider more closely when we actually turn to this passage in the second chapter of Timothy next week— if we want to grow in our knowledge of God, we need to talk with him and do all we can to learn more about him in the Old and New Testaments he has left us.

Paul further tells Timothy that “the Spirit God gave us does not make us timid, but gives us power, love and self-discipline” (7). Now all who know and follow Christ have been sealed with Christ’s Holy Spirit[7] who now indwells us and unites us with Christ. And in talking about this God-given Spirit Paul is returning to the topic of intentionality. Commentators think that Paul may be contrasting the work of God’s Spirit with timidity perhaps because Timothy lacked courage or confidence so Paul was trying to encourage him to come out of himself as he served Christ’s church. He reminded Timothy that the Holy Spirit God has given provides us with power—with strength and ability; and he provides us with love—with motivation and commitment; and he provides us with self-discipline—with the ability to control our feelings, overcome our weaknesses, and do what is right despite temptations. This is what it means to rely on and trust God’s Spirit—to be strong in him even when, or perhaps especially when, we feel weak in ourselves. As Paul indicates in his letter to the Corinthians, when three times he asked the LORD to remove his unknown-to-us thorn in his flesh, the Lord said to him, “‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.’ Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. 10 That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.”[8] For the follower of Christ, God by his Spirit is able to replace our timidity and weakness with his power, love, and self-discipline.

Paul goes on to tell Timothy that he need not be ashamed of Jesus or of Paul, his prisoner, but instead should join with Paul in his suffering for the gospel—again, which suffering is made possible by God’s power (8). Suffering for Christ isn’t easy and it isn’t for the faint of heart; but it is possible to endure by the strength and power which God provides.

Paul then reminds Timothy of the reason for which we have been saved and called, namely to live holy lives; to live lives as God in Christ intended; knowing and loving him with all of our being and loving and caring for others as well; loving others so much that we are willing to tell them about who Christ is even if sharing this results in our suffering. And our salvation and call by God—God’s turning our lives around from serving and loving ourselves to serving and loving him and those whom he’s placed in our lives—isn’t due to any inherent worthiness in us or any good done by us, but it’s because of God’s purpose and his grace, his free and unmerited favor towards us. And the reason we know God’s grace isn’t deserved is because it was given us in Christ Jesus, verse 9, before the beginning of time. Before you and I ever existed, God knew we would be his. And now that God has come to earth in the flesh, the giving of his grace to us has become realized. As Paul says in verse 10, God’s unmerited grace, his favor, in Christ “has now been revealed through the appearing of our Savior, Christ Jesus, who has destroyed death and has brought life and immortality to light through the gospel.”

In God’s time, Christ Jesus came. And the reason he came was that we, that is all whom he made in his image, and all who have suffered the alienation from and consequent hostility towards God that resulted from the Fall, might be spared the most devastating effect of the Fall, broken fellowship with God.

In God’s time, Christ Jesus came that we might go from seeing God as our enemy to seeing him as our friend;

In God’s time, Christ Jesus came that we might not suffer eternal death, eternal separation from God, but eternal life, eternal unity with God.

Brothers and sisters, in Christ Jesus death has been destroyed and life and immortality have been brought to light through the gospel—through the good news that he is the resurrection and the life and that all who believe in him—all who commit their lives to following him—will never die.[9] This eternal life that is being offered to us came at an enormous price. It came at the price of God’s own Son, Christ Jesus, coming as a man, coming in human form, that he might suffer God’s judgment and wrath in our place; that he who was innocent and blameless might become a curse for us; that he who had only known life with the Father and Holy Spirit might die for us shamefully on a cross. All of this he did because unworthy though we may be, in Jesus’ eyes, we were worth it.

Paul understands this. He knows that the most important thing in his life or any life is knowing and loving not only the God who made us in his image but who redeemed us by his love—by dying in our place to atone, to pay for our sins that we might want to know and love and live for him and so fulfill the purpose of our creating. In verse 11 Paul again reminds Timothy, as he did in the second chapter of I Timothy,[10] that “of this gospel” he “was appointed a herald and an apostle and a teacher.” And the proclamation of this Gospel is why he is suffering as he is, verse 12. Again, Paul is in prison awaiting his impending death. But Paul knows that his suffering isn’t a cause for shame because he knows whom he’s believed—he knows Christ Jesus. And Paul is convinced—he is certain—that Christ is able to guard what he’s entrusted[11] until the day he returns. Paul is confident in God rather than ashamed. And just as earlier in the letter he exhorted Timothy not to be ashamed of the Lord or of him, the Lord’s prisoner (8), so now Paul is acknowledging that neither is he ashamed of his suffering or the gospel message either (12). This is the parent encouraging his child one final time not only to do as he says but also to live as he lives.

Paul ends by urging Timothy to “keep as the pattern of sound teaching, with faith and love in Christ Jesus” what he’s heard from Paul (13). Timothy is to “Guard the good deposit that was entrusted to you—guard it with the help of the Holy Spirit who lives in us” (14). This good deposit is the proclamation of the gospel which is needed to sustain and enlarge Christ’s church. On the one hand, the church has ever been one generation from ending; On the other, our gracious LORD has managed to preserve the church, his body, for over 2000 years since Christ’s first coming to earth. And he’ll continue to preserve it until Christ finally returns to completely restore his Kingdom.

Brothers and sisters, we are saved by Christ to be holy. But if holiness was as attractive to us as temptation, we would all be saints—we would all naturally desire and be drawn to a holy life, to a life like Jesus lived, turning constantly to our heavenly Father and loving and caring for all who crossed our path. But here’s the thing: we are saints—we are holy in God’s eyes not because of our desire and ability to obey but because of Jesus Christ’s desire and ability to obey. This is why he is the only way to the Father because in order for us to come before our heavenly and holy Father, we must be holy ourselves. But we can’t do this by our own power but only by Christ.

And although we are viewed as holy when we commit our lives to follow Christ, this side of heaven holiness alsorequires effort on our part. Like Timothy, we must do all we can to “fan into the flame” the call of God upon our lives. And we can do so by living intentionally for him—

by heeding his call to gather each week to worship him in fellowship with one another;

by turning to him in prayer—by talking with him—at any and all times, about big things and small;

by learning more from him in reading and studying Scripture;

by celebrating his sacrifice for us by partaking of his body and blood as we’ll be doing shortly in partaking of communion together;

by singing songs to him;

by breaking bread with one another in fellowship at community meals and in each other’s homes;

by doing our work and tasks conscientiously before him;

by understanding that because we are each other’s family, we are intimately connected to one another and so should long to be with and care for one another even as Paul longed to be with Timothy and so be filled with joy.

This is our destiny—and this is our joy.

Please pray with me as together we thank our loving and heavenly Father.


[1] 2 Timothy 4:6:  For I am already being poured out like a drink offering, and the time for my departure is near.

[2] Philippians 3:5: circumcised on the eighth day, of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; in regard to the law, a Pharisee

[3] Acts 16:1: Paul came to Derbe and then to Lystra, where a disciple named Timothy lived, whose mother was Jewish and a believer but whose father was a Greek.

[4] Matthew 16:24–27: 24 Then Jesus said to his disciples, “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. 25 For whoever wants to save their life[or soul] will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will find it. 26 What good will it be for someone to gain the whole world, yet forfeit their soul? Or what can anyone give in exchange for their soul? 27 For the Son of Man is going to come in his Father’s glory with his angels, and then he will reward each person according to what they have done.

[5] In I Timothy 4:14 Paul indicates that Timothy’s gift was acknowledged by God via prophecy and also by the council of elders: “Do not neglect your gift, which was given you through prophecy when the body of elders laid their hands on you.”

[6] 2 Timothy 2:13: if we are faithless, he remains faithful, for he cannot disown himself.

[7] Ephesians 1:13–14: 13 And you also were included in Christ when you heard the message of truth, the gospel of your salvation. When you believed, you were marked in him with a seal, the promised Holy Spirit, 14 who is a deposit guaranteeing our inheritance until the redemption of those who are God’s possession—to the praise of his glory.; 2 Corinthains 1:21–22: 21 Now it is God who makes both us and you stand firm in Christ. He anointed us, 22 set his seal of ownership on us, and put his Spirit in our hearts as a deposit, guaranteeing what is to come.

[8] 2 Corinthians 12:9–10.

[9] John 11:25: Jesus said to her [Martha after Lazarus died], “I am the resurrection and the life. The one who believes in me will live, even though they die; 26 and whoever lives by believing in me will never die. Do you believe this?”

[10] I Timothy 2:1–7 (v. 7): 1 I urge, then, first of all, that petitions, prayers, intercession and thanksgiving be made for all people— for kings and all those in authority, that we may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness. This is good, and pleases God our Savior, who wants all people to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth. For there is one God and one mediator between God and mankind, the man Christ Jesus, who gave himself as a ransom for all people. This has now been witnessed to at the proper time. And for this purpose I was appointed a herald and an apostle—I am telling the truth, I am not lying—and a true and faithful teacher of the Gentiles.

[11] Or “what has been entrusted to him” is another possible translation.

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