"Cleanliness is next to godliness." Most Christians have likely heard this saying, but where did it begin? While the specific expression is not seen in the Bible, the idea is certainly expressed.
"Wash yourselves; make yourselves clean; remove the evil of your deeds from before my eyes; cease to do evil, learn to do good; seek justice, correct oppression; bring justice to the fatherless, plead the widow's cause." ~ Isaiah 1:16-17
"Purge me with hyssop, and I shall be clean; wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow." ~ Psalm 51:7
Origins of 'Cleanliness is next to Godliness'
John Wesley, the co-founder of Methodism, may have been the originator of the slogan "cleanliness is next to godliness." In 1791, he referenced the phrase in one of his sermons as we use it today. Wesley wrote, “Slovenliness is no part of religion. Cleanliness is indeed next to Godliness."
John Wesley would often emphasize cleanliness in his preaching. But the general principle behind the practice begins long before the time of Wesley to the worship customs mentioned in the book of Leviticus. These observances were established to show sinners how they could be cleaned from immorality and reunited with God.
According to learnreligions.com, cleanliness was closely linked to holiness for the Israeli people of the Old Testament, saying
Ritual purification was a matter of extreme importance in Israelite worship. God required his people to be a pure and holy nation (Exodus 19:6). For the Jews, holiness had to be reflected in the way they lived, giving utmost priority to the moral and spiritual virtues that God had revealed in his laws.
Unlike all the other nations, God had given his covenant people specific instructions concerning hygiene and cleanness. He showed them how to maintain purity, and what to do to regain it if they lost it through carelessness or disobedience.
Meaning of 'Cleanliness is next to Godliness'
In the spiritual meaning of this phrase, it is not our physical bodies that need cleansing to become "godly" but our souls and mind that must be washed of immorality.
Gotquestions.org gives an explanation of the biblical application of this phrase:
Biblically speaking, however, outward cleanliness has no connection to godliness. Jesus made it clear that men are defiled by what is in their hearts and that godliness is not attained by what we eat or don’t eat or by how often we wash our hands (Matthew 7:18-23). The Pharisees who questioned Jesus on His teachings failed to understand that truth. They adhered to the Old Testament requirements and ceremonies as they waited for their Messiah. But when He came and stood before them, they were blinded by their own efforts to obtain righteousness by the Law, and they denied Him. He told them, “You diligently study the Scriptures because you think that by them you possess eternal life. These are the Scriptures that testify about me, yet you refuse to come to me to have life” (John 5:39-40). For all their attention to the details of clean and unclean, they remained far from godliness.
We cleanse ourselves through repentance and cooperation with God. It is by humility and love for God we invite His grace and mercy to cleanse our minds and hearts."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." (Romans 12:2)
Baptism is a method of spiritually cleansing ourselves from previous sin and confessing our faith in Christ. Additionally, tearful prayers of repentance purify our hearts and minds of iniquity.
Bible Verses about Cleanliness
Since we have these promises, beloved, let us cleanse ourselves from every defilement of body and spirit, bringing holiness to completion in the fear of God. (2 Corinthians 7:1)
If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. (1 John 1:9)
But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin. (1 John 1:7)
You blind Pharisee! First clean the inside of the cup and the plate, that the outside also may be clean. (Matthew 23:26)
I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you shall be clean from all your uncleannesses, and from all your idols I will cleanse you. (Ezekiel 36:25)
Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. (Philippians 4:8)
Let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, with our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water. (Hebrews 10:22)
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