Is cleanliness next to godliness?

This is one of those sayings that is ingrained in culture and history, but it does not actually appear in the Bible. It is an ancient proverb found in Babylonian and Hebrew religious tracts and didn't debut in the English language until the 1600s. John Wesley in 1791 wrote in one of his sermons, "Slovenliness is no part of religion. Cleanliness is indeed next to Godliness." And through the years, the concept made its way into modern culture. So does that mean that we never need to step into a shower again? Well, no...

Let's break this down and look at cleanliness in two ways.

Physical Cleanness

Does having a spotless bedroom, perfectly groomed dog, and just having gotten out of the shower mean you are more godly? No! In fact, the New Testament is incredibly clear that outward cleaning does not affect the heart.

"Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you are like
whitewashed tombs which on the outside appear beautiful,
but inside they are full of dead men's bones and uncleanness."
Matthew 23:27

This verse has always been so vivid to me, could the apostle have picked a more dramatic example to explain that it is the inside that counts? All outside works and appearances, including cleanliness, will not lead you to godliness (Romans 3:20; Galatians 2:16). Godliness is only obtained by being completely transformed through the Holy Spirit.

"Therefore if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creature; the old things passed away; behold, new things have come." 2 Corinthians 5:17

So, no, physical cleanliness is not equal, lead to, or next to godliness. But does it have any value? I would argue yes, for the following reason: We are called to be stewards of this world. Stewardship is not a word we use often now, except in reference to The Lord of the Rings¸ but it means to be in charge of something that ultimately belongs to another.

"Then God said, 'Let Us make man in Our image, according to Our likeness; and let them rule over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the sky and over the cattle and over all the earth, and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth." Genesis 1:26

The world belongs to the Lord, but we are called to care for it. This principle should follow us in life, everything you have you have been given stewardship over. It is very difficult to care for something if no effort is made to keep it maintained. It's important to care for what God has given us to care for, but it does not affect our godliness.

Spiritual Cleanness

The second kind of cleanliness is not on the outside but on the inside. Spiritual cleanness does affect our godliness. But you can only become spiritually clean through the salvation of Jesus Christ and the grace of God. Once we have accepted Christ as our Savior, we are washed completely clean and made righteous before God. Only then can we share in His godliness. Nothing we do on the outside will affect that; it is the heart of the soul that needs to be cleaned.

"For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves,
it is the gift of God."
—Ephesians 2:8


While this saying doesn't actually appear in the Bible, physical and spiritual cleanliness are still both important aspects of life for the Christian. Physical cleanliness honors the bodies (and the space) that God has given us to care for (1 Corinthians 6:19-20; Genesis 1:26). Spiritual cleanliness comes from salvation through Christ. Godliness comes from being completely transformed through the Holy Spirit (Romans 3:20; Galatians 2:16; 2 Corinthians 5:17).

Writer: Heidi Joelle

Heidi Joelle spends her days staring at paperwork and making sure it is where it is supposed to be, how it is supposed to be, when it is supposed to be. And then she comes home and makes sure the porky little dog isn't eating a trashcan. Between these two events, she tries to learn and see as much of the world around her as possible. 

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