I’m sure you’ve heard the phrase “cleanliness is next to godliness.” Typically it is used in a tongue-in-cheek manner in regard to bathing and wearing clean clothes. Fortunately for some of us, there is nothing in the Bible that says that a believer has to be physically clean (though it would be much appreciated by your brothers and sisters in Christ), but in the sense of being pure of heart, cleanliness is indeed next to godliness, or more accurately, cleansing leads to godliness.
Titus 3:5 says, “He washed away our sins, giving us a new birth and new life through the Holy Spirit.” We are cleansed by the blood of Christ from all sin. However, the life we had before Christ was so familiar to us, and the things of God are so unknown to us that it makes committing ourselves to Him difficult. And let’s face it, sin is enticing, otherwise, we wouldn’t do it. Sinfulness is our natural fallen state; we don’t have to be taught how to sin. Holiness, on the other hand, holiness is quite foreign to us, and frankly, we’re not capable of achieving it. Only God Himself can transform us into holy people.
But, we are not passive in this process. As Christians, we have a certain responsibility. Paul tells us, “Therefore, since we have these promises, dear friends, let us cleanse ourselves from everything that could defile the body and the spirit, and thus accomplish holiness out of reverence for God” (2 Corinthians 7:1). So how is it that we can actually cleanse ourselves as this verse suggests and how does that cleansing bring us to godliness?
- We are cleansed when we call on the name of the Lord: Acts 22:16 says, “What are you waiting for? Get up and be baptized. Have your sins washed away by calling on the name of the Lord.” This is our first step as followers of Christ. We must make the choice to repent and believe. He will not cleanse those who do not cry out in their hearts for God to save them. When Jesus said these words to Saul (Paul), a response was necessary, just as we also must respond to the call of Christ if we wish to be saved.
- We are cleansed by the word of God: Ephesians 5:26 says, “He gave up his life for her [the church] to make her holy and clean, washed with the water of God’s word.” What an interesting phrase. The hearing and the reading and studying of scripture is like pure, clean water pouring over us, cleansing us of all our misconceptions and misunderstandings of who God is and our relationship to Him. Unfortunately, reading and studying the Bible appears to be the most neglected practice among those who call themselves Christians. Most are in fact, Biblically illiterate and their philosophy of life is largely based on YouTube and TikTok videos rather than the word of God. But when guided by the Holy Spirit, reading and knowing Scripture actually keeps us holy and pure of heart and gives us true spiritual wisdom.
- We are cleansed by confessing our sins: “But if we confess our sins to him, he is faithful and just to forgive us and to cleanse us from all wickedness” (John 1:9). The Apostle John was not instructing unbelievers on how to become Christians in this passage, but rather, he was telling people who were already saved to confess the sins which they had committed in their new life as believers. When we first receive salvation, we’re forgiven for all past sins, but we still have this persistent sinful nature enticing us back into sinfulness. And when we come to God sincerely with a repentant heart, He is faithful to forgive and to cleanse us from even the desire to commit sin.
- We are cleansed by living in obedience to the truth: “You were cleansed from your sins when you obeyed the truth, so now you must show sincere love to each other as brothers and sisters. Love each other deeply with all your heart” (1 Peter 1:22). It is not enough to just read and know Scripture, we must also put it into practice by living out our faith. When we do that, we are giving the Holy Spirit control of our thoughts, desires, and actions. We are surrendering our own will and instead taking on the will of God. Obedience to His word leads to deep love and compassion toward each other and an even deeper intimate relationship with God Himself.
- We are cleansed by setting ourselves apart from the world: In Acts 2:40, there is a peculiar phrase; “Save yourselves from this crooked generation!” I have to admit, this verse used to trouble me until I understood the context. When Peter said “save yourselves” he wasn’t talking about salvation per se; that only comes from Christ. Rather, this verse is urging us to set ourselves apart from the world, separating ourselves from the broken, distorted culture all around us. It doesn’t mean we are to isolate ourselves, but rather to live and act differently.
In case you hadn’t noticed, the lifestyles portrayed in pop culture these days are not exactly examples of holy living. The morals and values portrayed in movies and television are often in direct conflict with holy Scripture. Many of the things being taught in our schools will lead you away from, rather than intoa deeper relationship with God. We have Pride Month, a time when all sorts of debauchery are publicly celebrated with flagrant abandon.
The Enemy wants to destroy us. He has set traps everywhere to try and entice us back into sinfulness, trying to shame us into turning our backs on God by actually calling sin a virtue and true virtue a sin. The Enemy wants to prevent us from accomplishing our purpose as followers of Christ and becoming whom God intended for us to be. But if we, “cleanse ourselves from everything that could defile the body and the spirit,” it will indeed lead to true godliness.
“Or do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived; neither the sexually immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor homosexuals, nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor those habitually drunk, nor verbal abusers, nor swindlers, will inherit the kingdom of God. Such were some of you; but you were washed, but you were sanctified, but you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and in the Spirit of our God.” (1 Corinthians 6:9-11)