Cleanliness is next to godliness. It’s true! Psalm 51:10 says, “Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me.” James 4:8 says, “Draw near to God, and He will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands you sinners, and purify your hearts you double-minded.”
Now the phrase itself, “Cleanliness is next to godliness,” is not in the Bible. One of the earliest appearances of the phrase is from John Wesley, who said, “Slovenliness is no part of religion. Cleanliness is indeed next to godliness.”
When the Bible talks about cleanliness, it talks about spiritual cleanliness. Even the parts where we read about external cleanliness or being clean in the body are meant to be outside examples of being clean in the soul. We must be washed from the stain of sin. We must be holy in the eyes of God, and we must be after that holiness.
But a person who is dirty and sweaty from working outside has not become unholy, nor is a person who has a messy desk or unwashed dishes.
In Mark 7, the Pharisees criticized Jesus disciples because they didn’t wash their hands before they ate: “Why do your disciples eat with defiled hands?” Jesus rebuked the Pharisees and told the people, “There is nothing outside a person that by going into him can defile him, but the things that come out of a person are what defile him.” Our hearts are what’s unclean.
1 John 1:9 says, “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” That’s cleanliness that leads to godliness, when we understand the text.