Cleanliness is next to Godliness… right?

                Cleanliness is next to Godliness?  Really?

Mark 7:1–13 


In Jesus Name


May we recognize the gifts of mercy and love, that God the Father pours out on us, His children, as He cleanses us and sets us apart in Christ Jesus!


The Men Who Would Be Clean!

They were men driven by a noble desire, a singular focus that was admired by those they led, by those they were accountable to God to guide, to advise, to shepherd.

Even the named they were labeled with spoke of their devotion, their holiness, the fact their lives were separated from the world’s concerns, to spend all time in pursuit of holiness, and in trying to guide others into living lives that would be acceptable to God.

They were men who desired to be clean before God, and they desired that God’s people – all of them, would also be clean and righteous before a God that demanded of the people He chose and called His own

Except that label thee wore, the title granted to them, is known more today negatively, derisively, mockingly….

Pharisee…scribe…now synonymous with hypocrite, not holy man.

We see them in a way that is quite negative, hollow because of how we read scripture, and how we see them confronted.  Somehow, we miss that Jesus is trying to show them a different way.   In doing so, we become like one Pharisee, who in the temple thanked God that he wasn’t like “those” sinners.

I mean we don’t always say it exactly this way, but sometimes we come across this way…

“Thank you Lord that I am not like those hypocritical, hyper-legalistic Pharisees!

Even as we say it… we become that which we dislike…and like them, we need to remember their desire, a good and Godly desire: that we would be Men (and Women) who would be clean…

the difference being, we’ve come to understand how that happens.

We have to grasp what they overlooked, what they didn’t hear.

Is Cleanliness Next to Godliness?


Finish this old proverb: Cleanliness is next to….

While it is an old proverb, it is not as old as some would think.  Made famous in its present form by John Wesley in a 1791 sermon, it was a modification of this statement by Francis Bacon two centuries before:

“ ‘Cleanness of body was ever deemed to proceed from a due reverence to God.”


It does sound though, like such a saying at least represents the ideas of the Pharisees.  It talks of their desire, and their concern to ensure that Jesus wasn’t teaching false doctrine.  They had the traditions, the teaching, the writings, the books of prayer, the manuals, and yet, did they really hear of what the scripture talked about, when it talked of being clean?  For example, this passage from Ezekiel:

I shall pour clean water over you and you will be cleansed; I shall cleanse you of all your filth and of all your foul idols. 26 I shall give you a new heart, and put a new spirit in you; I shall remove the heart of stone from your bodies and give you a heart of flesh instead. 27 I shall put my spirit in you, and make you keep my laws, and respect and practise my judgements.   Ezekiel 36:25-27 (NJB)

and from Isaiah,

33:8 I will cleanse them from all the guilt of their sin against me, and I will forgive all the guilt of their sin and rebellion against me. 9 And this city shall be to me a name of joy, a praise and a glory before all the nations of the earth who shall hear of all the good that I do for them.
Jeremiah 33:8-9 (ESV)


Yet somehow, those who were entrusted with teaching the word of God to His people didn’t hear that God would do the cleansing, their ears were deafened, the eyes blinded, and they didn’t teach what the scriptures taught, what people were to praise God for revealing.

They taught we had to cleanse ourselves, and buying into that lie that appeals to our pride, they made so many rules for people to live by, so that they would appear clean – that they could play the part. Bursting with pride, they would claim they were holy, and many of them even believed their words, because they were based on what they were taught.  Which was wrong.  In Greek, the word hypocrites describe them so well.  It means to act, to pretend, to have no connection to the words you say, but to say them with incredible force, hoping to deceive, or at least get people to go along with the act.

That is why God says their lips praise Him, yet their hearts are fixed somewhere else – their devotion and dependence belong somewhere else. Like the Temple of that day, it was all an act.  There was no real dependence on God, and the shallowness of their system was revealed…


But are we any different today?  Do we do the right things, but with the idea that because we go to church, because we go to Bible Study, because we pray, we are somehow safe?  Many of the things the Pharisees recommended were indeed good things.  Personally, I like my hands and dishes and mugs and hands clean, as I start eating dinner.  I would love to see each of us with the first five books of the Bible, and the Psalms committed to memory.  Not the titles, but the entire texts.

But do we do them to impress God, to convince those around us that we are holy?

Or do we do them, to rejoice in the God who reveals that He comes to us, to love us, to comfort us, to heal us?

True Cleanliness, True Holiness


What the Pharisees needed to hear again, needed to see in scripture, was that it wasn’t their responsibility to cleanse themselves.  That the people of God were to find their confidence, not in their own work, but in the God who always responded to the cry of “Lord have mercy upon us!”  Who kept on calling to them, wanting them to hear…

In today’s Old Testament reading, it was put this way,

14 Because of this, I will once again astound these hypocrites with amazing wonders. The wisdom of the wise will pass away, and the intelligence of the intelligent will disappear.”

I love a God who deals with those who put on an act, not by writing them off – but by proving He is God, and a loving and merciful God.  Even though people, even though we sometimes talk about religion and god being man-made, like the pottery claiming to have created the Potter.  Jesus dismisses that silliness – by rising from the dead – something so amazing that it silences all those whose pride was in their own works.

Amazing miracles!  Not just amazing because of the overcoming of nature, but amazing because the death and resurrection of Jesus did what the Pharisees so desired to do by their own strength and reason – it provided for their cleanliness they worked for…and failed.

Their commands could not create a life that was beautiful and abundant, but what God commissioned did.  We’ll talk about those two words a bit in Sunday School, but what is amazing about the cross and resurrection is what Paul said occurred there…


2:10 We are God’s work of art, created in Christ Jesus for the good works which God has already designated to make up our way of life.
Ephesians 2:10 (NJB)

The Power of the Cross


Paul will refer to that cleansing again in our Epistle reading today.

just as Christ loved the church. He gave up his life for her 26 to make her holy and clean, washed by the cleansing of God’s word. 27 He did this to present her to himself as a glorious church without a spot or wrinkle or any other blemish. Instead, she will be holy and without fault.

What the Pharisees, what those who pretend to be holy, so want to convince themselves and others of – provided – no effort on their part, simply to revel in the love, to be in awe at the work of God, done in our lives!  How amazing!

It’s not our responsibility to get er done – He’s done it. He’s brought His love and mercy to bear on lives marred by every kind of sin, by every kind of unrighteousness washed away in a flood, cleansed by a blood.

Our lives, so completely unclean now described, all of us as a glorious people – without anything that mars us!. Completely Holy and without fault!

Let’s read Isaiah’s prophesy of our lives,,, there in the verse 18.

18 In that day the deaf will hear words read from a book, and the blind will see through the gloom and darkness. 19 The humble will be filled with fresh joy from the LORD. The poor will rejoice in the Holy One of Israel.

I love that phrasing – we are filled with fresh joy, and we shall rejoice – as we see and hear… Him!

Life changing, amazing, never will we be the same – because the God who would court us, and create a church that is His holy and precious and glorious bride cleanses us! Even if cleanliness were next to Godliness, with the Holy Spirit dwelling in us, we are found Godly!

And our life, even in the midst of that would try to mar it, would be lived in Him, fully cleansed, fully at peace… for we walk with Him! 


About justifiedandsinner

I am a pastor of a Concordia Lutheran Church in Cerritos, California, where we rejoice in God's saving us from our sin, and the unrighteousness of the world. It is all about His work, the gift of salvation given to all who trust in Jesus Christ, and what He has done that is revealed in Scripture. God deserves all the glory, honor and praise, for He has rescued and redeemed His people.

Posted on August 26, 2012, in Sermons and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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