Published on July 17th, 2020 | by Nina Pulley
Doing Dirt: Cleanliness, Holiness, and Why “Spotless” Was Never The Goal
James 1:27, KJV: “Pure religion and undefiled before God and the Father is this,
To visit the fatherless and widows in their affliction, and to keep himself unspotted from the world.”
I was thinking about this the other day. My dad always loves to tell me that his goal in life is to “leave no trace.” Some of you may have heard this: I think of it as, “Go in like a whisper, leave like the wind.” I know, corny, but I think there’s some truth to it.
To me, underneath the sentiment lies the theme of the dual states of innocence and culpability. We often want to be seen as spotless, respectable,and trustworthy — at worst, we want to be elevated in some way above our peers, because internally, we strive far and away from the status quo, or because we lack humility. (Oof. Did I lie, though?) Regardless, this external grooming indicates a deeper condition just out of natural reach.
The theme of being clean appears in the Bible endlessly — it is ultimately what holiness is about: being washed in the blood of Jesus. It appears in some interesting ways in the New Testament, and I thought I’d pull some of them up to explore the meanings associated with cleanliness — both its abstractions and applications.
The Woman with the Issue of Blood (Luke 8:43-48)
43 And a woman was there who had been subject to bleeding for twelve years,[a] but no one could heal her. 44 She came up behind him and touched the edge of his cloak, and immediately her bleeding stopped.
45 “Who touched me?” Jesus asked.
When they all denied it, Peter said, “Master, the people are crowding and pressing against you.”
46 But Jesus said, “Someone touched me; I know that power has gone out from me.”
47 Then the woman, seeing that she could not go unnoticed, came trembling and fell at his feet. In the presence of all the people, she told why she had touched him and how she had been instantly healed. 48 Then he said to her, “Daughter, your faith has healed you. Go in peace.”
The Great Multitude in White Robes (Revelation 7:9-17)
9 After this I looked, and there before me was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, tribe, people and language, standing before the throne and before the Lamb. They were wearing white robes and were holding palm branches in their hands. 10 And they cried out in a loud voice:
“Salvation belongs to our God,
who sits on the throne,
and to the Lamb.”
11 All the angels were standing around the throne and around the elders and the four living creatures. They fell down on their faces before the throne and worshiped God, 12 saying:
Praise and glory
and wisdom and thanks and honor
and power and strength
be to our God for ever and ever.
13 Then one of the elders asked me, “These in white robes—who are they, and where did they come from?”
14 I answered, “Sir, you know.”
And he said, “These are they who have come out of the great tribulation; they have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb. 15 Therefore,
“they are before the throne of God
and serve him day and night in his temple;
and he who sits on the throne
will shelter them with his presence.
16 ‘Never again will they hunger;
never again will they thirst.
The sun will not beat down on them,’[a]
nor any scorching heat.
17 For the Lamb at the center of the throne
will be their shepherd;
‘he will lead them to springs of living water.’[b]
‘And God will wipe away every tear from their eyes.’[c]”
The Rider on a White Horse (Revelation 19:11-18)
11 Then I saw heaven opened, and behold, a white horse! The one sitting on it is called Faithful and True, and in righteousness he judges and makes war. 12 His eyes are like a flame of fire, and on his head are many diadems, and he has a name written that no one knows but himself. 13 He is clothed in a robe dipped in[a] blood, and the name by which he is called is The Word of God. 14 And the armies of heaven, arrayed in fine linen, white and pure, were following him on white horses. 15 From his mouth comes a sharp sword with which to strike down the nations, and he will rule[b] them with a rod of iron. He will tread the winepress of the fury of the wrath of God the Almighty. 16 On his robe and on his thigh he has a name written, King of kings and Lord of lords.
17 Then I saw an angel standing in the sun, and with a loud voice he called to all the birds that fly directly overhead, “Come, gather for the great supper of God, 18 to eat the flesh of kings, the flesh of captains, the flesh of mighty men, the flesh of horses and their riders, and the flesh of all men, both free and slave,[c] both small and great.”
So what do these stories together mean? What did the messenger see when they recorded these messages from the Spirit? To begin simply, the white cloth signified holiness.
Just as an aside: men, in a bafflingly shortsighted extrapolation, have turned that meaning onto skin and created the deadly ideology of racism — I acknowledge this here and now just to leave it on the record that whiteness is never an excuse to argue one person’s worth over another just based on appearance. Here, the cloth is something you wear, rather, representing deeds, not physical attributes. It’s also just ridiculous that one would attribute traits just based on the tone of one’s complexion, an inherited physical feature, when God consistently tells man to fight the flesh. That’s how you know racism is most definitely not of God, manifest destiny, or what have you. (Why they still teach manifest destiny in schools without qualification, I don’t know.)
Rather, here, the white cloth is stainless, symbolizing holiness and virtue based on the acknowledgment and acceptance of God’s grace, here represented visually and thus remaining a schematic anchor in our minds. The multitude have been forgiven, washed clean, and this is in God’s plan. Oftentimes, we believe that we can achieve cleanliness by living right, and this is certainly true in one aspect, but it is not all. We also need to turn to God and be accountable to Him by His standards — the Ten Commandments, loving your neighbor — cultivating an authentic relationship that we know is real. Like so many grandmothers say, “You’ve got to know Him for yourself.” So, it is not right living alone that achieves cleanliness. It is acknowledgment of God, the Higher Power.
And why not? This is his generosity and his heart towards people: to forgive based on acknowledgment and repentance a number of people uncountable who have been through the hardest of times. It also shows people who were willing to come to the altar of God and confess, to turn everything over. This washing does not happen without approach — closing the distance.
What’s more, these are all miracles: things that can only be done by God, for God’s glory. The underlying theme is that man cannot achieve holiness on his own, through human means, but through surrender to God and obedience to His Word and the Holy Spirit. The se
Furthermore, Although the thought of the fury of God inspires unimaginable fear, there is also a great and inexpressible hope that lies just beyond the reaction of the flesh: faith for a new life.
I think this is something that we don’t talk about enough in daily life, but it’s something that can haunt our being and can actually be at work for a lot of us, but because society isn’t geared towards spiritual things, but towards the flesh, the issue, by and large, remains overlooked.
So what can we do to make sure we get and stay fresh and clean? Just a few things I thought of:
Have the courage to be honest with yourself. If your gut says something is off, trust — it is.
Don’t wait to turn your heart to God. Problems only get worse with time. Life is short, and the more we take advantage of the present, the more honest we can be with ourselves and others. Take advantage of now, because, technically, the future doesn’t exist yet.
If you have a community of fruitful people, be real with them. God did not intend for us to be alone. Alone time can be good, but if you have people in your life you know are living right, humbly walking with God, loving good… talk to them. Be real. Don’t lie. They can see it anyway. Reaching out in person can save lives — tell them your desire to be clean and they can point you in the right direction based on their own walk.
Do some spring cleaning. Remove people, areas of your life, habits, and thoughts that you know don’t serve you. Think, “Does this honor God?” If it doesn’t, toss it. You gain so much in the process. One of the issues people have with letting go is believing they’ll have nothing afterwards. Quite the opposite: you open up a new life you didn’t even know existed. Why wait?
Accept the mercy that is being given to you. Sometimes we are so hard on ourselves that we cannot accept the good things that are flowing into our lives. We have to – it is our only hope.
Please feel free to reach out to me for questions if you’re still interested in the topic.