If you thought that cleanliness is next to godliness is in the bible you are not alone. Studies have shown that the majority of Americans believe that this phrase comes from the Bible. You probably heard it from your parents and grandparents, from your Sunday School teacher or even Pastor. I bet that most of you parents have used it yourselves trying to get your children to take a bath or clean their rooms. Well this may surprise some of you but, “cleanliness is next to godliness is not in the bible.
The phrase is probably from a Babylonian and Hebrew proverb. It’s first appearance in English was a modification of the proverb in an essay written by Sir Francis Bacon in 1605 to “Cleanness of body was ever deemed to proceed from a due reverence to God.” In a sermon by John Wesley titled “On Dress” printed in 1769 the phrase is rendered “Slovenliness is no part of religion...cleanliness is indeed next to godliness.”
So if the phrase “cleanliness is next to godliness” is not in the Bible why would a famous preacher like John Wesley use it in a sermon? I didn’t say he said the phrase came for the bible, he just used it in a sermon. The bible does talk a lot about the importance of being physically, ceremonially, and spiritually clean. To be unclean, according to the Old Testament books Leviticus and Numbers was to be defiled. The regulations and laws on cleanliness and purity were primarily designed to teach lessons about the holiness of God and the corruption of man. God's presence in the midst of his people, the Hebrews, could not be taken for granted and was to be carefully safeguarded and regulated.
Leviticus 26:11-12 (NLT)11 I will live among you, and I will not despise you.12 I will walk among you; I will be your God, and you will be my people.
Exodus 33:14 (NLT)14 The LORD replied, “I will personally go with you, Moses, and I will give you rest—everything will be fine for you.”
Because of sin human beings aren’t automatically qualified to come into God’s presence. Until Jesus came to the earth and paid the price for sin human beings had to prepare ourselves ceremonially and morally before they could approach God. Uncleanness, just like sin, can manifest itself both inside and outside so the Hebrews had to be diligent in order to avoid uncleanness. .
In addition to emphasizing the holiness of God the regulations on cleanliness would be a clear sign of separation of God’s chosen people from the surrounding nations.
Leviticus 20:26 (NLT) You must be holy because I, the LORD, am holy. I have set you apart from all other people to be my very own.
When God gave the instructions about clean and unclean animals, how to deal with leprosy, mold in clothing and in houses, relationships between parents, neighbors, foreigners, how to worship, all the regulations we read about in Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy, including the Ten Commandments, He was instructing them to be different from the other nations in their lifestyles.
Many of the rules, we recognize now, were also very practical, and given to keep the Hebrews from getting sick. For example;
Today we know that infectious diseases can sometimes spread from both animal and human corpses.
Leviticus 14:1-4 (NLT)1 And the LORD said to Moses,2 “The following instructions are for those seeking ceremonial purification from a skin disease. Those who have been healed must be brought to the priest,3 who will examine them at a place outside the camp. If the priest finds that someone has been healed of a serious skin disease,4 he will perform a purification ceremony, using two live birds that are ceremonially clean, a stick of cedar, some scarlet yarn, and a hyssop branch.
Clean On The Outside Isn’t Enough
The Hebrews, because of God’s emphasis on cleanliness became maybe the most health-conscious people in history. The problem was that they missed the point. They became more concerned with outward purity than the real reason that God gave the rules which were to point to His holiness and the fact that He was in their midsts. The regulations became empty rituals and substitutes for a real relationship with God. By the time of Jesus things were added with details so trivial that it bordered on the ridiculous.
Mark 7:1-7 (NLT)1 One day some Pharisees and teachers of religious law arrived from Jerusalem to see Jesus.2 They noticed that some of his disciples failed to follow the Jewish ritual of hand washing before eating.3 (The Jews, especially the Pharisees, do not eat until they have poured water over their cupped hands, as required by their ancient traditions.4 Similarly, they don’t eat anything from the market until they immerse their hands in water. This is but one of many traditions they have clung to—such as their ceremonial washing of cups, pitchers, and kettles.)5 So the Pharisees and teachers of religious law asked him, “Why don’t your disciples follow our age-old tradition? They eat without first performing the hand-washing ceremony.”6 Jesus replied, “You hypocrites! Isaiah was right when he prophesied about you, for he wrote, ‘These people honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me.7 Their worship is a farce, for they teach man-made ideas as commands from God.’
Jesus’ comment addressed God’s initial purpose in giving the Hebrews His regulations on purity and cleanliness which was a cleansing of His people’s lives which set them apart from other nations. He told the Pharisees that they were honoring the traditions of cleanliness above the worship of God. He told them that it was not what was on the outside that made a person clean or unclean but what was inside that person.
Mark 7:14-15 (NLT)14 Then Jesus called to the crowd to come and hear. “All of you listen,” he said, “and try to understand.15 It’s not what goes into your body that defiles you; you are defiled by what comes from your heart.”
The real problem of cleanliness was not dirty hands but a dirty heart. In scripture the heart is the center for both physical and emotional-intellectual-moral activities - Baker’s Evangelical Dictionary of Biblical Theology.
Mark 7:21-23 (NLT)21 For from within, out of a person’s heart, come evil thoughts, sexual immorality, theft, murder,22 adultery, greed, wickedness, deceit, lustful desires, envy, slander, pride, and foolishness.23 All these vile things come from within; they are what defile you.”
The Pharisees didn’t understand that every person has the stain of sin on and in them and that no amount of soap and water will remove that stain.
Jeremiah 2:22 (NLT) No amount of soap or lye can make you clean. I still see the stain of your guilt. I, the Sovereign LORD, have spoken!
Jesus told us that they need to clean up what’s on the inside. If the inside is clean the outside will be clean too.
Matthew 23:25-26 (NLT)25 “What sorrow awaits you teachers of religious law and you Pharisees. Hypocrites! For you are so careful to clean the outside of the cup and the dish, but inside you are filthy—full of greed and self-indulgence!26 You blind Pharisee! First wash the inside of the cup and the dish, and then the outside will become clean, too.
Get Clean Inside And Out
The only thing that will remove the stain of sin from the inside is, blood. That doesn’t sound possible does it? To remove a stain you must clean it with something else that stain? Yes!
The stain that makes us unclean is sin. In the Old Testament God gave the Hebrews regulations on sacrificing bulls, goats and lambs, and using the blood of those animals in atonement for their sins. When they did this they were ceremonially clean but only until the next time they sinned then they had to bring another sacrifice. That was the Old Covenant that God had with His people. Jesus established a New Covenant,with his blood. Under this New Covenant those who believe in Him and fall under the New Covenant, are cleansed for all time by His blood.
Hebrews 9:14-15 (NLT)14 Just think how much more the blood of Christ will purify our consciences from sinful deeds so that we can worship the living God. For by the power of the eternal Spirit, Christ offered himself to God as a perfect sacrifice for our sins.15 That is why he is the one who mediates a new covenant between God and people, so that all who are called can receive the eternal inheritance God has promised them. For Christ died to set them free from the penalty of the sins they had committed under that first covenant.
When we are washed and cleansed by the blood of Jesus we are made clean from the inside out. We have a brand new heart and we are completely new.
1 John 1:7 (NLT) But if we are living in the light, as God is in the light, then we have fellowship with each other, and the blood of Jesus, his Son, cleanses us from all sin.
2 Corinthians 5:16-17 (NLT)16 So we have stopped evaluating others from a human point of view. At one time we thought of Christ merely from a human point of view. How differently we know him now!17 This means that anyone who belongs to Christ has become a new person. The old life is gone; a new life has begun!
No, “cleanliness is next to godliness” is not in the Bible. However the Bible does tell us that a clean heart is the result of having God in your life. That’s very important because the Bible tells us that if we are not clean we will not be able to remain in God’s presence. Remember when your parents told you that you couldn’t eat unless you washed your hands? It’s the same way in approaching God. You must be clean.
Psalm 24:3-4 (NLT)3 Who may climb the mountain of the LORD? Who may stand in his holy place?4 Only those whose hands and hearts are pure, who do not worship idols and never tell lies.
The Greek word translated “godliness” in the New Testament is eusebeian and it means “holiness,”. To be holy is to be set apart for God. (See Holy, Holy, Holy) , and if you aren’t you can’t see, or be in the presence of God.
Hebrews 12:14 (NLT) Work at living in peace with everyone, and work at living a holy life, for those who are not holy will not see the Lord.
It’s impossible to become holy by obeying rituals and traditions. The difference between God and us is that He is inherently holy while we, on the other hand, only become holy when we have a relationship with Christ, through His shed blood.
None of us will reach sinless perfection in this world, that won’t happen until Jesus returns, but God has made provision for our sin and cleansing both before and after we were saved.
1 John 1:9 (NLT) But if we confess our sins to him, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all wickedness.
God’s ultimate desire for His people is that we be holy which is being conformed into the image of His Son.
Romans 8:28-29 (NLT)28 And we know that God causes everything to work together for the good of those who love God and are called according to his purpose for them.29 For God knew his people in advance, and he chose them to become like his Son, so that his Son would be the firstborn among many brothers and sisters.
God wants to cleanse you from the inside out. If you want that cleansing all you have to do is ask Him for it.
Psalm 51:10 (NLT) Create in me a clean heart, O God. Renew a loyal spirit within me.
Then accept His cleansing through blood of His Son Jesus Christ.
Romans 10:9-10 (NLT)9 If you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.10 For it is by believing in your heart that you are made right with God, and it is by confessing with your mouth that you are saved.
Hebrews 6:10 For God is not unjust. He will not forget how hard you have worked for him and how you have shown your love to him by caring for other believers, as you still do.
One of the things that happened after I retired nearly two years ago was that I no longer had the resources to do a lot of the things that I wanted to do. Things like travel, giving my children and grandchildren things, buying “toys” (I’m an early adopter and love technology), Mercedes, and giving more to my church and other ministries (yes that was really a goal of mine). I know that I made some poor choices over the years that seriously impacted my ability to do those things but that doesn’t stop me from time to time asking the question that’s the title of this post.
What does all this faith and belief that God keeps His promises amount to when I see others, who I know don’t love God and maybe even not believe He exists, prosper? Many of them go on extended vacations, continue to accumulate wealth, and appear to be very happy, with no thought of changing anything in their lives.
I know that I’m not the only Christian that has had those thoughts. Just two months ago I wrote the post “Why We Shouldn’t Envy Those Who Do Not Know God And Still Appear To Prosper” . In it I said…”the frustration mounts even to the point that he starts to wonder if all of our prayer, praise, service, was all for nothing.” The point of that post was to encourage those of us who become frustrated when we see the continuous prosperity of those who care nothing for God, while many of us struggle just to make ends meet.
Let me stop for just a minute to say that there are countless Christians, some of whom I know, that are prospering and will continue to prosper. Also, I’ve not found in scripture where God promised that all believers will prosper, have no sickness, no trials, and live carefree lives. In fact Jesus told His thoses closest to Him;
John 16:33 (NLT)33 I have told you all this so that you may have peace in me. Here on earth you will have many trials and sorrows. But take heart, because I have overcome the world.”
In that earlier post I urged those of us who are frustrated to read Psalm 73 where the Psalmist, after spending time in the sanctuary (God’s presence), saw and understood the destiny of the wicked .
Psalm 73:18-20 (NLT)18 Truly, you put them on a slippery path and send them sliding over the cliff to destruction.19 In an instant they are destroyed, completely swept away by terrors.20 When you arise, O Lord, you will laugh at their silly ideas as a person laughs at dreams in the morning.
When does all this happen?
The Psalm is great and is very encouraging but, I know many “wicked” who have died natural deaths, who have happy homes, great children, lots of friends, great lives so, when will they reach this destiny, which in reading the Psalm is awful, happen. When will we see the fulfillment of God’s promises to us the believers?
Before we get to that there are some things we need to remember.
What’s In Store For The Righteous (Believers)?
Now that we know the destiny of the wicked (those who refuse to accept Jesus as Lord) what about the believer (righteous). There will be eternal rewards in heaven for all believers. Those rewards will be different for each believer and depends on what they do after salvation.
2 Corinthians 5:10 (NLT)10 For we must all stand before Christ to be judged. We will each receive whatever we deserve for the good or evil we have done in this earthly body.
We don’t specifically know what those rewards will be but Jesus may have given us a glimpse in His parable about the talents in Matthew 25:14-30, where the Kingdom of God is described as a man going on a long trip and leaving money with three servants and then rewarding to of them for doubling the money for him and then punishing to one who did nothing at all. The point of the parable was that the two faithful servants were given more responsibilities and nothing for the third.
Matthew 25:20-23, 28-30 (NLT)20 The servant to whom he had entrusted the five bags of silver came forward with five more and said, ‘Master, you gave me five bags of silver to invest, and I have earned five more.’21 “The master was full of praise. ‘Well done, my good and faithful servant. You have been faithful in handling this small amount, so now I will give you many more responsibilities. Let’s celebrate together!’22 “The servant who had received the two bags of silver came forward and said, ‘Master, you gave me two bags of silver to invest, and I have earned two more.’23 “The master said, ‘Well done, my good and faithful servant. You have been faithful in handling this small amount, so now I will give you many more responsibilities. Let’s celebrate together!’28 “Then he ordered, ‘Take the money from this servant, and give it to the one with the ten bags of silver.29 To those who use well what they are given, even more will be given, and they will have an abundance. But from those who do nothing, even what little they have will be taken away.30 Now throw this useless servant into outer darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.’
I don’t believe that this parable suggests that salvation can be lost because the third servant was to be cast into outer darkness. Once God has given you the free gift of Salvation, once you have truly received Jesus as your Savior, the issue of your Salvation is no longer in question. Consequently this third servant could not represent a true believer but one who has the appearance of one. Like the tares Christ mentions in the parable of wheat and tares where the tares are allowed to grow with the wheat until the harvest when they will be separated and destroyed.
Matthew 13:24-32 (NLT)24 Here is another story Jesus told: “The Kingdom of Heaven is like a farmer who planted good seed in his field.25 But that night as the workers slept, his enemy came and planted weeds among the wheat, then slipped away.26 When the crop began to grow and produce grain, the weeds also grew.27 “The farmer’s workers went to him and said, ‘Sir, the field where you planted that good seed is full of weeds! Where did they come from?’28 “‘An enemy has done this!’ the farmer exclaimed. “‘Should we pull out the weeds?’ they asked.29 “‘No,’ he replied, ‘you’ll uproot the wheat if you do.30 Let both grow together until the harvest. Then I will tell the harvesters to sort out the weeds, tie them into bundles, and burn them, and to put the wheat in the barn.’”31 Here is another illustration Jesus used: “The Kingdom of Heaven is like a mustard seed planted in a field.32 It is the smallest of all seeds, but it becomes the largest of garden plants; it grows into a tree, and birds come and make nests in its branches.”
Salvation is free and given by God’s grace to those who by faith believe in His Son and His work on the cross. However there are rewards for believers based on their works for the Kingdom while on earth and John encourages us not to lose them.
2 John 1:4-8 (NLT)4 How happy I was to meet some of your children and find them living according to the truth, just as the Father commanded.5 I am writing to remind you, dear friends, that we should love one another. This is not a new commandment, but one we have had from the beginning.6 Love means doing what God has commanded us, and he has commanded us to love one another, just as you heard from the beginning.7 I say this because many deceivers have gone out into the world. They deny that Jesus Christ came in a real body. Such a person is a deceiver and an antichrist.8 Watch out that you do not lose what we have worked so hard to achieve. Be diligent so that you receive your full reward.
While there will be differences of rewards all believers will receive crowns. Dr. Charles Stanley in a devotion titled “Our Eternal Rewards” talks about these crowns;
The Crown of Victory. To finish life well, believers need Olympic endurance. Athletes in those ancient games received a perishable circlet of laurel leaves. But when we are effective in our God-given ministry and triumph over sin, we'll be given an imperishable crown
1 Corinthians 9:25-27 (NLT)25 All athletes are disciplined in their training. They do it to win a prize that will fade away, but we do it for an eternal prize.26 So I run with purpose in every step. I am not just shadowboxing.27 I discipline my body like an athlete, training it to do what it should. Otherwise, I fear that after preaching to others I myself might be disqualified.
The Crown of Exultation. The believers that we had a hand in bringing to Christ will be "our glory and joy" before the Lord
1 Thessalonians 2:18-20 (NLT)18 We wanted very much to come to you, and I, Paul, tried again and again, but Satan prevented us.19 After all, what gives us hope and joy, and what will be our proud reward and crown as we stand before our Lord Jesus when he returns? It is you!20 Yes, you are our pride and joy.
Just imagine how you will rejoice in heaven upon seeing and talking with the people who recognize your contribution to their spiritual development.
The Crown of Righteousness. The Christian life is not easy, but there is great reward for living righteously when facing temptation or hardship. Believers who pursue godliness are always thinking about the life to come and striving to meet God with a pure conscience
2 Timothy 4:5-8 (NLT)5 But you should keep a clear mind in every situation. Don’t be afraid of suffering for the Lord. Work at telling others the Good News, and fully carry out the ministry God has given you.6 As for me, my life has already been poured out as an offering to God. The time of my death is near.7 I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, and I have remained faithful.8 And now the prize awaits me—the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will give me on the day of his return. And the prize is not just for me but for all who eagerly look forward to his appearing.
The Crown of Life. Heartache and pain are unavoidable in this life, but we can take heart because much spiritual growth happens in adversity. Hang in there to receive the crown of life that the Lord promised to those who love Him
James 1:12 (NLT)12 God blesses those who patiently endure testing and temptation. Afterward they will receive the crown of life that God has promised to those who love him.
The rewards of service and crowns are what’s in store for all believers and they are forever. On the other hand there is eternal weeping and gnashing of teeth for those who refused to believe, no matter how healthy, successful, or prosperous they were in this life. That’s why I continue to trust God and His promises while those who don’t still prosper. Our destinies are final and forever.
Today many people are in love with themselves above all else, including God. Taking care of “numero uno” is the main thing. Self is the basic standard for truth. Today, society tells us the most charismatic and authentic individuals are those who are “true to self.” Psychologists push self-help titles about inner-acceptance both in academic circles and on mainstream bookshelves.
With this as the standard we believe that we can follow our own consciences no matter what anybody, including God, says. When we are faced with a decision that includes somebody other than ourselves in order to not feel guilty, if that decision has negative consequences for them, we bring to mind a statement, many think is in the Bible, to justify our the decision. That statement is “to thine own self be true”. Surprise, it’s not in the bible.
“To thine own self be true” originated in “Hamlet” the tragedy written by Shakespeare. Polonius, the older counselor of Prince Hamlet's uncle, King Claudius, is giving advice to his son Laertes (who was about to leave Denmark and return to France) when he says: "This above all things: to thine own self be true" (Hamlet, 3.1.81). Instead of this being license to let his conscience be his guide it was actually an indictment of Polonius’ character and not a sign of personal integrity. Quite different from the way we use the saying today.
We apply the saying by living our lives to ourselves and we don’t let anybody influence us to do anything you don’t want to do. On the other hand the Bible says;
Philippians 2:3-6 (NLT)3 Don’t be selfish; don’t try to impress others. Be humble, thinking of others as better than yourselves.4 Don’t look out only for your own interests, but take an interest in others, too.5 You must have the same attitude that Christ Jesus had.6 Though he was God, he did not think of equality with God as something to cling to.
Matthew 22:37-40 (NLT)37 Jesus replied, “‘You must love the LORD your God with all your heart, all your soul, and all your mind.’38 This is the first and greatest commandment.39 A second is equally important: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’40 The entire law and all the demands of the prophets are based on these two commandments.”
It’s impossible to be true to self above any and everybody and at the same time be true to God. If you are true to self above God then you can’t obey what Jesus said were these two greatest commandments. If we put ourselves first then we cancel out a “real” scripture. One we love to quote, especially when we give to the church and others.
Luke 6:38 (NLT)38 Give, and you will receive. Your gift will return to you in full—pressed down, shaken together to make room for more, running over, and poured into your lap. The amount you give will determine the amount you get back.”
If we were really true to ourselves we would give to others first. That is being true to God and others first and you can see what Jesus said is the result of putting others first. Putting others first doesn’t mean that we put ourselves into position to be manipulated by other’s greed or wants. When we are true to God and not ourselves we will allow Him to lead us.
Proverbs 3:5 (NLT)5 Trust in the LORD with all your heart; do not depend on your own understanding.
Personal integrity and authenticity are encouraged by the Bible but “being true” is linked to seeking after God’s glory – not our own.
How good is Polonius’ advice anyway? We can only trust our conscience to guide us as far as it is led by the Holy Spirit. Left to ourselves we are corrupt, bankrupt and completely unreliable.
Jeremiah 17:9 (NLT)9 “The human heart is the most deceitful of all things, and desperately wicked. Who really knows how bad it is?
Our example should be Jesus. He was all about love and putting others above Himself.
John 13:13-17, 34-35 (NLT)13 You call me ‘Teacher’ and ‘Lord,’ and you are right, because that’s what I am.14 And since I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you ought to wash each other’s feet.15 I have given you an example to follow. Do as I have done to you.16 I tell you the truth, slaves are not greater than their master. Nor is the messenger more important than the one who sends the message.17 Now that you know these things, God will bless you for doing them.34 So now I am giving you a new commandment: Love each other. Just as I have loved you, you should love each other.35 Your love for one another will prove to the world that you are my disciples.”
What is Truth Anyway?
Merriam-Webster defines truth as the quality or state of being true. The definition of true is to be in in accordance with fact or reality.
To know the truth you have to know the One who is Truth
John 14:6 (NLT)6 Jesus told him, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one can come to the Father except through me.
He said that He was the truth and the life which means “I am the way to God Almighty in that I am the truth and the life.
John 7:28 (NLT)28 While Jesus was teaching in the Temple, he called out, “Yes, you know me, and you know where I come from. But I’m not here on my own. The one who sent me is true, and you don’t know him.
Jesus and the Father, who are One, are Truth, the purest form of authenticity. To know truth you must know Jesus Christ because He is the center of the glory of God.
Where Does the Truth Come From?
John 7:38-39 (NLT)38 Anyone who believes in me may come and drink! For the Scriptures declare, ‘Rivers of living water will flow from his heart.’”39 (When he said “living water,” he was speaking of the Spirit, who would be given to everyone believing in him. But the Spirit had not yet been given, because Jesus had not yet entered into his glory.)
The Holy Spirit gives you the unique ability to discern truth from error, sort of like a built-in lie detector.
John 16:12-15 (NLT)12 “There is so much more I want to tell you, but you can’t bear it now.13 When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all truth. He will not speak on his own but will tell you what he has heard. He will tell you about the future.14 He will bring me glory by telling you whatever he receives from me.15 All that belongs to the Father is mine; this is why I said, ‘The Spirit will tell you whatever he receives from me.’
How Do You Get Truth?
John 8:31-32 (NLT)31 Jesus said to the people who believed in him, “You are truly my disciples if you remain faithful to my teachings.32 And you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.”
You get truth by believing in the One who is Truth, Jesus Christ.
Acts 4:12 (NLT)12 There is salvation in no one else! God has given no other name under heaven by which we must be saved.”
1 Timothy 2:5-6 (NLT)5 For there is only one God and one Mediator who can reconcile God and humanity—the man Christ Jesus.6 He gave his life to purchase freedom for everyone. This is the message God gave to the world at just the right time.
John 6:47-51 (NLT)47 “I tell you the truth, anyone who believes has eternal life.48 Yes, I am the bread of life!49 Your ancestors ate manna in the wilderness, but they all died.50 Anyone who eats the bread from heaven, however, will never die.51 I am the living bread that came down from heaven. Anyone who eats this bread will live forever; and this bread, which I will offer so the world may live, is my flesh.”
No, “to thine ownself be true” is not in the bible and it’s really not true at all. Truth is not something that changes from person to person or era to era, or culture to era. Truth is eternal and it matters. Truth is, as it said in John 7:28, the one who sent and revealed Himself in Jesus. When we abide in Him and listen to his Spirit then we know and have Truth. We are no longer concerned about self first and everybody and everything else, including God, second. That’s being free. That’s being real. That’s true authenticity. This is real Truth.
Can a Christian, someone who has the Holy Spirit dwelling them, be possessed?
1 Corinthians 6:19 (NLT) Don’t you realize that your body is the temple of the Holy Spirit, who lives in you and was given to you by God? You do not belong to yourself,
If this is true my question then, is how can an unclean spirit inhabit the same place as the Holy Spirit?
I wrote about binding and rebuking unclean spirits in another post “Can We Bind and Rebuke Satan - What Does The Bible Say?”
One point that I want to make right out of the box is that when I refer to the casting out of demons I’m talking about casting them out of the unbeliever. The believer can’t be possessed or be the dwelling place of a demon. I say that because as Paul says the believer’s body is the dwelling place of the Holy Spirit.
Think about it. Can a demon or an evil spirit dwell in the same place as God? Now that that is clear I want to quickly address those who believe that any illness that they have is the result of demonic presence. Again I say it is impossible for there to be any possession of any kind in the body of a believer. There can be and there is attack from outside the body but we are told to resist and the devil (that includes his demon friends) will flee.
James 4:7 (NKJV) Therefore submit to God. Resist the devil and he will flee from you.
Ephesians 6:13 (NKJV) Therefore take up the whole armor of God that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand.
One other point. Every illness, financial crisis, breakup, loss of job, or other unpleasant happening are not the result of demonic activity. Poor eating habits or dangerous activities may be the cause of sickness or accidents. Foolish financial decisions can result in financial crises. Downsizing of a company or an economic recession can cause loss of a job....you get the picture.
No Scriptural Evidence of Believers Possessed By Unclean Spirits
Never in the New Testament epistles are believers warned about the possibility of being possessed by demons. There are no references to anyone rebuking, binding, or casting demons from a believer. From unbelievers yes, but not from believers. The scriptures never even call believers to cast out demons at all.
This is from a post I published last year, “Can All Believers Cast Out Demons?”,
Mark 16:17-18 (NKJV) 17 And these signs will follow those who believe: In My name they will cast out demons; they will speak with new tongues; 18 they will take up serpents; and if they drink anything deadly, it will by no means hurt them; they will lay hands on the sick, and they will recover."
This is the scripture that many Christians, especially those in the word of faith and prosperity gospel movements, use to say that all believers have the ability, whether they use it or not, to perform exorcisms or cast out demons. They also use it for claiming universal authority for other things as well but those are not a subject of this post.
I first want to address Mark 16:17-18, the scripture that is most often used to assert that all Christians have been given the authority to “cast out”. My guess is that there is a note in your bible that reads something like; “The earliest manuscripts and some other ancient witnesses do not have Mark 16:9-20." This is another way of saying that these verses are not considered inspired scripture, and thus should not be used to build doctrines or to even preach on by themselves, since they are considered unreliable and were most likely added to the scriptures by some scribe. (For more information on this note see the complete post HERE)
Christ and the apostles were the only ones who cast out demons, and in every instance the possessed people were unbelievers. To be completely honest there is reference in scripture of individuals who were not Christians or followers of Jesus that cast out demons.
Matthew 12:27 (NLT) And if I am empowered by Satan, what about your own exorcists? They cast out demons, too, so they will condemn you for what you have said.
Acts 19:13-16 (NLT)13 A group of Jews was traveling from town to town casting out evil spirits. They tried to use the name of the Lord Jesus in their incantation, saying, “I command you in the name of Jesus, whom Paul preaches, to come out!”14 Seven sons of Sceva, a leading priest, were doing this.15 But one time when they tried it, the evil spirit replied, “I know Jesus, and I know Paul, but who are you?”16 Then the man with the evil spirit leaped on them, overpowered them, and attacked them with such violence that they fled from the house, naked and battered.
How Then Do You Explain The Actions Of many Believers If Not Unclean Spirits?
First some definitions;
Possession - the state of having, owning, or controlling something.
Demon possession involves a demon having direct/complete control over the thoughts and/or actions of a person
Matthew 17:14-18 (NLT)14 At the foot of the mountain, a large crowd was waiting for them. A man came and knelt before Jesus and said,15 “Lord, have mercy on my son. He has seizures and suffers terribly. He often falls into the fire or into the water.16 So I brought him to your disciples, but they couldn’t heal him.”17 Jesus replied, “You faithless and corrupt people! How long must I be with you? How long must I put up with you? Bring the boy to me.”18 Then Jesus rebuked the demon in the boy, and it left him. From that moment the boy was well.
To be possessed would mean that the unclean spirit has direct control of a person from the inside. This would mean there would be a degree of unusual actions resulting from some unnatural things going on in the mind or the body.
Oppression - prolonged cruel or unjust treatment or control.
Demon oppression or influence involves an unclean spirit or demon attacking a person spiritually and/or encouraging them into sinful behavior, but from the outside. In a blog series on Spiritual Warfare II write the this war takes place in the mind not the body. Mind here being your intellect not your brain.
While scripture indicates that a believer can’t be possessed by an unclean spirit a believer can be oppressed by unclean spirits. It’s also possible that they may be suffering from severe psychological problems which are not the result of unclean spirits at all. We have to be careful not to confuse possession or oppression with mental or behavioral illness although there may appear the same. I am not a Psychologist or a Psychiatrist so I am talking about possession and oppression not mental illness. In all instances where we are trying to determine possession, oppression, or mental illness we need to ask God for discernment. If you aren’t sure always try to refer the person to a professional.
Some Signs of Possible Oppression
Practicing sin can open a person up to having little control over certain aspects in their lives.. We forget sometimes that the old nature is still there in after salvation. The process of sanctification begins at conversion and continues until we die or Jesus returns. The old nature shows itself through our bodies, that’s why we are urged to crucify the flesh.
Galatians 5:24 (NLT) Those who belong to Christ Jesus have nailed the passions and desires of their sinful nature to his cross and crucified them there.
Romans 8:13 (NLT) For if you live by its dictates, you will die. But if through the power of the Spirit you put to death the deeds of your sinful nature, you will live.
Yielding to the desires of the flesh can bring you into bondage but is not the same as possession it is oppression. Much of what we blame on demonic activity is really us trying to excuse sin Unclean spirits can tempt us and exaggerate our fleshly weaknesses but when we yield to the temptation it’s our fault. We have the Holy Spirit and with Him we can overcome the temptation.
1 Corinthians 10:12-13 (NLT)12 If you think you are standing strong, be careful not to fall.13 The temptations in your life are no different from what others experience. And God is faithful. He will not allow the temptation to be more than you can stand. When you are tempted, he will show you a way out so that you can endure.
I addressed this subject in yet another post “Take Responsibility, Stop Blaming The Devil and Use The Power And Authority That You Have In Christ” Satan has a limit in dealing with a believer, it that wasn’t the case we would be are no better off than someone who was an unbeliever.
The Solution To Oppression
Believers are commanded to be filled by the Holy Spirit. To be filled is to be controlled completely by the Holy Spirit.
Ephesians 5:18 (NLT)18 Don’t be drunk with wine, because that will ruin your life. Instead, be filled with the Holy Spirit,
To be filled with the Holy Spirit you must allow yourself to be, dominated, and controlled by Him.
To be filled with the Spirit implies freedom for Him to occupy every part of your life, guiding and controlling you. Then His power can be exerted through you so that what you do is fruitful to God. Being filled the Spirit does not apply to outward acts alone; it also applies to the innermost thoughts and motives of your actions.
Psalm 19:14 (NLT)14 May the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be pleasing to you, O LORD, my rock and my redeemer.
That’s what it means when the scripture said,
Romans 8:6 (NLT) So letting your sinful nature control your mind leads to death. But letting the Spirit control your mind leads to life and peace.
Here is a way I describe being filled with or by the Holy Spirit;
If you put electrodes in a glass of water and apply an electric current to them the electricity excites the water and splits the molecules and separates them into water’s elements of hydrogen and oxygen and if you do it right it can create the energy necessary to operate a vehicle. When your spirit is under the control of the Holy Spirit you can do things you thought you could never do.
Again I say that Christians cannot be possessed by a demon, but we can be influenced and oppressed by one.
1 Peter 5:8 (NLT)8 Stay alert! Watch out for your great enemy, the devil. He prowls around like a roaring lion, looking for someone to devour.
he Apostle Peter himself is an example of a believer who was influenced by a Satan.
Matthew 16:22-23 (NKJV)22 Then Peter took Him aside and began to rebuke Him, saying, "Far be it from You, Lord; this shall not happen to You!"23 But He turned and said to Peter, "Get behind Me, Satan! You are an offense to Me, for you are not mindful of the things of God, but the things of men."
Peter was influenced not possessed and after submitting himself completely to Jesus he was used by Him to introduce salvation through Christ to the Gentiles.
John 21:17 (NKJV)17 He said to him the third time, "Simon, son of Jonah, do you love Me?" Peter was grieved because He said to him the third time, "Do you love Me?" And he said to Him, "Lord, You know all things; You know that I love You." Jesus said to him, "Feed My sheep.
When you come under attack from Satan, demons, or unclean spirits, and you will be, you aren’t told to bind or rebuke them but to resist them and if we resist them they will flee.
James 4:7 (NLT)7 So humble yourselves before God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you.
Editor's Note: This post was originally posted in September 2016 and was modified September 8, 2017.
A couple of sayings that I have written about about so far in this series actually contradict the Bible. “God helps those who help themselves” can keep us from admitting that we do need God’s help. “God will never give you more than you can bear”, can cause guilt and confusion. The saying in this post “Too err is human, to forgive divine”, isn’t in the Bible either, but while not in the Bible, it is a true statement.
The origin of the saying is from“An Essay on Criticism”, by Alexander Pope. Here’s the verse that includes the phrase.
If Wit so much from Ign'rance undergo,
Ah let not Learning too commence its Foe!
Of old, those met Rewards who cou'd excel,
And such were Prais'd who but endeavour'd well:
Tho' Triumphs were to Gen'rals only due,
Crowns were reserv'd to grace the Soldiers too.
Now, they who reached Parnassus' lofty Crown,
Employ their Pains to spurn some others down;
And while Self-Love each jealous Writer rules,
Contending Wits becomes the Sport of Fools:
But still the Worst with most Regret commend,
For each Ill Author is as bad a Friend.
To what base Ends, and by what abject Ways,
Are Mortals urg'd thro' Sacred Lust of praise!
Ah ne'er so dire a Thirst of Glory boast,
Nor in the Critick let the Man be lost!
Good-Nature and Good-Sense must ever join;
To err is Humane; to Forgive, Divine. (Bold mine)
All People Err (Sin, make mistakes)
Romans 3:23 (NLT) For everyone has sinned; we all fall short of God’s glorious standard.
1 John 1:8,10 (NLT)8 If we claim we have no sin, we are only fooling ourselves and not living in the truth. 10 If we claim we have not sinned, we are calling God a liar and showing that his word has no place in our hearts.
It’s in our human nature to sin and make mistakes and it’s in God’s divine nature to forgive us.
1 John 1:9-10 (NLT)9 But if we confess our sins to him, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all wickedness.
When we forgive others, especially those who we don’t think deserve forgiveness, those who have deeply hurt us so badly that the result of their action(s) stay with us for the rest of our lives, we are acting in a God-like manner.
Romans 5:8, 10 (NLT)8 But God showed his great love for us by sending Christ to die for us while we were still sinners.10 For since our friendship with God was restored by the death of his Son while we were still his enemies, we will certainly be saved through the life of his Son.
Here’s what I wrote in a post last year, “What Does The Bible Say? Does Forgiving Mean Forgetting?”
God wants us to forgive each other just like He has forgiven us through Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross. Once we do what it says in
Romans 10:9-10 (HCSB) 9 If you confess with your mouth, “Jesus is Lord,” and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved. 10 One believes with the heart, resulting in righteousness, and one confesses with the mouth, resulting in salvation.;
God treats us as though we never sinned at all and doesn’t hold our sins against us. So, in a sense, He “forgives and forgets.”
In the same way when we forgive we should act as though it never happened. We do still remember the offense, and we should learn from it, but to truly forgive, we should treat the person as though it never happened.
I realize that it’s impossible for us to do that on our own however we have the Holy Spirit in us that empowers us, to do what is impossible to do in our flesh.
It’s not natural for us to want to forgive, but we are not to continue to follow our natural desires and tendencies. That’s divine power.
Galatians 5:16-17 (NLT)16 So I say, let the Holy Spirit guide your lives. Then you won’t be doing what your sinful nature craves.17 The sinful nature wants to do evil, which is just the opposite of what the Spirit wants. And the Spirit gives us desires that are the opposite of what the sinful nature desires. These two forces are constantly fighting each other, so you are not free to carry out your good intentions.
A Methodist pastor, William Willimon once wrote “The human animal is not supposed to be good at forgiveness. Forgiveness is not some innate, natural human emotion. Vengeance, retribution, violence, these are natural human qualities. It is natural for the human animal to snarl and crouch into a defensive position when attacked, to howl when wronged, to bite back when bitten. Forgiveness is not natural.”
Here’s something else I found while doing the research for this post. At one time John Wesley met the governor of Georgia, General James Oglethorpe. In a conversation about one of the governor’s enemies, General Oglethorpe said, “I never forget, and I never forgive” John Wesley replied,”Then sir I hope you never sin.”
Think about that for a moment. The only person who can afford to never forgive is the one who never sins and needs forgiveness.
Forgiveness Is Not Easy
Without the power of the Holy Spirit forgiveness, in every case, is impossible. You hear people say all the time that “I just can’t forgive what they did to me.” They are right, you can’t, but with the Holy Spirit working through you can. I found these “Four Promises of Forgiveness” in “NO That’s NOT in the Bible”, by David O. Dykes.
Forgiveness Must Happen But Reconciliation May Not Happen
Romans 12:18 (NKJV) If it is possible, as much as depends on you, live peaceably with all men.
We can only do what we can do. We can’t control what others do or how they choose to respond. God requires us to take the first step and that is to forgive. Forgiveness requires one person to offer forgiveness. Reconciliation requires two people. One to forgive, one to accept the forgiveness.
That’s really the way that it works between God and us. God wants to be reconciled with everybody so He offers His grace and forgiveness universally and unilaterally.
2 Peter 3:9 (NLT) The Lord isn’t really being slow about his promise, as some people think. No, he is being patient for your sake. He does not want anyone to be destroyed, but wants everyone to repent.
That doesn’t mean that everybody will accept His forgiveness and grace because He has given us freewill so the choice to accept His forgiveness and grace is ours. Reconciliation with God doesn’t happen until we repent and accept His forgiveness and offer of salvation. He doesn’t even require that we do anything else other than to come just as we are and acceot His grace.
Isaiah 1:18 (NLT)18 “Come now, let’s settle this,” says the LORD. “Though your sins are like scarlet, I will make them as white as snow. Though they are red like crimson, I will make them as white as wool.
Joel 2:32 (NLT)32 But everyone who calls on the name of the LORD will be saved, for some on Mount Zion in Jerusalem will escape, just as the LORD has said. These will be among the survivors whom the LORD has called.
It’s the same way with us. When you forgive someone for something that they have done that has hurt you for no reason, you may feel that person doesn’t deserve forgiveness. However as God has done for you don’t wait until they come to you asking for forgiveness. With the help of the Holy Spirit you can choose to forgive them. If they accept the relationship will be reconciled. If they reject your forgiveness the two of you will not be reconciled but you have done all that God requires of you.
No the saying “To err is human, to forgive, divine” is not in the Bible. However we know that it is true that we must forgive, because God says if we don’t He won’t forgive us.
Matthew 6:14-15 (NLT)14 “If you forgive those who sin against you, your heavenly Father will forgive you.15 But if you refuse to forgive others, your Father will not forgive your sins.
In their book Boundaries, Dr. Henry Cloud and Dr. John Townsend, write that unforgiveness is the stupidest thing a person can do. They say “When you refuse to forgive someone, you still want something from that person, and even if it is revenge that you want, it keeps you tied to him [or her] forever,” You may think that you are hurting the person by not forgiving them, but the truth is that you are uptight, stressed-out,and sick at heart. If there’s someone you haven’t forgiven to it today.
As David Dykes said “To err is human and to forgive feels divine.”
Donald Jacobs is an ordained minister with the spiritual gift of teaching. He is the Associate Pastor of a non-denominational church in Los Angeles, CA.