For the first dozen summers that I can remember, I rarely wore shoes. Playing all day in the yard would cover the bottoms of my bare feet with a thick layer of dark grime. Even when I had started the day with a shower, there hardly a summertime call for dinner that I didn’t have to get the garden hose and wash my feet.
In this I have a familiar connection with the ancient world. Shoes generally consisted of opened toed strapping, and travel was, by and large, on foot. It was common to need a little water to wash the day’s accumulation from them when entering a house. Jesus and his disciples were accustomed to this need.
Jesus uses the analogy of feet washing to teach a very important lesson. In this chapter we will discover the difference between the spiritual meaning of taking a bath and washing our feet. Although, there are a few references to feet being washed in the New Testament, there is no narrative more famous than the one we find in John 13:5-10.
He poured water into a basin and began to wash the disciples’ feet, and to wipe them with the towel with which He was girded. Then He came to Simon Peter. And Peter said to Him, “Lord, are You washing my feet?”
Jesus answered and said to him, “What I am doing you do not understand now, but you will know after this.”
Peter said to Him, “You shall never wash my feet!”
Jesus answered him, “If I do not wash you, you have no part with Me.”
Simon Peter said to Him, “Lord, not my feet only, but also my hands and my head!”
Jesus said to him, “He who is bathed needs only to wash his feet, but is completely clean; and you are clean, but not all of you.”1
A flabbergasted Peter is concerned and confused by what Jesus decides to do. He can’t seem to grasp why the Lord, the great Messiah, would want to wash his feet. After protesting, Peter discovers that skipping this washing would have a big consequence. Jesus says, “If I do not wash you, you have no part with Me.”
Based on the context and the Greek, the meaning here is not one which has salvation in view. Instead Jesus could be understood to be saying that Peter would be giving up his place among the disciples and forfieghting his portion. There was much to be gained by being a disciples and Peter quickly changed his tune. Basically what follows is Peter’s request for a full sponge bath. He says, “Lord, not my feet only, but also my hands and my head!”
In trying to compensate for his ignorance Peter overshoots and reaches too far. This is an important point on which Jesus rests his teaching. We know, from Jesus’ words, that the washing of the feet is connected to discipleship. What’s fascinating is that Jesus makes a clear distinction between foot washing and bathing.
Jesus says, “He who is bathed needs only to wash his feet, but is completely clean; and you are clean, but not all of you.”2 Here we find that Jesus’ foot washing ceremony represents actions that must be taken if someone wants to take part in a life of discipleship. However, a bath is something that all the disciples, except Judas, had already done and never needed to do again.
In the previous chapter we discussed the meaning of positional forgiveness and daily forgiveness. We hear a clear and resounding echo of those concepts in Jesus’ teaching. The bath represents salvation. We know that that Peter had already become a saved believer by this point.3 Now Jesus identifies 11 of the twelve as having become so as well. He then explains that the bath is a one time event. It need not take place a second time.
I have heard many over zealous preachers attempt to convince a congregation that they may, in fact, be unsaved. I’ve even heard fringe candidates claim that you could be saved at one time, but then lose that saved status. Jesus rejects this logic when he claims that a bath need only happen once. We discover, therefore that salvation is a one time event. Not only does it not need to be done twice, it is impossible for salvation to happen a second time. Certainly there are many who have wasted years of their lives wondering and fretting that they may not be saved. We should take comfort in the fact that it happens once, and then it never needs to take place again.
However, there is something that we must do on a regular basis, washing our feet. As we mentioned before, the washing of the feet has to do with taking part in a life of discipleship, and the reward attached. This lesson that Christ delivered was particularly important at this moment for the disciples.
For, that same night he would be arrested, and all but one would abandon him. Peter would deny that he knew him thrice. In light of this, it would be easy for the disciples to believe that they had been cast out of their positions of discipleship. In fact, they might have even doubted their own salvation during the three days that Jesus remained in the grave. However, Jesus wanted them to remember this lesson. First all things are forgiven before God in a legal sense, and all things are forgivable that could block fellowship between the disciple and Christ.
He wanted to remind them that their salvation would not be jeopardized, no matter how they performed over the next 72 hours. That is a picture of positional forgiveness.4 What’s even more astounding is that even the sins and shortcomings they would commit would not stand between them and Christ if they were willing to seek daily forgiveness.5 How powerful the forgiveness of Christ, not only in a judicial sense but in a relational sense.
One final thing that we discover from these verses is that the bath and the washing of feet are two different things. They, therefore, must have two different methods for achieving them. The bath that Jesus discusses, their salvation, happened when each of these individuals put their faith in Jesus. When they believed in him for everlasting life, they received it right then and there. That is the moment that they took their spiritual bath. It’s not wonder that Jesus told disciples to get baptized, because hardly anything illustrates this spiritual bath better than taking a public bath.
However, the method for obtaining the washing of the feet is not the same as the method for obtaining the bath. Washing of the feet represents a relationship that is ever growing closer between a disciple and his master. So, those who seek daily forgiveness by confession in prayer get their feet washed by their master daily. John put it this way in his first letter,
If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.6
How fantastic, that when a saved person confesses their sin to their savior in prayer, he does what he did for Peter and the other disciples. He washes their feet. The one who is saved doesn’t need to get saved again. Instead, the saved person needs a daily foot washing.
We discovered in this chapter that a bath represents the forgiveness we get at the moment of salvation, where feet washing represents the daily forgiveness a disciple gets when he confesses his sins to Christ. This simple distinction will allow us have confidence in our salvation, and grow in our discipleship.
1 John 13:5–10.
2 John 13:5–10.
3 Mark 8:29
4 See the previous chapter for an explanation of positional forgiveness.
5 See the previous chapter for an explanation of daily forgiveness.
6 1 John 1:9.