Jesus was the greatest teacher of all time. His methods of teaching were so effective because He was able to use simple real-life common activities and events to explain profound and complex theological truths. In the last hours of His life during the Last Supper, Jesus rose to wash his disciples’ feet (John 13:1-17). This was an incredible act of love as the worthy one served the unworthy ones. During this act of service Jesus explains to Peter the great truths of salvation in a way that even children can understand.
Jesus Came to Serve by Washing Us!
At first Peter was hesitant to allow Jesus to serve him. Maybe it was out of humility that Peter refused, but more likely it was a result of Peter’s pride. Certainly, Peter understood that Jesus was the Son of God. When asked by Jesus, “Who do you say that I am?” Peter said clearly, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God” (Matthew 16:16). Peter understood clearly that Jesus was no mere man and that he was a “sinful man” (Luke 5:8). When it came time for Jesus to wash his feet, Peter knew that this was a task reserved for slaves and he quickly opposed Jesus. But Peter did not rightly understand what the Son of Man came to do. Jesus humbled himself and took on human flesh in order that He might serve His people (Philippians 2:6-8). He laid aside His divine rights as He left heaven and came to serve and “give His life as a ransom for many” (Mark 10:45). Jesus was clearly illustrating not with words but with actions that He must serve them (John 10:11).
And the service that Jesus came to do was to “wash us.” The work of Jesus on the cross was a service of cleansing, not from dirt and grime, but from the filth of sin. When Peter opposed Jesus, Jesus made it very clear to Peter and all of us the consequences of rejecting His ministry. Jesus said, “If I do not wash you, you have no share with me” (Jn 13:8). Jesus uses the physical washing to illustrate a spiritual truth. Rejecting Jesus’ ministry of cleansing is an outright rejection of Christ. Jesus is saying clearly that there is no other way to be saved. Jesus has the exclusive rights of spiritual cleansing. There is no other way to be cleansed. In fact you cannot even wash yourself! So many people are trying to clean up their own lives by the way the live. It is impossible to do so! There has to be a cleansing that comes from outside of us. Only the work of Christ is capable of washing away our sin (Hebrews 10:4, 10-14).
Many Will Refuse to be Washed
Sadly, most will not allow Jesus to wash them because of the pride in their hearts. It is a humiliating thing to have to admit that washing is needed. But because we are sinners and live in this filthy world, we need someone to wash us. Salvation is available only to those who are humble enough to cry out for mercy and ask Jesus to wash them (Luke 18:9-14).
Good News: Believers Only Need One Bath
When Jesus chided Peter, Peter responded with a willing heart, but with a misinformed mind. Peter tells Jesus not just to wash his feet, but also his hands and his head (v. 9) indicating that he had not fully understood the work of salvation. Jesus clears up the issue by telling Peter the wonderful good news that true believers don’t need a second bath. He says to Peter, “The one who has bathed does not need to wash, except for his feet, but is completely clean. And you are clean, but not every one of you.” It is certain that Peter didn’t understand the full implication of what Jesus was telling him. But in short, Jesus was saying that Peter had already been saved. And once he was saved there was no need for further bathing. The bath of salvation for true believers is a one-time event, never to be repeated again.
Understanding Regeneration & Justification
Jesus is explaining, in parable form, the doctrine of regeneration and justification. When a sinner puts his faith in Christ, he experiences the “washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit, whom [God] poured out on us rightly through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that being justified by his grace we might become heirs according to the hope of eternal life” (Titus 3:5). In a word, the first bath Christians ever have is the bath of being “born again.” And as a result, God justifies us, not by our works but by our faith (Romans 5:1). So, when Jesus tells Peter that he and the other disciples (except for Judas) are “completely clean” He is assuring them of their salvation. This event would never take place again! It was complete and finished.
Can you imagine Jesus telling you that you are completely clean? This is a phenomenal statement that describes eternal security. Jesus knew that Peter was going to deny Him three times in just a few hours. Jesus knew that all of the other disciples were going to abandon Him in His greatest hour. Jesus knew that Thomas was going to doubt His resurrection. And yet, Jesus gives them all this wonderful affirmation that they had been cleansed. This cleansing was not based upon their work, but the work of Christ. He had chosen them and they were His sheep and no one could pluck them out of His hand (Jn 10:27-30). He promised to raise them up on the last day (Jn 6:39-40). Being “washed” by Jesus guarantees a person’s eternal destiny.
Continual Feet Washing: Ongoing Sanctification
Jesus continues to teach the disciples and us that though we are clean (justification) there is still an ongoing daily cleansing (sanctification) that is necessary. Jesus tells Peter, “the one who has bathed does not need to wash, except for his feet” (v. 10). In the days of Jesus, people wore open toed sandals and their feet were continually in need of washing especially when a house was entered. Their bodies were clean but their feet needed cleansing on a regular basis. While justification is a one-time event never to happen again for the believer, the process of sanctification is an ongoing lifetime process that never ends until the believer reaches heaven.
Washing our feet daily is not necessary to maintain our legal standing with God, but it is necessary to maintain our fellowship with God. Once we are adopted into the family of God there is nothing that can change our position. Once we are children of God we will never be lost. But as children of God we should desire to remain faithful and holy to the Lord. Inevitably, whether intentionally or accidentally, we are going to get our feet dirty with sin from this world. In order to have our feet washed we must “confess our sins” knowing that “He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:9). This is the prayer of daily cleansing (NOT a prayer to be saved all over again). Jesus teaches us in the Lord’s Prayer that we are to ask God to “give us this day our daily bread and forgive us our debts as we have forgiven our debtors” (Matthew 6:12). This is not a daily prayer for justification, but a daily prayer for sanctification. We must make daily cleansing a routine practice in our lives, confessing our sins daily so that we will not grieve or quench the Holy Spirit (Eph 4:30, 1 Thess 5:19)
When we understand the simple teaching of Jesus it ought to bring us incredible comfort. As believers we have been completely washed, but this does not mean that we will be without sin (1 Jn 1:8). If we have been washed we will continually battle against becoming dirty. Having been washed we will desire to strive toward holiness. In fact, the mark of a true Christian is that they do not continue to practice sin (1 Jn 3:9-10). But when we do sin, we can be comforted to know that we have been washed and nothing can change our position. This should motivate us to strive to keep our feet as clean as possible in this world as we march toward Zion, the beautiful city of God.