Be Washed So You Can Wash

July 1, 2021 | by: Dale Thiele | 0 Comments

Posted in: Pastoral Encouragement

When we think of the foot-washing of Jesus, we most likely think of his follow up command in John 13:14, “If I then, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet.” In a sense, the foot-washing becomes a model of the Christian ethic. For in this one act, core Christian ethics are all wrapped up: Love for others. Humility. Self-sacrifice. Service. And Jesus performs this action for this express purpose: “For I have given you an example, that you also should do just as I have done to you” (v. 15). 

This last week, however, we saw in Jesus’ interaction with Peter two other meanings behind the foot-washing. First, this act foreshadows Jesus’ atoning sacrifice on the cross, which truly washes away our sin. Jesus says in verse 8, “If I do not wash you, you have no share with me.” There are no blessings in Christ for us unless he washes away our sin. Second, the act illustrates the ongoing renewal we experience in Christ. He says in verse 10, “The one who has bathed does not need to wash, except for his feet, but is completely clean.” When we first place our faith in Jesus as our Savior, we are washed from the guilt of sin and united to Christ. Yet, we still sin. This second meaning shows that as we come to Christ in faith, he renews us; little by little sin diminishes and holiness grows. 

Why does Jesus then sit down and say to his disciples, “you also ought to wash one another’s feet”? We cannot wash away one another’s sins. We cannot renew one another in our relationship with God. What is the connection between the theological meaning of the foot-washing and the ethical meaning? 

This is another instance in Scripture where who we are in Christ precedes what we do for Christ. Christ assures his disciples that they have a share with him and they are clean before he commands them to serve. They do not need to serve like him in order to be clean and have a share in his inheritance. This order and distinction are vital for Christianity. We are clean first and then we are called to serve. 

It is not only a logical order, though. It speaks to the source of power for serving. The call to wash one another’s feet is incredibly challenging.* What will motivate and strengthen you for this challenge? The answer is in the first two meanings of the foot-washing. Jesus has cleansed you for you have a share with him, a share in the blessings of God. He continues to serve you in order to renew you day by day as you depend on the grace of the Holy Spirit. The service of Jesus enables you to serve others. 

If we are like Peter, however, resisting the service of Christ or dictating to Christ, we will miss out on the empowering grace of Christ. Let us humbly and gratefully receive the grace of Christ and so be equipped for humble, sacrificial, loving service of one another. 

*I will not take the time here to explain, but the foot-washing should not be taken literally. It is symbolic of any humble, self-sacrificial, loving service for another.


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