Washing Feet – Revisited

He came to Simon Peter, who said to him, “Lord, are you going to wash my feet?”

Jesus replied, “You do not realize now what I am doing, but later you will understand.”

“No,” said Peter, “you shall never wash my feet.”

Jesus answered, “Unless I wash you, you have no part with me.”

“Then, Lord,” Simon Peter replied, “not just my feet but my hands and my head as well!”

Jesus answered, “Those who have had a bath need only to wash their feet; their whole body is clean. And you are clean, though not every one of you.” For he knew who was going to betray him, and that was why he said not every one was clean.

When he had finished washing their feet, he put on his clothes and returned to his place. “Do you understand what I have done for you?” he asked them. “You call me ‘Teacher’ and ‘Lord,’ and rightly so, for that is what I am. Now that I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also should wash one another’s feet. I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you. 

John 13:6-15

I love when the Lord shows me something new in a passage of scripture I’ve read a hundred times. I read the above passage the other day and felt like the Lord showed me something new. We tend to think of Jesus washing His disciples’ feet as an act of humble service whereby He then instructs His disciple to do the same for each other (that is, serve each other). But consider that there’s more that Jesus is addressing here. 

We know that Jesus isn’t just talking about personal hygiene. And I believe He’s talking about more than just service. When He’s talking about taking a bath, He’s really talking about baptism/salvation. He’s talking about the cleansing of the Holy Spirit. This is why Jesus says, “Unless I wash you, you have no part with me.

And when Jesus is talking about washing feet, He’s talking about the regular cleansing that we need even after we are saved. Jesus said, “Those who have had a bath (been saved) need only to wash their feet; their whole body is clean.” Meaning, we who are followers of Jesus have already been forgiven of all of our sin, and yet we still need a regular kind of cleansing because of our regular contact with sin and the contaminants of the world. We’ve been cleansed by the Holy Spirit from the inside out (our spiritual bath), yet we still get the muck and grime of the world on us simply by walking daily in the world. After we have had a “bath” we don’t need to get saved over and over again, but we do need a different kind of cleansing. We do need a foot washing.

We see this same kind of “dual cleansing” demonstrated by the priests at the Temple. First, they offered the sacrifices of animals to account for their sin. The spilling of blood addressed their guilt from sin. Yet, the priests also had to wash in the wash basin before entering the Holy Place. The washing with water addressed anything they may have had contact with that made them “unclean.” And these wash basins were made from bronze mirrors. They would have literally seen a reflection of themselves as they washed away the contaminants of the world with water. I don’t think it was an accident that a time of reflection accompanied this time of cleansing.

Jesus introduces a new kind of “dual cleansing” for the new priesthood of believers. First, baptism represents the full and total cleansing of our life from sin. Jesus’s blood is what would enable the Holy Spirit to come and bathe us in righteousness from the inside out. Then, a foot washing, which represents the ongoing need for forgiveness, repentance, and cleansing from the muck of the world.

Not only do we need a spiritual “foot washing,” a regular kind of repentance and cleansing, but this cleansing is something we believers can offer to each other. Jesus commands, “…you also should wash one another’s feet.” We not only are called to serve each other humbly, but we are called to participate in helping each other stay clean. The cleansing water is the Holy Spirit, and He does what only the Spirit can do. Yet, we can participate in this by metaphorically washing each other’s feet.

I have seen the reality of this kind of cleansing happen over and over in the prayer ministry we have at our church. People come in for prayer with the muck of sin and the muck of the world caked on them. They feel ashamed and defeated. They feel oppressed and depressed. They know there is more to this Christian life than what they are experiencing but they just can’t seem to tap into it. They are followers of Jesus who have been bathed in the waters of baptism, but they still need a foot washing for their soul.

Then we start praying, and the increased Presence of the Holy Spirit begins to be poured out. We as prayer ministers bend low to wash feet and the cleansing power of the Spirit does His work. I watch as time and again people get set free from sin, free from shame, free from unforgiveness and hurt, free from the heavy weight pressing down on their shoulders, free from the heaviness on their chest that keeps them from taking a full breath. As the cleansing water of the Spirit is poured out, the Light comes, lightness is felt, freedom is experienced, hope returns, and a cleansing takes place right in front of us.

When Jesus taught us to wash each other’s feet, I do think he had in mind humble service. But I also think He had in mind ministry that brings freedom and cleansing, ministry that one believer can offer to another. We have the honor of ushering in the cleansing power of the Spirit for each other if we are willing to bend low. This ministry of cleansing is the ministry of washing feet and inviting the Holy Spirit to come and wash souls.

Analogy

“I baptize you with water for repentance. But after me comes one who is more powerful than I, whose sandals I am not worthy to carry. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire.

Matthew 3:11

Having experienced what some Christian traditions call “baptism in the Spirit” or “being filled with the Spirit” (Acts 2:4; Ephesians 5:18), I have spent years searching for ways to explain it. Before I experienced it, I felt that it had been explained poorly by many in the church, so I set out to find as many analogies as I could to describe it. In simple terms, it is when a person who has the Holy Spirit within them gets flooded by the Holy Spirit coming upon them. It’s not that we get “more” of the Holy Spirit but that the Spirit gets more of us.

  1. Lightening Strike: When a positive streamer coming up from the ground (Holy Spirit within us) meets with a step leader coming down from the cloud (Holy Spirit upon us) and creates an explosion in the air that we call lightening.
  2. Flood: When the water in the lake (Holy Spirit within us) experiences torrential rain (Holy Spirit upon us) to the point where the dam breaks and floods the area.
  3. Temple: Baptism in the Spirit is when the curtain between the Most Holy Place (our spirit) and the Holy Place (our soul – mind, will, emotions) gets torn in two and the Holy Spirit breaks out from our spirit, into our soul and body (outer courts).
  4. Exodus: Israel not only went through the waters of the Red Sea setting them free from slavery, they also went through the waters of the Jordan River as they stepped into their promised inheritance. We not only are baptized by water, symbolizing cleansing from being enslaved to sin, but we are baptized by the Spirit, allowing us to step into the inheritance of the Kingdom that God has for us.
  5. Chocolate Milk: When we put chocolate syrup in the milk, it all goes in but it doesn’t mean we have chocolate milk yet. It all rests at the bottom of the glass. It’s not until the chocolate syrup is stirred up that it infuses through the whole glass of milk. Likewise we have all of the Spirit when we get saved. Baptism of the Spirit is when the Spirit upon us stirs up the Spirit within us and causes it to spread throughout our whole being. The result is something new.
  6. Popcorn: A kernel of popcorn has a tiny droplet of water inside it. When it is heated to a certain point it pops. Though nothing was “added” to the popcorn, it has become something completely different. It is flipped inside out. The pressure from the internal steam cooks it and pops it open. Baptism in the Spirit is when a Christian gets set on fire to the point of “popping.”
  7. Soda: When a cap is on a soda, even if you shake it up, it doesn’t overflow. But if you shake it up and then twist the cap, the internal carbonation starts bubbling up and overflowing. Baptism in the Spirit is when someone with the Spirit within (carbonation) gets shaken by the Spirit upon them and the cap gets removed causing an overflow. The cap is often something in our lives that has been resisting God in some way. It’s different for each person.

I hope these help. If not, I’ll continue to seek the Lord for better ways to describe this work that He does in our life.