Jesus washed the feet of his disciples to illustrate a point and to be an example
The story about Jesus washing the feet of his disciples should not be used as support for the idea that a few daily sins in a Christian person’s life is absolutely normal and something that can be washed away on a daily basis. Here is the story from John 13, and the time is just before the Passover when Jesus knew his hour was come:
John 13:5 After that he poureth water into a bason, and began to wash the disciples’ feet, and to wipe them with the towel wherewith he was girded.6 Then cometh he to Simon Peter: and Peter saith unto him, Lord, dost thou wash my feet?7 Jesus answered and said unto him, What I do thou knowest not now; but thou shalt know hereafter.8 Peter saith unto him, Thou shalt never wash my feet. Jesus answered him, If I wash thee not, thou hast no part with me.9 Simon Peter saith unto him, Lord, not my feet only, but also my hands and my head.10 Jesus saith to him, He that is washed needeth not save to wash his feet, but is clean every whit: and ye are clean, but not all.11 For he knew who should betray him; therefore said he, Ye are not all clean.12 So after he had washed their feet, and had taken his garments, and was set down again, he said unto them, Know ye what I have done to you?13 Ye call me Master and Lord: and ye say well; for so I am.14 If I then, your Lord and Master, have washed your feet; ye also ought to wash one another’s feet.15 For I have given you an example, that ye should do as I have done to you.16 Verily, verily, I say unto you, The servant is not greater than his lord; neither he that is sent greater than he that sent him.17 If ye know these things, happy are ye if ye do them.
Jesus does not express above that we constantly walk around with dirty feet (as in always walking around with minor sins) and that it is enough to get those symbolic feet washed once in a while in order to continue staying clean, holy and saved. Jesus has very high expectations on us, and he even told us to be perfect (Matt. 5:48). This “perfect” condition does not equal “to never ever having sinned, and to continue staying totally free of sin” because Jesus said this statement to his disciples and they had already sinned previously in their lives. However, it does mean that we can successfully refrain from sinning – for days, months, years and for ever. If we sin, it is never because we did not have power enough to avoid those sins. If we spend our days sinning and “repenting”, we clearly do not love Jesus since he told us “if ye love me, keep my commandments” (John 14:15).
Jesus expectations on us:
Mat. 5:48 Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect.
Mark 9:45 And if thy foot offend thee, cut it off: it is better for thee to enter halt into life, than having two feet to be cast into hell, into the fire that never shall be quenched
John 5:14 Afterward Jesus findeth him in the temple, and said unto him, Behold, thou art made whole: SIN NO MORE, lest a worse thing come unto thee.
John 8:11 She said, No man, Lord. And Jesus said unto her, Neither do I condemn thee: go, and SIN NO MORE.
John 14:21 He that hath my commandments, and keepeth them, he it is that loveth me: and he that loveth me shall be loved of my Father, and I will love him, and will manifest myself to him.— 23 Jesus answered and said unto him, If a man love me, he will keep my words: and my Father will love him, and we will come unto him, and make our abode with him.24 He that loveth me not keepeth not my sayings: and the word which ye hear is not mine, but the Father’s which sent me.
Luke 14:26 If any man come to me, and hate not his father, and mother, and wife, and children, and brethren, and sisters, yea, and his own life also, he cannot be my disciple.27 And whosoever doth not bear his cross, and come after me, cannot be my disciple.
Matt 10:22 And ye shall be hated of all men for my name’s sake: but he that endureth to the end shall be saved.
1 John 1:6 If we say that we have fellowship with him, and walk in darkness, we lie, and do not the truth:7 But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship one with another, and the blood of Jesus Christ his Son cleanseth us from all sin.8 If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us.9 If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.
Rev. 22:14 Blessed are they that do his commandments, that they may have right to the tree of life, and may enter in through the gates into the city.15 For without are dogs, and sorcerers, and whoremongers, and murderers, and idolaters, and whosoever loveth and maketh a lie.
Before Jesus washed the feet of his disciples he said “ye are clean, but not all” (John 13:10-11). The reason he said “Ye are not all clean” was because he knew that Judas would betray him, so clearly he could not have been clean. Sin always makes one unclean, and sin is what separates us from God. This is evidence enough that Jesus does not expect us to walk around semi-dirty but to stay clean. Also in John 15 Jesus declares that his disciples were clean, but he still warned them (and all of us) that they must make sure to abide in him like a branch in the vine, and that lack of fruit might result in being cut off from the vine. Jesus says “If ye keep my commandments, ye shall abide in my love”.
John 15:3 Now ye are CLEAN through the word which I have spoken unto you.4 Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself, except it abide in the vine; no more can ye, except ye abide in me.5 I am the vine, ye are the branches: He that abideth in me, and I in him, the same bringeth forth much fruit: for without me ye can do nothing.6 If a man abide not in me, he is cast forth as a branch, and is withered; and men gather them, and cast them into the fire, and they are burned.7 If ye abide in me, and my words abide in you, ye shall ask what ye will, and it shall be done unto you.8 Herein is my Father glorified, that ye bear much fruit; so shall ye be my disciples.9 As the Father hath loved me, so have I loved you: continue ye in my love.10 If ye keep my commandments, ye shall abide in my love; even as I have kept my Father’s commandments, and abide in his love.— 14 Ye are my friends, if ye do whatsoever I command you.
A little leaven leaveneth the whole lump
Jesus does not say that we only get one single chance to stay clean, but it is also true that we cannot have both our sins and our salvation too. A couple of verses to keep in mind:
1 Cor. 5:6 Your glorying is not good. Know ye not that a little leaven leaveneth the whole lump?
Gal. 5:9 A little leaven leaveneth the whole lump.
Washing feet is an example of a good deed that we can do to another
Jesus provided a good example when he washed the feet of his disciples, because it might be a distant idea that a Master will purposely “go down to the level” of his disciples and perform such a basic and dirty task. The more common idea is likely that it is the “low and poor” people who perform such tasks to the rich and famous, but in Jesus world it is often the other way around. The one who humbles himself is the greatest. If Jesus, who is God in flesh, is humble enough to wash the feet of his disciples, we too should follow his example. It does not have to be about washing feet, but what Jesus did was a great example and illustration. Jesus explains: “15 If I then, your Lord and Master, have washed your feet; ye also ought to wash one another’s feet.15 For I have given you an example, that ye should do as I have done to you.16 Verily, verily, I say unto you, The servant is not greater than his lord; neither he that is sent greater than he that sent him.17 If ye know these things, happy are ye if ye do them.” He also says:
Matt.23:11 But he that is greatest among you shall be your servant.12 And whosoever shall exalt himself shall be abased; and he that shall humble himself shall be exalted.
In the time of Jesus, in the Middle East, people used sandals and walked around on dry and dirt roads, resulting in dirty feet. Not so where I live in Sweden where it is not uncommon with snow and ice, as well as the existence of asphalt on the major roads where you go by car and not by feet. It is doubtful we would even consider it to be a pleasant and comfortable situation if someone would wash our warm and sweaty feet (and it would be so much easier if we did that ourselves in the shower), but during Biblical times it was common to wash ones feet (and hands) separately (sandals + dust/dirt = dirty feet) due to the necessity and to show respect.
Peter asks Jesus why he (Jesus) would not also wash his (Peter’s) hands and head, but that would have been losing the point of the illustration. If someone washes himself in the morning and goes out for an errand, it is usually not the hands and the head that become dirty and in need of a wash, but the feet – at least during this time and place. It is of more value to help someone in an area or situation where it is needed, rather than trying to improve something that needs no improvement. That would just be a waste of time.
Jesus says: ”He that is washed needeth not save to wash his feet, but is clean every whit: and ye are clean, but not all”, and this can be understood literally and/or symbolically. Just like the interpretation ”thou art Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church” – which can be understood literally and/or symbolically. What Jesus said was also factual, because washing the feet would be enough.
Another way to look at it is that it is not necessary to get rebaptized each time we sin. It is enough to confess our sins and repent – which means that we leave our old sinful man behind. Still, the story of John 13 tells us that Jesus washed the feet of his clean disciples. Besides, also clean people have a need to humble themselves and do good deeds to others.
The sinning woman in Luke 7 was forgiven and cleansed from her sins when she humbled herself, repented (a requirement for forgiveness) and showed her faith by doing good deeds:
Luke 7:37 And, behold, a woman in the city, which was a sinner, when she knew that Jesus sat at meat in the Pharisee’s house, brought an alabaster box of ointment,38 And stood at his feet behind him weeping, and began to wash his feet with tears, and did wipe them with the hairs of her head, and kissed his feet, and anointed them with the ointment.39 Now when the Pharisee which had bidden him saw it, he spake within himself, saying, This man, if he were a prophet, would have known who and what manner of woman this is that toucheth him: for she is a sinner.40 And Jesus answering said unto him, Simon, I have somewhat to say unto thee. And he saith, Master, say on.41 There was a certain creditor which had two debtors: the one owed five hundred pence, and the other fifty.42 And when they had nothing to pay, he frankly forgave them both. Tell me therefore, which of them will love him most?43 Simon answered and said, I suppose that he, to whom he forgave most. And he said unto him, Thou hast rightly judged.44 And he turned to the woman, and said unto Simon, Seest thou this woman? I entered into thine house, thou gavest me no water for my feet: but she hath washed my feet with tears, and wiped them with the hairs of her head.45 Thou gavest me no kiss: but this woman since the time I came in hath not ceased to kiss my feet.46 My head with oil thou didst not anoint: but this woman hath anointed my feet with ointment.47 Wherefore I say unto thee, Her sins, which are many, are forgiven; for she loved much: but to whom little is forgiven, the same loveth little.48 And he said unto her, Thy sins are forgiven.49 And they that sat at meat with him began to say within themselves, Who is this that forgiveth sins also?50 And he said to the woman, Thy faith hath saved thee; go in peace.
Acts 2:38 Then Peter said unto them, Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins, and ye shall receive the gift of the Holy Ghost.
Another example of washing feet:
1 Tim. 5:9 Let not a widow be taken into the number under threescore years old, having been the wife of one man.10 Well reported of for good works; if she have brought up children, if she have lodged strangers, if she have washed the saints’ feet, if she have relieved the afflicted, if she have diligently followed every good work.11 But the younger widows refuse: for when they have begun to wax wanton against Christ, they will marry;12 Having damnation, because they have cast off their first faith.13 And withal they learn to be idle, wandering about from house to house; and not only idle, but tattlers also and busybodies, speaking things which they ought not.14 I will therefore that the younger women marry, bear children, guide the house, give none occasion to the adversary to speak reproachfully.15 For some are already turned aside after Satan.
An unclean heart produces sin
Jesus explains that things that come out of someone might defile him, and he provides examples of things that make us unclean. From within, out of the heart of men, proceed evil thoughts …
Mark. 7:15 There is nothing from without a man, that entering into him can defile him: but the things which come out of him, those are they that defile the man.1—18 And he saith unto them, Are ye so without understanding also? Do ye not perceive, that whatsoever thing from without entereth into the man, it cannot defile him;19 Because it entereth not into his heart, but into the belly, and goeth out into the draught, purging all meats?20 And he said, That which cometh out of the man, that defileth the man.21 For from within, out of the heart of men, proceed evil thoughts, adulteries, fornications, murders,22 Thefts, covetousness, wickedness, deceit, lasciviousness, an evil eye, blasphemy, pride, foolishness:23 All these evil things come from within, and defile the man.
The tradition of washing feet
Here are some verses which show the Biblical tradition of washing feet.
Gen. 18:4 Let a little water, I pray you, be fetched, and wash your feet, and rest yourselves under the tree (Abraham)
Gen. 19:2 And he said, Behold now, my lords, turn in, I pray you, into your servant’s house, and tarry all night, and wash your feet, and ye shall rise up early, and go on your ways. And they said, Nay; but we will abide in the street all night. (Lot)
Gen. 24:29 And Rebekah had a brother, and his name was Laban: and Laban ran out unto the man, unto the well.30 And it came to pass, when he saw the earring and bracelets upon his sister’s hands, and when he heard the words of Rebekah his sister, saying, Thus spake the man unto me; that he came unto the man; and, behold, he stood by the camels at the well.31 And he said, Come in, thou blessed of the Lord; wherefore standest thou without? for I have prepared the house, and room for the camels.32 And the man came into the house: and he ungirded his camels, and gave straw and provender for the camels, and water to wash his feet, and the men’s feet that were with him. (Laban and his household)
Gen. 43:24 And the man brought the men into Joseph’s house, and gave them water, and they washed their feet; and he gave their asses provender.
Ex. 30:17 And the Lord spake unto Moses, saying,18 Thou shalt also make a laver of brass, and his foot also of brass, to wash withal: and thou shalt put it between the tabernacle of the congregation and the altar, and thou shalt put water therein.19 For Aaron and his sons shall wash their hands and their feet thereat:20 When they go into the tabernacle of the congregation, they shall wash with water, that they die not; or when they come near to the altar to minister, to burn offering made by fire unto the Lord:21 So they shall wash their hands and their feet, that they die not: and it shall be a statute for ever to them, even to him and to his seed throughout their generations.
Ex. 40:31 And Moses and Aaron and his sons washed their hands and their feet thereat
Deut. 1:9 But his inwards and his legs shall he wash in water: and the priest shall burn all on the altar, to be a burnt sacrifice, an offering made by fire, of a sweet savour unto the Lord.—13 But he shall wash the inwards and the legs with water: and the priest shall bring it all, and burn it upon the altar: it is a burnt sacrifice, an offering made by fire, of a sweet savour unto the Lord.
Judg. 19:20 And the old man said, Peace be with thee; howsoever let all thy wants lie upon me; only lodge not in the street.21 So he brought him into his house, and gave provender unto the asses: and they washed their feet, and did eat and drink.
1 Sam. 25:40 And when the servants of David were come to Abigail to Carmel, they spake unto her, saying, David sent us unto thee, to take thee to him to wife.41 And she arose, and bowed herself on her face to the earth, and said, Behold, let thine handmaid be a servant to wash the feet of the servants of my lord.42 And Abigail hasted, and arose and rode upon an ass, with five damsels of hers that went after her; and she went after the messengers of David, and became his wife.
2 Sam. 11:8 And David said to Uriah, Go down to thy house, and wash thy feet. And Uriah departed out of the king’s house, and there followed him a mess of meat from the king.
2 Sam. 19:24 And Mephibosheth the son of Saul came down to meet the king, and had neither dressed his feet, nor trimmed his beard, nor washed his clothes, from the day the king departed until the day he came again in peace.
Ps. 58:10 The righteous shall rejoice when he seeth the vengeance: he shall wash his feet in the blood of the wicked.
Song of Solomon 5:3 I have put off my coat; how shall I put it on? I have washed my feet; how shall I defile them?