The apostle wrote, "Therefore leaving the elementary teaching about the Christ, let us press on to maturity, not laying again a foundation of repentance from dead works and of faith toward God, of instruction about washings and laying on of hands, and the resurrection of the dead and eternal judgment." (Heb 6:1-2). These are six elementary teachings about Christ that are considered foundational. Notice that he said "instruction about washings" using the plural form and not the singular form of "washing". When we read this we usually think of water baptism, which is one washing. But I believe I can prove to you from Scripture that the apostle here spoke of both baptism and foot washing.
"Now before the Feast of the Passover, Jesus knowing that His hour had come that He would depart out of this world to the Father, having loved His own who were in the world, He loved them to the end. During supper, the devil having already put into the heart of Judas Iscariot, the son of Simon, to betray Him, Jesus, knowing that the Father had given all things into His hands, and that He had come forth from God and was going back to God, *got up from supper, and *laid aside His garments; and taking a towel, He girded Himself. Then He *poured water into the basin, and began to wash the disciples' feet and to wipe them with the towel with which He was girded. So He *came to Simon Peter. He *said to Him, "Lord, do You wash my feet?" Jesus answered and said to him, "What I do you do not realize now, but you will understand hereafter." Peter *said to Him, "Never shall You wash my feet!" Jesus answered him, "If I do not wash you, you have no part with Me." Simon Peter *said to Him, "Lord, then wash not only my feet, but also my hands and my head." Jesus *said to him, "He who has bathed needs only to wash his feet, but is completely clean; and you are clean, but not all of you." For He knew the one who was betraying Him; for this reason He said, 'Not all of you are clean.'" (Joh 13:1-11)
There are some key points I want to highlight. Peter forbid the Lord to wash his feet initially. But the Lord told him that unless He washed Peter's feet, he had no part with Him. Then Peter insisted that the Lord not only wash his feet, but his hands and head. Interesting character that Peter was! He tended to make radical statements like that. One minute he insisted the Lord would never wash his feet. Next minute he wanted the Lord to give him a bath. But the Lord told Peter that he had already bathed, which was obviously referring back to his initial repentance and baptism. Even Jesus was baptized to fulfill all righteousness, so we can be sure that Peter and the other disciples were baptized also. The Lord assured him he was already clean, with the exception of Judas who was not clean. Jesus said that he who has had a bath needs only to wash his feet. The key point here is that one who has been cleansed initially upon coming to Christ does still need to wash his feet. As the Lord said, unless He washed their feet they would have no part with Him, so this was necessary.
The gospel passage continues, "So when He had washed their feet, and taken His garments and reclined at the table again, He said to them, 'Do you know what I have done to you? You call Me Teacher and Lord; and you are right, for so I am. If I then, the Lord and the Teacher, washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another's feet. For I gave you an example that you also should do as I did to you. Truly, truly, I say to you, a slave is not greater than his master, nor is one who is sent greater than the one who sent him. If you know these things, you are blessed if you do them." (Joh 13:12-17)
The key points I want to highlight here are that if Jesus, the Lord and the Teacher, washed His disciples' feet, we also ought to wash one another's feet. It's that simple. For He gave us an example that we also should do as He did to His disciples.We are not greater than our Master. But it's not enough just to know these things. Jesus said that if you know these things, you are blessed if you do them. He was clearly expecting His disciples to do this to one another.
When Jesus said, “You also ought to wash one another's feet” (Joh 13:14), the Greek word for “ought” is “opheilo”, which means “to be under obligation (ought, must, should); be bound, duty, be indebted, must needs, or owe.” That makes it clear the Lord taught the necessity of foot washing among the saints. His words to Peter were that he could have no part in Christ unless Jesus washed his feet.
In order to better explain Christ's teaching about foot washing, I will put it into a table format and show you verse by verse:
Baptism and Foot Washing Analogies
I'd like to present to you the various baptism and foot washing analogies used in this passage, and their meanings in the following chart, in order to better help you correlate them together:
|Scripture text||Corresponding Analogy||Type of Washing||Purpose of washing||Meaning of text|
|“He who has bathed…is completely clean”
|Bath||Water baptism||To make the person completely clean||Water baptism cleanses a person entirely. There is no need to be water baptized a second time.|
|“He…needs only to wash his feet”
|Foot washing||Foot washing||To cleanse the feet||Foot washing cleanses a person where their walk has not been perfectly clean.|
|“…And you are clean…”
|Bath||Water baptism||To make the person completely clean||All the disciples had been water baptized and were clean.|
|“…But not all of you… For He knew the one who was betraying Him; for this reason He said, ‘Not all of you are clean.’"
|Bath||Water baptism||To make the person completely clean||Judas was not clean, although he had been baptized.|
|"I do not speak of all of you…'he who eats my bread has lifted up his heel against me.'”
“Jesus…became troubled in spirit, and testified… ‘…one of you will betray Me."
|Bath||Water baptism||To make the person completely clean||Judas (baptized yet not clean) would betray Jesus|
|"If I then, the Lord and the Teacher, washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another's feet.”
|Foot washing||Foot washing||To cleanse the feet||As the Lord our Teacher washed His disciples’ feet, His disciples ought to wash one another’s feet.|
|"For I gave you an example that you also should do as I did to you.”
|Foot washing||Foot washing||To cleanse the feet||As the Lord our Teacher washed His disciples’ feet, His disciples ought to wash one another’s feet.|
|"If you know these things, you are blessed if you do them.”
|Foot washing||Foot washing||To cleanse the feet||If His disciples know they ought to wash one another’s feet, and they do so, they are blessed.|
|“the elementary teaching about the Christ …instruction about washings…” (Heb 6:2)||Washings||Water baptism and foot washing||To cleanse||Since the word “washings” (Greek baptismos) is plural, and the Greek may refer to baptism, washing, or ceremonial washing, this text probably means that new believers must be instructed about water baptism and foot washing.|
|“…cleansing her by the washing with water through the Word…”(Eph 5:26a, NIV)||Washing||Water baptism and foot washing||To cleanse||Just as the Lord washes His Bride through the power of His Word, cleansing her from the guilt and power of sin in the waters of baptism, foot washing has a similar purpose for those who are already clean through baptism.|
|“…to present her to himself as a radiant church, without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish, but holy and blameless.”(Eph 5:26b, NIV)||Washing||Water baptism and foot washing||To cleanse||The Lord’s purpose in water baptism (and foot washing) is to present His Bride, to Himself as a radiant Church without stain or wrinkle, but holy and blameless.|
Baptism Itself Does Not Save You
As we see from the example of Judas Iscariot, he was not clean, although he had been baptized. So water baptism itself does not cleanse you. Unless there is genuine repentance, accompanied by saving faith in Christ, water baptism is merely a ceremony. Although Judas was water baptized, he still continued to help himself to the money bag (Joh 12:6), which is stealing; and the Scripture says that thieves will not inherit the kingdom of God (1 Cor 6:9-10). He also betrayed the Lord, and Jesus said that it would be better for him if he had never been born (Mt 26:24). Jesus said that not everyone who says to Him, "Lord, Lord" will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of His Father in heaven (Mt 7:21). Therefore, Peter said that Judas left his ministry as an apostle to go to the place where he belongs (Ac 1:25), which is in hell, where he has been tormented since that time.
Foot Washing Does Not Save You
I would like to build on my last point in order to emphasize something about foot washing. Just as water baptism itself does not save you, neither does foot washing. In other words, if you religiously practice this ceremony, and have no genuine repentance and saving faith in Christ, then it is meaningless. You might as well be washing windows. But if you are a true disciple, then you will be blessed if you wash the feet of other disciples.
Foot Washing Unto the Lord
When a disciple washes another disciple's feet, they are actually washing the feet of Jesus. For He said, "Truly I say to you, to the extent that you did it to one of these brothers of Mine, even the least of them, you did it to Me." (Mt 25:40). So I ask those of you who are still hesitant to do this, why wouldn't you want to wash the feet of Jesus, if you truly love Him? As Paul said, "Whatsoever you do, do it heartily, as to the Lord, and not unto men..." (Col 3:23, KJV). Therefore, wash one another's feet with all your heart!
Foot Washing is a Mark of Godliness
Moreover, in Paul's epistle to Timothy, he cites "washing the feet of the Lord’s people" as a mark of a godly woman, which is one criterion that determines whether a widow should be put on the list of those truly in need of assistance from the Church (1 Tim 5:10). Yet how many saints today wash the feet of the Lord's people? It's rare to find such a person any more.
Foot Washing for a Spotless, Holy Bride
As I mentioned already, the apostle Paul said, "...Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her to make her holy, cleansing her by the washing with water through the word, and to present her to himself as a radiant church, without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish, but holy and blameless." (Eph 5:25b-26, NIV). While I believe the expression "washing with water" refers to water baptism, it may also refer secondarily to foot washing.
If the "washing with water" that Paul spoke of refers to both baptism and foot washing, as I believe it does, then this gives even greater meaning to the practice of foot washing. It also agrees with what Jesus said to His disciples when he taught them the importance of foot washing (Joh 13:10, 14). Just as the Lord washes His Bride through the power of His Word (Eph 5:26; Joh 15:3; 17:17), cleansing her from the guilt and power of sin in the waters of baptism, foot washing may serve a similar (though not identical) purpose for those who are already clean through baptism. His purpose is to present His Bride as a radiant Church without stain or wrinkle, but holy and blameless. Therefore, foot washing may play a role in the ongoing sanctification of our body, soul, and spirit, so that we are kept blameless at the coming of our Lord.
"May God himself, the God of peace, sanctify you through and through. May your whole spirit, soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. The one who calls you is faithful, and he will do it." (1 Thes 5:23-24, NIV).
Could it be that foot washing is to our sanctification as water baptism is to our salvation? I think there is a strong case from Scripture to support that notion. If it is so, we understand that, as with water baptism, it is an outward visible sign of an inward spiritual grace. It all happens through the truth of His Word (Joh 15:3). For Jesus prayed, "Sanctify them by the truth; Your Word is truth" (Joh 17:17, NIV). We also understand that the sanctifying work is performed by the Holy Spirit (1 Pe 1:2). As we disciples pray and ask for it, the Holy Spirit takes our white garment and washes it out, cleansing away all the stains, and He presses it out, removing all the wrinkles.
Putting it All Together
In this two-part article on instructions about washings, I have shown from Scripture the great importance of both water baptism for repentance and foot washing in the life of every disciple. Water baptism cleanses a person entirely when done as an outward expression of genuine repentance and faith in Christ. There is no need to be water baptized a second time.
If you have repented and given your life to Christ as your Lord and Savior, you should be baptized in water. Jesus did it, and taught His disciples to do so also (Mt 28:19-20). His disciples were water baptized and they baptized their disciples, too. But don't forget that the Lord also taught His disciples by example to wash each others' feet as well. He said they ought to do so, and would be blessed if they did so. Foot washing cleanses a person where their walk has not been perfectly clean. It's also a great way to practice humility and love in imitation of Christ. And when you do so, you will be doing it unto the Lord along with anything else you do for the least of His brethren. Therefore, I see no reason why any true disciple would not want to practice foot washing.
Still there is even another baptism that I mentioned briefly in Holy Washings - Part I, which is the Baptism with the Holy Spirit. This wonderful baptism is necessary to be a powerful witness for Christ who lives a holy life (Ac 1:8; 1 Pe 1:2). I strongly recommend reading that article and praying to receive that gift as well.
And there is also the Baptism with Fire that John the Baptist referred to, as well (Mt 3:11). So we see that our Lord has made perfect provision for us to receive these washings, so that we might be purified, sanctified in spirit and soul and body, kept blameless unto His coming. Be sure to avail yourself of every gift the Lord has provided for His children, so that you don't miss out on the glory to follow.
Attribution notice: Most Scripture quotations taken from the NASB. Scriptures taken from The Holy Bible, New International Version® NIV®, where noted
Author's note: Also see Holy Washings - Part I, Baptized with the Spirit, Holy Fire Baptism, Entering the Kingdom of God, All Things Are New! and The Link Between Two Realms. You may find my complete collection of blogs at Writing for the Master.
Do You Want to Know Him?
If you want to know Jesus personally, you can. It all begins when you repent and believe in Jesus. Do you know what God's Word, the Bible says?
“Jesus came into Galilee, preaching the gospel of God, and saying, ‘The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel.’” (Mar 1:14b-15). He preached that we must repent and believe.
Please see my explanation of this in my post called "Do You Want to Know Jesus?"
Len Lacroix is the founder of Doulos Missions International. He was based in Eastern Europe for four years, making disciples, as well as helping leaders to be more effective at making disciples who multiply, developing leaders who multiply, with the ultimate goal of planting churches that multiply. His ministry is now based in the United States with the same goal of helping fulfill the Great Commission. www.dmiworld.org.