The Doctrine of Feet Washing: Spiritual Application

15 02 2016

Having looked at the literal application and command to wash feet I would like to write about the spiritual application of what Jesus taught in John 13:1-17. I know some on the other side who only stress the literal act of washing feet but fail to recognize the spiritual lesson. If it is just a mindless, religious ritual that you do, then you might as well not do it because God is not impressed with traditions. To miss the spiritual application is to cut yourself off from the joy and blessing in what He was teaching.


The main object that I think is conveyed in feet washing is humility. The act of lowering ourselves beneath someone else rather than lifting ourselves up over others. Let’s face it, we have all looked at some other Christian at some time and thought to ourselves that we were better than that person or more spiritual than that person. Let me testify that I have never had those thoughts about those with whom I have washed feet. Look at what the Bible says in John 13:3-5:

Jesus knowing that the Father had given all things into his hands, and that he was come from God, and went to God; He riseth from supper, and laid aside his garments; and took a towel, and girded himself. 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.”

It’s important to notice the words that He knew He was from the Father and returning to the Father. This emphasizes the nature of His position. He is higher and holier and greater than all of those in the room and yet He knelt before them, took in His hands one of the dirtiest parts of their bodies and washed them. He topped it off by drying them with a towel wrapped around His own waist. This is one of the most full and complete pictures of humility ever demonstrated on earth. In verses 13-14 He expounds on the lesson:

Ye call me Master and Lord: and ye say well; for so I am. If I then, your Lord and Master, have washed your feet; ye also ought to wash one another’s feet.”

He tells them that if He being greater than they could stoop to serve them then surely they could serve one another. He didn’t just do any act of service, He did the lowest, dirtiest act there was in that time and place. He points out by doing this that nothing should seem too low, dirty, or beneath us to serve our fellow Christian. Paul echoes this lesson when he said:

For, brethren, ye have been called unto liberty; only use not liberty for an occasion to the flesh, but by love serve one another.” (Galatians 3:1)

Paul repeated this lesson to the church at Philippi.

Let nothing be done through strife or vainglory; but in lowliness of mind let each esteem other better than themselves. Look not every man on his own things, but every man also on the things of others. Let this mind be in you, which was also in Christ Jesus: Who, being in the form of God, thought it not robbery to be equal with God: But made himself of no reputation, and took upon him the form of a servant, and was made in the likeness of men: And being found in fashion as a man, he humbled himself, and became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross.” (Philippians 2:3-8)


He was giving them a picture of the cleansing that they were about to receive through His death. The fact that it followed the Last Supper links it in my mind to the sacrifice of the cross. Paul in Philippians 2 makes the same connection.

He was a servant and as a servant obedient even to the cross. Linking this event of feet washing two times to the cross means that there is something in this event that pictures, or represents, the cross. While the first spiritual principle is reflected in men, namely humility, the second is reflected in God, namely redemption.

His cleansing of their feet was a representation of the cleansing of their souls. They were all unclean and in need of cleansing.

As it is written, There is none righteous, no, not one: There is none that understandeth, there is none that seeketh after God. They are all gone out of the way, they are together become unprofitable; there is none that doeth good, no, not one…For all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God.” (Romans 3:10-12, 23)

They could not cleanse themselves, and as the Son of God who had come from God and went back to God only He could provide cleansing. He had to stoop down to their level in order to provide the cleansing that could redeem their souls. Peter objected to this but he was missing the big picture.

Then cometh he to Simon Peter: and Peter saith unto him, Lord, dost thou wash my feet? Jesus answered and said unto him, What I do thou knowest not now; but thou shalt know hereafter. Peter saith unto him, Thou shalt never wash my feet. Jesus answered him, If I wash thee not, thou hast no part with me. Simon Peter saith unto him, Lord, not my feet only, but also my hands and my head. 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.” (John 13:6-10)

Jesus explains to Peter that he would not have immediate knowledge of the lesson He was giving. This seems confusing because He explains why He did it afterwards. He even commanded them to do it as well. So why would Peter not know until later? To understand the Lord’s words here you need to understand both the literal application and the spiritual lessons being taught in the act of feet washing.

He explains the literal application by telling them that they are duty-bound to wash feet. He even touches on the humility lesson as well but it will not be until that dark day in history when the Son of God is sacrificed for sinners that the lesson will be applied. It will not be until later still that the apostles of our Lord themselves understand His words here.

Peter then refuses the Lord, saying He would never wash his feet. Peter of course had no understanding of the principle that washing their feet was symbolic of the cleansing they would soon receive as a result of Calvary. How many times have we heard people say they will never do something or never turn to Christ and it’s out of complete ignorance of what Christ did for them on the cross?

Peter didn’t fully comprehend the great gulf that separated sinful man from a holy God. He failed to realize the need for cleansing before one could stand in the presence of the Almighty. My mind goes back to the prophet Isaiah.

In the year that king Uzziah died I saw also the Lord sitting upon a throne, high and lifted up, and his train filled the temple. Above it stood the seraphims: each one had six wings; with twain he covered his face, and with twain he covered his feet, and with twain he did fly. And one cried unto another, and said, Holy, holy, holy, is the Lord of hosts: the whole earth is full of his glory. And the posts of the door moved at the voice of him that cried, and the house was filled with smoke. Then said I, Woe is me! for I am undone; because I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips: for mine eyes have seen the King, the Lord of hosts. Then flew one of the seraphims unto me, having a live coal in his hand, which he had taken with the tongs from off the altar: And he laid it upon my mouth, and said, Lo, this hath touched thy lips; and thine iniquity is taken away, and thy sin purged.” (Isaiah 6:1-7)

Once he was faced with the overwhelming holiness of God, Isaiah, who we would all see as a super saint, cried out that he was unclean and unworthy to be in God’s presence. He failed to realize that he could not cleanse himself but had to be washed in the cleansing stream of the blood of the Lamb of God.

And from Jesus Christ, who is the faithful witness, and the first begotten of the dead, and the prince of the kings of the earth. Unto him that loved us, and washed us from our sins in his own blood.” (Revelation 1:5)

Jesus then warns Peter that if he refuses cleansing he could have no part with Christ. Look at Jesus’ words to Nicodemus:

Jesus answered and said unto him, Verily, verily, I say unto thee, Except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God.” (John 3:3)

The Gospel message, the message of the cleansing of sin comes to all but those who reject it and turn from it can have no part with Jesus Christ. He is the door, if we try to go any way but through Him we will be lost.

Peter thought by his humility in not letting Christ wash him that he would be commended. He probably expected to hear: “Well Peter, you’re a dear and humble man and I appreciate it, but I really do need to do this.” Instead he was told flat out that to reject the cleansing of the Son of God was complete exclusion from Him and His kingdom.

Jesus taught that there are those who will try to get to Heaven their own way by doing many great works and yet find that they rejected the one cleansing from sin that was acceptable to God.

Not every one that saith unto me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven; but he that doeth the will of my Father which is in heaven. Many will say to me in that day, Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in thy name? and in thy name have cast out devils? and in thy name done many wonderful works? And then will I profess unto them, I never knew you: depart from me, ye that work iniquity.” (Matthew 7:21-23)

He then tells Christ to wash not only his feet but also his hands and head. Washing of the feet gave symbolism to the perpetual cleansing we receive as we walk through this sinful world. It pictures our progressive sanctification. As we walk in perpetual repentance, and continue in the faith we grow closer to the Saviour and farther from sin. As we do this His blood cleanses us from all unrighteousness.

Jesus said those who are clean need only to wash their feet because they are already clean. Peter said to wash his hands and head. His hands being cleansed from sinful deeds and his head being cleansed from sinful thoughts and desires. Once these are cleansed and a person is saved they need only cleanse themselves in daily repentance and faithfulness to the Lord.

These are the spiritual lessons in feet washing. The first is humility and the attitude of a servant towards our fellow believers. The second is the lesson that we are cleansed by Christ and need not go to Him continually to be saved but to be cleansed daily from sin and uncleanness and to grow closer in our walk with the Lord.

We should never accept only the spiritual applications while missing the command to wash feet as a literal practice, but we must also guard against the folly of practicing feet washing while all the time missing the spiritual lessons that this practice teaches, we would then have vain rituals instead of a rich experience.

It’s similar to giving. The Pharisees were told that they tithed but missed the weightier matters. Tithing in itself is not what God wants. Paul said he sought not what was theirs but them (2 Corinthians 12:14). In other words, if God does not have your heart, then giving Him your money is not full obedience.

You can be a giver in the offering, and be far from God. You can wash feet faithfully, and yet be far from God or far from the spiritual principles taught by washing feet. You can do the ritual but be full of pride or unclean in your heart. We must look at both sides of the coin in order to be balanced. This is well pleasing in the sight of the Lord.

The Doctrine of Feet Washing: Should It Be Done?

1 02 2016

There was a popular phrase throughout the 1990’s which said, “What Would Jesus Do?” This phrase came from a wonderful book called In His Steps. The book chronicled the life of a church who dared to do the impossible which was to not do anything in their church, homes, businesses or private lives for an entire year without first asking themselves, “what would Jesus do if He were in this situation?”

Lucky for us as Bible believers we don’t have to ask what would Jesus do because we can look at the Scriptures and ask what did Jesus do? These thoughts are taken from John 13 which most thoroughly addresses the issue of feet washing. We will take it verse by verse. We are looking at John 13:1-17.

Now before the feast of the passover, when Jesus knew that his hour was come that he should depart out of this world unto the Father, having loved his own which were in the world, he loved them unto the end.” (Vs. 1)

Verse one starts off with one of the most beautiful statements in the Bible. It says He loved them to the end. Their belief in Him, their loyalty, their faithfulness and love were in constant question but not the love of Jesus. He loved them as a Father for a child right down to His death where His love took action.

And supper being ended, the devil having now put into the heart of Judas Iscariot, Simon’s son, to betray him; Jesus knowing that the Father had given all things into his hands, and that he was come from God, and went to God.” (Vs. 2-3)

Feet washing can probably stand alone as a practice but this verse seems to indelibly tie the practice to the Lord’s Supper. After the meal commemorating the sacrifice He was to make, which we practice as a memorial feast. I think feet washing can be practiced apart from Lord’s Supper since there is no specific command to practice them together. I do think that it loses some of its meaning when separated from the feast. When taking time to remember the sacrifice of Christ it is good to remember the command to love and serve one another.

He riseth from supper, and laid aside his garments; and took a towel, and girded himself.” (Vs. 4)

Rising from supper gives us a good picture of the placement of feet washing. Jesus rose from the last supper that He would have with His disciples. The supper where He taught them the true picture of the Passover, and the true meaning of love in sacrifice. He will now demonstrate for them love in humility.

The cross stands as a symbol of sacrifice. The basin and towel will stand as a symbol of ultimate humility where the Creator of all things whether visible or invisible…

For by him were all things created, that are in heaven, and that are in earth, visible and invisible, whether they be thrones, or dominions, or principalities, or powers: all things were created by him, and for him.” (Colossians 1:16)

The sustainer of all things…

And he is before all things, and by him all things consist.” (Colossians 1:17)

The One who lifts up rulers and deposes the same…

Daniel answered and said, Blessed be the name of God for ever and ever: for wisdom and might are his: And he changeth the times and the seasons: he removeth kings, and setteth up kings: he giveth wisdom unto the wise, and knowledge to them that know understanding.” (Daniel 2:20-21)

The one who is in need of nothing but gives to all people all things…

Neither is worshipped with men’s hands, as though he needed any thing, seeing he giveth to all life, and breath, and all things.” (Acts 17:25)

The Almighty God, would now gird Himself with a towel and kneel before His creation. He will take the place of a servant, the lowest of all places. He would wash their feet.

He laid aside His own garment. There are many garments that we must set aside in the Christian life. We must lay aside the garments of pride, anger, competition, debate, and malice. The garment of self worth and self accomplishment.

To be a follower of Jesus Christ we must follow in His steps. He not only washed His disciples feet but He gave the greatest example of a servants heart. It’s impossible to practice feet washing and hold these things in your heart. Service out of a pure heart is the glaring message of feet washing.

In practicing feet washing we don’t set the towel on the ground and then use it. The towel is not some foreign object but a personal item.We gird ourselves with the towel.

There are two reasons I see for this. The first is because Jesus did it and we follow the example He set. The other is because it makes the practice more personal. We are not simply drying the feet our our brother with a towel but with a towel girded to us. It is part of us and he is part of me as well.

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.” (Vs. 5)

I have heard many Christians mock the idea of handling dirty, smelly feet, yet their Lord Himself did not shrink from such an action nor did He mock the idea of doing such a thing. Of all the people in the universe He is the one who had the right to mock handling the dirty, smelly feet of someone else. It is in fact that spirit and attitude that He was condemning in this great act of service. I find it sad that so many mock an act their Savior performed. In this and in their pride they are puffing themselves up against the humility He was teaching.

Then cometh he to Simon Peter: and Peter saith unto him, Lord, dost thou wash my feet? Jesus answered and said unto him, What I do thou knowest not now; but thou shalt know hereafter. Peter saith unto him, Thou shalt never wash my feet. Jesus answered him, If I wash thee not, thou hast no part with me. Simon Peter saith unto him, Lord, not my feet only, but also my hands and my head. 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. For he knew who should betray him; therefore said he, Ye are not all clean.” (Vs. 6-11)

Peter refuses the Lord to wash his feet. I want to presume it’s simply false humility but perhaps that’s an unfair assessment and he really feels unworthy to have the Lord wash his feet. He was telling Peter that if he refused this act of service then he had no part with Christ. A disciple that is a true follower of the Lord cannot refuse the Lord in anything. Jesus asked an important question.

And why call ye me, Lord, Lord, and do not the things which I say?” (Luke 6:46)

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?” (Vs. 12)

Jesus now having finished the act of washing His disciples feet will explain what He has done and what they are to do in response. This passage is preached on too little but Christ in this small passage makes a very important point and gives us a very important charge.

Ye call me Master and Lord: and ye say well; for so I am. If I then, your Lord and Master, have washed your feet; ye also ought to wash one another’s feet. For I have given you an example, that ye should do as I have done to you.” (Vs. 13-15)

Jesus points out that they are right in calling Him Lord and Master because He is both their Lord and Master and that if He as Lord and Master has washed their feet then they ought to wash one another’s feet.

They have already been given the lesson that the greatest leader will be the greatest servant and that they have one Master in Heaven and they are all brethren. He is now giving them a visual aid to remember this lest they get puffed up one against another. This brings to mind 3 John 1:9-10:

I wrote unto the church: but Diotrephes, who loveth to have the preeminence among them, receiveth us not. Wherefore, if I come, I will remember his deeds which he doeth, prating against us with malicious words: and not content therewith, neither doth he himself receive the brethren, and forbiddeth them that would, and casteth them out of the church.”

This is the spirit that feet washing was taught to avoid. He says that if He their Lord and Master washed their feet then they ought to wash each others feet. Now here is an interesting passage. The word ought as used in our modern language would mean it was optional. It would mean they should do it but if they don’t want to then they don’t have to. In the language the Bible was written in however the word does not mean an option but a bound duty. Let’s look at a few other places where the word is used and see if we are keeping a consistant interpretation.

And he spake a parable unto them to this end, that men ought always to pray, and not to faint.” (Luke 18:1)

No one would assert that men have an option to pray and not to faint would they?

So ought men to love their wives as their own bodies. He that loveth his wife loveth himself.” (Ephesians 5:28)

I don’t think men have an option to love their wives as their own bodies. Men should love their wives but if they don’t want to then it’s okay right? Of course not.

And when the townclerk had appeased the people, he said, Ye men of Ephesus, what man is there that knoweth not how that the city of the Ephesians is a worshipper of the great goddess Diana, and of the image which fell down from Jupiter? Seeing then that these things cannot be spoken against, ye ought to be quiet, and to do nothing rashly.” (Acts 19:35-36)

In the passage above the man speaking is pointing out that because the apostles had done nothing illegal the men of the city were duty-bound not to act rashly lest there be an uproar and the Romans come. Here again it is used as a duty-bound word.

Who ought to have been here before thee, and object, if they had ought against me.” (Acts 24:19)

Here Paul says those who accused him were duty-bound to be there to make their claims.

Whose mouths must be stopped, who subvert whole houses, teaching things which they ought not, for filthy lucre’s sake.” (Titus 1:11)

Paul is not saying that these false teachers just shouldn’t teach these things, but he’s saying that they are wrong for doing it, they are duty-bound not to do such a thing.

Forasmuch then as we are the offspring of God, we ought not to think that the Godhead is like unto gold, or silver, or stone, graven by art and man’s device.” (Acts 17:29)

Here again it is used not as an option but as a duty.

Then said Paul, I stand at Caesar’s judgment seat, where I ought to be judged: to the Jews have I done no wrong, as thou very well knowest.” (Acts 25:10)

Here again Paul speaks not as an option. He says that because he has done nothing against the Jews then he ought to be judged by Rome. He was telling the Romans they were duty-bound to judge him and not give him over to the Jews.

I don’t mean to weary the reader with verses but to show a pattern of the use of this word. The pattern is exclusively in regards to something that is duty not an option. He said He gave them an example that they should do as He did. People often claim that Christ only meant it as a spiritual lesson not a literal practice.

Can you imagine if a husband took Ephesians 5 concerning marriage and only recognized the spiritual application to Christ and His church and ignored the commands to love his wife? Or if a preacher preached only the spiritual application of abstaining from fornication because the body is the temple of the Holy Ghost but told his church members they could live in fornication because it was only a spiritual meaning?

We look at that as ridiculous, but that is what many do with this passage. They take the obvious spiritual application then reject the words of Christ to do as He did to them. This was something He told them they needed to do for each other, and it is something I believe He was telling Christians to do for each other.

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. If ye know these things, happy are ye if ye do them.” (Vs. 16-17)

He then reminds them that the servant is not greater than his lord. To those who I have heard mock the idea of touching someone’s gross, smelly feet I would like to ask a question. Do you feel you are greater than the Lord who stooped to wash the feet of those lower than Him? Will you not stoop to wash the feet of those your equal?

He ended this teaching by pronouncing that those who do this will be happy or blessed. It is true that those who obey the Lord in this area will be happy they did so. I can testify of that. I wish we would rethink how we view this doctrine in modern evangelicalism. I believe it has a place and would be edifying to the church today.

Salvation 101

23 04 2015

There was a man of the Pharisees, named Nicodemus, a ruler of the Jews: The same came to Jesus by night, and said unto him, Rabbi, we know that thou art a teacher come from God: for no man can do these miracles that thou doest, except God be with him. Jesus answered and said unto him, Verily, verily, I say unto thee, Except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God. Nicodemus saith unto him, How can a man be born when he is old? can he enter the second time into his mother’s womb, and be born? Jesus answered, Verily, verily, I say unto thee, Except a man be born of water and of the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God. That which is born of the flesh is flesh; and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit. Marvel not that I said unto thee, Ye must be born again. The wind bloweth where it listeth, and thou hearest the sound thereof, but canst not tell whence it cometh, and whither it goeth: so is every one that is born of the Spirit. Nicodemus answered and said unto him, How can these things be? Jesus answered and said unto him, Art thou a master of Israel, and knowest not these things? Verily, verily, I say unto thee, We speak that we do know, and testify that we have seen; and ye receive not our witness. If I have told you earthly things, and ye believe not, how shall ye believe, if I tell you of heavenly things? And no man hath ascended up to heaven, but he that came down from heaven, even the Son of man which is in heaven. And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of man be lifted up: That whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have eternal life. For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life. For God sent not his Son into the world to condemn the world; but that the world through him might be saved. He that believeth on him is not condemned: but he that believeth not is condemned already, because he hath not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God.” (John 3:1-18)


The text above is one of the best known in the Bible and makes a great and simple outline for sharing the Gospel. This can be used for a short open air sermon on the Gospel or in a one on one conversation. If you feel you can’t share the Gospel I challenge you to find simple outlines like this one to use in your witnessing encounter. Often we take a passage and force our points into it. This is not God’s intentions for using His Word. Draw your points from the text don’t force them into it.


1. The need of Mankind (Verse 3)

A. Spiritual life (born anew)

B. Spiritual eyes (cannot see the kingdom)

2. The Offer to Mankind (Verse 16)

A. The cross pre-figured in verse 14

3. The Call to Mankind (Verse 18)

A. Believe or be condemned (We are condemned already)


This is just an example of how to draw points from the text of Scripture. This is also a good way to share the Gospel in a simple manner. Hopefully it’s a blessing for you.

Leading Captivity Captive

2 06 2014

“There is one body, and one Spirit, even as ye are called in one hope of your calling; One Lord, one faith, one baptism, One God and Father of all, who is above all, and through all, and in you all. But unto every one of us is given grace according to the measure of the gift of Christ. Wherefore he saith, When he ascended up on high, he led captivity captive, and gave gifts unto men. (Now that he ascended, what is it but that he also descended first into the lower parts of the earth? He that descended is the same also that ascended up far above all heavens, that he might fill all things. And he gave some, apostles; and some, prophets; and some, evangelists; and some, pastors and teachers; For the perfecting of the saints, for the work of the ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ: Till we all come in the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, unto a perfect man, unto the measure of the stature of the fulness of Christ.” Ephesians 4:4-13

As a child I was always taught that this passage was speaking of Christ going into the center of the earth and leading the redeemed from Paradise into Heaven while He was in the grave. When I read the passage for myself and thought about what it’s saying that interpretation no longer makes sense. When you read the verses together instead of isolating a small portion then you get a better picture. Context is key and you must put this passage back into the chapter.

In verses 4-6 Paul is stressing the unity of all believers. There is one body-the body of Christ. There is one Spirit, one hope, one Lord, one faith, one baptism then the next verse throws a curve ball and starts with “but” so now he is moving his focus as we will see from believers as a group to believers as individuals. He says that to each believer is given grace according to the measure of the gift of Christ. It goes on to say that “When he ascended up on high, he led captivity captive, and gave gifts unto men” There can be no doubt that the ascending on high refers to Christ’s ascension after His earthly ministry.

Paul then says, “(Now that he ascended, what is it but that he also descended first into the lower parts of the earth? He that descended is the same also that ascended up far above all heavens, that he might fill all things.)” (Ephesians 4:9-10) The descending and the ascending are put in comparison meaning they are in relation to one another. Just as He first descended so He also ascended. The descending is not in reference to His death or gong to Paradise. There is no mention in this passage of taking believers out of Paradise to Heaven. All of that happened after His resurrection according to Matthew 27:52-53.

The reference to descending to the lower parts of the earth is a reference to Christ coming to this world. It explains His ascending by pointing out that He first descended to the lower parts of the earth. Some would say this term “lower parts of the earth” references Him going somewhere after His death. I believe Scripture teaches that He did but this is not the context of what Paul is saying. The term “lower parts of the earth” is common in the Bible and is not exclusive of the lower regions or Hades. David uses the term in reference to the womb.

“My substance was not hid from thee, when I was made in secret, and curiously wrought in the lowest parts of the earth.” (Psalm 139:15)

Isaiah used it in regards to the creation.

“Sing, O ye heavens; for the Lord hath done it: shout, ye lower parts of the earth: break forth into singing, ye mountains, O forest, and every tree therein: for the Lord hath redeemed Jacob, and glorified himself in Israel.” (Isaiah 44:23)

Ezekiel uses the term in relation to hell or the pit but in other passages the reference is different. There is no argument from Scripture that the term is consistently used of the nether regions. The context in Ephesians in light of the verses around it and the comparison to His ascension tell us that the term is being used to speak of His coming to earth.

%d bloggers like this: