The Cleansing of the Believer (John 13:1-10)
The story of the washing of the disciples’ feet is introduced by the words: “… having loved his own which were in the world, he loved them unto the end” (v. 1). Twice before in this gospel mention has been made of divine love for man. The first is God’s love for the world (3:16) which caused Him to give His only begotten Son. There it is the grace of God which brings salvation that has appeared to all men (Tit. 2:11). The second mention is the love of Jesus for Martha, Mary and Lazarus (John 11: 5). As has been seen, the raising of Lazarus typifies the grace that is to be brought at the revelation of Jesus Christ.
The washing of the disciples’ feet by Jesus typified another aspect of grace. It is that grace which provides a cleansing from the defilement due to contact with the sinful world during the daily life of the believer. And here as before, there is a statement concerning divine love. In these three aspects of grace there is complete provision for deliverance from sin for the child of God. Grace always has its roots in divine love. In fact, as has previously been said, grace is love expressing itself on behalf of fallen man. It can not be a mere accident that in all of these three incidents divine love is emphasized.
God’s love for the world was measured by that which God gave, His Own infinite Son. But, as has been seen, there is a limitation upon that love. That limitation is God’s Own infinite righteousness and justice. Therefore it is necessary for man to accept the Son of Man as being lifted up on the cross as a propitiation for sin before God in grace can save. In the case of the love of Jesus “for His own” which are in the world there is no such limitation. In fact, the words used show that this love is without limit. “He loved them unto the end.” The original here translated “unto the end” is in Hebrews 7:25 translated “to the uttermost.” There it is said that “…he is able also to save them to the uttermost that come unto God by him, seeing he ever liveth to make intercession for them.” Notice that “to the uttermost” refers to duration and not degree as many interpret this passage. Christ’s love for His own and His ability to save those who have come to God by Him are co-extensive. Paul clearly teaches that nothing can separate those for whom Christ intercedes from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus (Rom. 8:34-39).
This unalterable position in love of those who have been saved is first declared just before Jesus proceeded to act out a parable which teaches the need of cleansing from defilement due to contact with the world. And this is well for the child of God, for in it is a positive assurance that defilement can not separate the child of God from His love. How essential all this is to grace! On this basis alone can the cleansing be unmerited favor on the part of God.
Jesus had already washed the feet of some of the disciples. ‘When He came to Peter, Peter said unto Him, “Lord, dost thou wash my feet?” (v. 6). In addressing Jesus as Lord, Peter with his lips confessed his own position of subjection to and dependence upon Jesus as becomes one who is under grace, but by refusing to have his feet washed, he showed that his heart was far from that which his lips confessed. Peter did not then understand that all that Jesus did for him was prompted by love and directed by infinite wisdom and therefore should not be questioned by him. Had he understood grace, he would have submitted without protest, even though that which was done seemed entirely out of place.
Jesus answered Peter, “What I do thou knowest not now: but thou shalt know hereafter” (v. 7). This is the finest and clearest statement of the believer’s present position under grace. What Christ does is not now understood, but as it is He who does it, one might commit oneself completely unto Him. Later (often not before the days of this life are ended) it shall be revealed that it was all a provision of His love. To Paul, when he asked to be delivered from a thorn in the flesh, it was said, “My grace is sufficient for thee” (2 Cor. 12: 9). To accept all that God sends as a part of His loving provision, even though not understood and contrary to human reason is the true attitude under grace.
Still Peter failed to understand and yield. He answered, “Thou shalt never wash my feet.” Then Jesus said, “If I wash thee not, thou hast no part with me” (v. 8). Notice that Jesus said “with me” not “in me.” There is a vast difference between these two. “In me” would have referred to eternal life. “‘With me” expresses fellowship with Christ. Peter would not have lost eternal life if His feet had not been washed; but He would have lost fellowship with His Lord. There are many things that everyone who accepts Christ has “in Him.” But there are also things to be shared “with Christ” and these are not for all believers. Only those who suffer with Him shall reign with Him (2 Tim. 2: 12). Grace provides certain things for those who accept Christ as their Savior. There are additional things for those who go all the way in faith and trust Him as Lord. Peter called Him “Lord,” but had not as yet trusted Him as such.
Then Peter, true to himself, said: “Lord, not my feet only, but also my hands and my head” (v. 9). But this was not necessary. Jesus said to him, “He that is washed needeth not save to wash his feet, but is clean every whit” (v. 10). The double meaning of the word “wash” is the key to the meaning of this statement. In the original, the word “washed” means to bathe the whole person. The same root word is used in Titus 3:5 where it is identified as regeneration, or the new birth. It is also used in Revelation 1 :5, “Unto Him that loved us, and washed us from our sins in his own blood.” The meaning of wash as used of the feet is “to wet a part only.” It is only a partial cleansing. The meaning then of Jesus’ answer is this: He that is bathed by the washing of regeneration needs only to have his feet washed to be completely clean.
The feet of one who is bathed become soiled from the dust and dirt of the path that is traveled. So also one who is washed by the one and only washing of regeneration will in his daily life become contaminated by contact with the world. Such a one need only be cleansed from that sin and is “every whit clean. “
Thus by this act Jesus taught that the grace and truth which came by Him includes a provision for the continual cleansing of the one who has been born again. And it was definitely declared to issue from the love of Jesus Christ for His Own. The one who trusts Christ to so cleanse shall fellowship with Him and share with Him in His glory.
Part 1 of 2 from Grace and Truth (a devotional commentary on the Gospel of John) by J.F. Strombeck. Moline, IL, 1956 (chapter 17). Italics added.
 Biblical allusions: John 12:32,34; Rom. 3:21-26; 5:1
 Biblical allusion: 1 John 1:7
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