For four years I lived and worked on an island which is famous for its tropical rain forests. My job was to take groups of tourists and anthropologists out into the jungle to see orangutan, meed tribal people and see the amazing sites. Being in the rain forest, there was always an abundance of water present – rivers, streams, springs, rain – but when you are hiking and carrying supplies, there is a very distinct aroma one develops after a few days. Even if you go for a swim (or bath) in the river. It is indescribably beautiful, but it is also muddy, it is wet, it is hot, and by the end of a few days in the jungle, everyone is filthy. Arriving in a major city was always greeted by the pleasure of a cleansing shower. Dirty clothes were sealed in air-tight bags to be washed, shoes were left in the sun to dry out, and every adventurist could not wait to be clean.
Because of the natural habitat and the worldview of the nationals, it is also cultural to take at least two baths a day. They are exceptionally clean people. One habit that they have, to maintain their cleanliness is to always remove shoes at the front door. Americans take great pride in their shoes which help to “make the outfit”, but there shoes are always left outside or right at the front door in a rack so as to keep the house clean.
There was a similar habit in Jesus’ day. Shoes were left at the door and a servant would actually wash people’s feet as they entered into the household. The dust which gathered on people’s feet from outside was washed away so that they could still be clean and keep the house clean as well. Jesus Himself used this as a powerful image to teach us about our personal Spiritual state in relationship to 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’.”
– John 13.3-11
Apart from Jesus, we are filthy. We are stinky and muddy, and even if we try to clean up in the jungle river, all of our belongings still reek of sweat, rain and filth. This Spiritual state is described in various ways throughout Scripture: we are Spiritually dead (Eph 2.1-3), we are of the devil (John 8.44), we are enemies of God (Rom 8.7). Dead bodies stink. However, once we come to Jesus, He takes away our guilt of sin by placing it on Himself and washes us clean:
“’Come now, and let us reason together,’
Says the Lord,
‘Though your sins are as scarlet,
They will be as white as snow;
Though they are red like crimson,
They will be like wool’.”
– Is 1.18
“The next day [John] saw Jesus coming to him and said, ‘Behold, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!'”
– John 1.29
However. Since we are still in the world and since we still have our flesh, we will continue to sin. We will still get dirty. When we come to Jesus, He washes us clean and makes us a new creation. But when we go about life and when we give into temptation and when we choose to sin, we get mud or dust on our feet. This dust needs to be washed off occasionally, as we enter into the house and presence of God. This is what we call confession and repentance, and this is what is known as the ongoing process of sanctification. We are not perfect, and will never be perfect until we shed our flesh and are in the presence of God.
This is why Jesus rebuked Peter, who simply did not understand what Jesus was doing. “He who has bathed needs only to wash his feet, but is completely clean; and you are clean, but not all of you.” If we have already been washed in the blood, we only need Jesus to deal with the present dirt, we do not need to be saved anew. However, if we refuse to let Jesus wash away the dirt then we prove ourselves to be filthy and have no part of Him:
‘If I do not wash you, you have no part with Me.’
Sin is filthy and wicked and it is that which separates us from God. If we do not allow Jesus to handle our sin problem, if we do not confess our sins, repent of them and submit to God’s definition of sin in all of our lives and worldview, then we have no part of Him. We must continually work out our salvation by confessing sin, hating it, and allowing Jesus to wash us clean and change us so that we stop sinning (Phil 2.12, 1 John 1.9).
“And everyone who has this hope fixed on Him purifies himself, just as He is pure. Everyone who practices sin also practices lawlessness; and sin is lawlessness. You know that He appeared in order to take away sins; and in Him there is no sin. No one who abides in Him sins; no one who sins has seen Him or knows Him.”
– 1 John 3.3-6
Are you in the habit of letting Jesus wash your feet? Or did you take a bath after a long trek in the jungle and now assume that you are clean for the rest of your life? Yes, that hot, revitalizing bath did wash you spotless, but Jesus says that we must allow Him to continually wash the dust from our feet in order to remain clean and prove ourselves to have had that initial washing. If we do not allow Him to wash our feet, then we were never clean to begin with – just like Judas – whose feet Jesus did wash, but who himself was never cleansed from his sins. Let us confess our sins, submit to Jesus and be washed anew daily.