Jesus said to him, “He who is bathed needs only to wash his feet, but is completely clean; and you are clean, but not all of you” – John 13:10
In southern Israel, in an arid place called Qumran, where the Dead Seas Scrolls were found, there used to be an Essene community. The Essenes sought to isolate themselves from the world and devote themselves to God. They lived in an enclosed community. There focus was on the study and copying of the scriptures. They saw themselves as God’s sons of light living in a dark world. Some scholars believe John the Baptist belonged to one of these Essene communities. And if that is the case, then the LORD called John the Baptist from this setting to return to the world and “prepare the way of the LORD”; to prepare the way of Jesus (Mark 1:1-3).
In this isolated community there were ritual bathes dug into the stony bedrock of the area. These micveh bathes were used for regular ritual cleansing. A person would descend into the bath and immerse themselves in the water so that their entire body was cleansed. This body cleansing was a symbol of spiritual heart purification (e.g. Leviticus 8). Before a priest could minister in the presence of the Lord they had to be cleansed physically as a symbol of their total consecration or commitment to the Lord (e.g. Exodus 28-29).
Another word closely associated with the idea of cleansing is sanctification. In the Old Testament to be sanctified meant to be separated unto God for His use. Sanctification involves heart cleansing from anything that would challenge the Lordship of God. This idea was applied to the physical instruments of ritual used in the Tabernacle and later in the Temple. Anything used in service to God had to be ceremonially cleansed. Similarly any person serving God had to be clean before Him. The idea of a person being cleansed or purified meant a person’s heart was cleansed from anything that would distract a person from serving the Lord as well as from anything that would be offensive to God, e.g. sin (Exodus 28:41). Anything that deterred one’s service to God or contrary to His word was viewed as sinful and needed to be washed away.
The idea in all of this is that God is Holy. God is unique, special, and not common. You can’t serve the Lord or go into His presence like you would with any common circumstance. You had to be holy to serve and worship Holy God. In the Old Testament holiness and making yourself acceptable to the Lord involved the keeping of the Law and the sacrificial system (e.g. Exodus 22:31). The book of Leviticus is a manual for holiness. Its key verse is “For I am the LORD your God. You shall therefore consecrate yourselves, and you shall be holy; for I am holy” (Leviticus 11:44a).
“Sanctification” (Greek hagiasmos) in the New Testament means purification, purity, holiness, and sanctification. The idea is to be purified from whatever would hinder us hearing the voice of God or hinder our walk and ministry in His name. To be sanctified means God and His will is our number one top priority. It means to be fully surrendered to the Lord and His will for us. It means to be separated to God and available for His use. Sanctification is bound up in our relationship to Jesus (1 Corinthians 1:30). We learn what sanctification is by looking at Jesus. Jesus is the One who provides sanctifying power in the cross. It is God’s will that we be sanctified and live a morally pure life (1 Thessalonians 4:3). Sanctification is a work of God and God’s desire is that we be entirely or completely sanctified (1 Thessalonians 5:23). In regards to this work of God in us the Bible states, “he who calls you is faithful, who also will do it” (1 Thessalonians 5:24). We can count on God to sanctify us.
Another pertinent word in this regard is “purification” (Greek katharizdo) which means cleanse, purge, purify. In Acts the purification of the heart is associated with the work of the Holy Spirit. This work of the Spirit is received by faith. Peter described the Holy Spirit’s work amongst the Gentiles by saying, “So God, who knows the heart, acknowledged them by giving them the Holy Spirit, just as He did to us, and made no distinction between us and them, purifying their hearts by faith” (Acts 15:8-9).
Sanctification and purification are not something we attain in our own strength. Sanctification is a state of being and way of life rooted in the work of the Holy Spirit in a believer. The Holy Spirit makes us holy. As we live in tune with and in total surrender to the Holy Spirit, He produces spiritual fruit in and through us (Galatians 5:22-24). When we walk in the Spirit it enables us to overcome our flesh (Galatians 5:16). The flesh (i.e. our sinful nature; our selfish sinfulness) is contrary to what the Spirit desires for us. Therefore by faith we need to follow the Spirit if we want to be sanctified (cf. Galatians 5:17-21).
Before sanctification could be offered to humanity they needed to learn the futility of attempting to be cleaned and made righteous in their own strength. The limitation and insufficiency of religious efforts needed to be exposed. Those seeking cleansing from sin today need to understand that too. The message of the New Testament is that the Old Testament Law and sacrificial system was unable to provide any lasting or effective means to cleanse away sin (cf. Hebrews 7-10). The Law depended on human ability to keep the Law (Galatians 3:10-13; James 2:10). In our own strength we are unable to keep the Law. Humanity on its own falls short and the Law exposes these shortcomings (Romans 3:10, 23). That is why even in the Old Testament any righteousness a person could receive was by faith in God apart from keeping the Law and performing sacrifices (Genesis 15:6).
Why then the Law and sacrifices? Keeping the Law and performing sacrifices were merely opportunities to express of one’s faith in obedience. It was faith in God that made one righteous. The Law was also given to expose our guiltiness of sin and remove any human excuse before the judgment seat of God (Romans 3 and 7). Animal sacrifices illustrated the seriousness of sin and its consequences. Sacrifices demonstrated the need for a Substitute to give life, spill blood, to show the cost of sin and redemption. Sin is serious and we are guilty of it.
When God looked at an Old Testament person and saw faith in God He passed over their sin. The first Passover was an illustration of this (Exodus 12). God did this because in foreknowledge He saw the atoning sacrifice of Jesus on the cross (Romans 3:25). The cross of Christ is in the center of history. The cross of Jesus is the source of all forgiveness of sin. Jesus is our Passover sacrifice Lamb (1 Corinthians 5:7). Jesus accomplished what humanity could not; an absolute sinless life. And because He was without sin He alone qualified to be the Lamb with a capital “L” worthy to remove our sins (cf. Revelation 4-5). Jesus the God-Man reversed the curse of sin introduced by Adam (Romans 5:12-21).
The Bible says, “Therefore He is also able to save to the uttermost those who come to God through Him, since He always lives to make intercession for them” (Hebrews 7:25). Salvation “to the uttermost” starts in justification, continues in sanctification, and ends in glorification. What does this mean?
The reason Jesus can “save to the uttermost” is because as the Lamb of God who came to take away the sins of the world (John 1:29), He shed His precious blood of atonement on the cross. He paid a death penalty for sin in our place (Romans 6:23). The Gospel proclamation to the Jew was and is, “Knowing that you were not redeemed with corruptible things, like silver or gold, from your aimless conduct received by tradition from your fathers, but with the precious blood of Christ, as of a lamb without blemish and without spot” (1 Peter 1:18-19). It is the precious blood of Jesus Christ God’s Son that cleanses us from our sin (1 John 1:7).
When a person turns from their sins to God trusting in Jesus and His atoning work on the cross as the just basis to receive forgiveness of sins from God the results are twofold. First they are justified. Justification is something received as a gift of God’s grace through faith in Jesus (Romans 5:1-11). Justification is a legal standing before God just-as-if-I’d-never sinned. Concurrent with this conversion from darkness to light by faith in Christ is spiritual regeneration. By faith in Jesus a person goes from spiritually dead to regenerate eternal life. The Holy Spirit indwells the new believer as they trust in Jesus as Savior. This is what being “born again’ involves (John 3). An old man of sin is left and replaced by a new man in Christ (Romans 6:5-6; 2 Corinthians 5:17; Colossians 3:5-17).
When a person is born again or justified they are forgiven all their sins. There is no more basis for condemnation for the one who is in Christ Jesus by faith (Romans 8). Their penalty for sin has been paid on the cross by Jesus. The righteousness of Jesus has been transferred to their account. “For He made Him who knew no sin to be sin for us, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him” (2 Corinthians 5:21). Once saved from sin, we live for Jesus (Galatians 2:20).
On the southern steps of the Temple Mount leading up to the platform where the Temple used to be are micveh bathes carved out of the rock. Pilgrims coming to worship on Holy Feast Days like Passover would first wash in the bathes to be made ritually clean for approaching God’s Holy place. The night Jesus was betrayed, just after their supper, John is inspired to record in His gospel, “Jesus said to him, ‘He who is bathed needs only to wash his feet, but is completely clean; and you are clean, but not all of you’” (John 13:10). It’s very possible that the disciples had all gone through the ritual cleansing of the micveh in preparation for Passover. If this was the case their bodies were clean but their feet may have accumulated dirt on the way from their ritual cleansing to the upper room.
To plunge into the micveh bath was to be totally cleaned. It was a predecessor to baptism and its symbol of dying to sin as you are buried under the water. Rising up out of the watery bath was like the symbol of being born again of baptism. But this physical bath also illustrated a need through a practical reality. What a person stepped out of the ritual bath into the street it meant accumulating the dirt of the common roads. Your body was clean but your exposed feet quickly got dirty. Dirty feet ruin a clean body. When Jesus said the one who had bathed needed “only to wash his feet,” He was pointing to this practical need. In doing so He was illustrating the need for sanctification.
We are cleansed from our sins by the blood of Jesus when we trust in Him as our Savior. That is justification; our being born again; forgiven our sins; regenerated as a gift of Gods’ grace through faith in Christ. But as we live each day our spiritual feet accumulate dirt that needs to be washed off. We need ongoing cleaning which is sanctification. How are we, how can we be sanctified or daily cleansed from the sins of this world that we pick up in daily life?
We need a daily meeting with God to clean the daily accumulated dirt from the world in which we live. We need to meet daily with Jesus for cleansing. Shortly after Jesus spoke of the disciples need for a foot washing He says, “You are already clean because of the word which I have spoken to you” (John 15:3). Elsewhere in the New Testament it states of Jesus and His church bride, “that He might sanctify and cleanse her with the washing of water by the word” (Ephesians 5:26). Jesus’ scrub brush is the word of God. And the One who scrubs us in Jesus’ name is the Holy Spirit.
As we live in this world moving in and out of the corridors filled with temptations to sin and worldly views contrary to God, we are exposed and sometimes influenced by sinful thoughts. This is the dirt of a sinful world we pick up each day. We see immoral images and hear ungodly opinions. These have a way of polluting our mind and boring a hole in our heart. We are cleansed by the blood of Jesus from our sin, but daily we need to submit to the spiritual cleansing of God’s word. We need daily quiet times with Jesus, one on one, in the word. We need this so any deviations from God’s word that tempt us can be exposed and cleansed away as the Holy Spirit uses the word of God to cleanse the filth of sin away. We need a regular bath in the word of God. They say our hair absorbs chemicals in the environment. We need our spiritual hair washed and rinsed in the word of God. We need our spiritual ears cleaned from worldly wax. We need the dust of sin washed from our eyes. Our teeth and maybe even our tongue need brushing. We need to let God’s word wash over us. Let those verses get in between each toe. Let the shower of God’s word clean away from top to bottom.
And the completion of Jesus’ work in us will be when we are glorified with Him. The Bible says, “and whom He justified, these He also glorified” (Romans 8:30). One day, when we pass from this life to the next, we will be in the glorious heavenly presence of Jesus. AND THERE IS NO DIRT IN HEAVEN! The streets are gold. It’s completely holy and clean. When we get to heaven we will receive “glorified bodies”; perfect bodies suited for our eternal blissful existence with our Lord (1 Corinthians 15:35-49). These new glorification bodies don’t get dirty! Oh, what a thought! Honestly, I can’t wait for that! And the way things in this world are piling up, His return and our glorification will come soon and very soon. What a wonderful hope we have in Jesus.
Until that glorification we are called to live for Him in this dark world. That means we will walk in the dirt and inevitably track some muck and mire into our spiritual homes. We need regular washing as a result. But it also means we splash His word on others in hope they too will be cleaned. Let the perfumed aroma of a cleaned spiritual body attract others to Jesus.
How important is it to be daily cleansed? The disciples had lived three years with Jesus. His words were ringing in their ears and had deeply penetrated their hearts. Jesus said to His twelve, “and you are clean.” But then He added, “but not all of you.” And John clarifies what is going on by saying, “ For He knew who would betray Him; therefore He said, “You are not all clean” (John 13:11). Not all were clean. Judas was dirty.
Judas’ heart was filthy with greed and betrayal. Judas weighed the cost of loyalty to Jesus versus material gain and felt thirty pieces of silver were worth more than Jesus and His mission. Judas was willing to sell out Jesus for 30 pieces of silver. Judas had a price; he could be bought. How did Judas get to that place where he would betray Messiah Jesus, the Miracle Worker, the Great Teacher, the Son of David, and the Holy One of God? How did he degenerate to the depth of a willingness to sell out Jesus for a mere 30 coins? He got to that point because at some point he turned a deaf ear to Jesus and His words. At some point he didn’t clean his filters or ream out his arteries. He let his feet get dirty, filthy. He let his feet get caked with worldly, carnal, fleshly, devilish defecation. At some point he just gave in to the tempter’s evil thoughts of self-gain and self-reliance. At some point he lost his respect and reverence for Jesus and His word. And the end of his folly was a self-made hangman’s noose and busted open bowels.
We are cleansed by the blood of Jesus. There is no condemnation for those in Christ Jesus. We may neglect God’s word, but the consequence will be a carnal self-centered Christian. But if we want to approach the presence of God, to live abundantly in His presence and walk in the Spirit, we need to keep clean in God’s word. Otherwise we will become deafened to the still small voice of God and His direction. Otherwise we’ll be deafened to the comfort and counsel of our dear Savior Jesus. We don’t want to be ashamed by soiled spiritual feet when we come face to face with our wonderful Savior Lord Jesus. So I ask you, “Are you washed?”