Peter said to him, “You shall never wash my feet.” Jesus answered him, “If I do not wash you, you have no share with me.” Simon Peter said to him, “Lord, not my feet only but also my hands and my head!” Jesus said to him, “The one who has bathed does not need to wash, except for his feet, but is completely clean. And you are clean, but not every one of you.” [John 13:8-10 (ESV)]
Apparently speechless when Jesus washed their feet, John records no one objecting to His doing so until Jesus came to Peter. After protesting that Jesus never would never wash his feet, the Lord warned the disciple that unless he allowed Jesus to wash him, Peter wouldn’t belong to Him. Eager to show his devotion to Jesus, Peter then enthusiastically offered the rest of his body for cleansing. Jesus explained that, because Peter already bathed, only his feet needed washing, while adding that not all of those present were clean. Since we know the rest of the story, we know He was referring to Judas. The reference to Judas not being clean, however, tells us that this exchange is about more than washing the filth of Judah’s roads off the disciple’s feet. Since Jesus wasn’t giving a hygiene lesson, what did He mean?
When Jesus said he must wash Peter’s feet, the Greek word used was niptó, a word used for washing or wetting only a part of the body, as we would with our hands before dinner or as Jesus did with the men’s feet. But, when Jesus said the men already were clean because they had bathed, the Greek word used was louó which meant bathing the entire body as we would in a long hot shower. Using both words in John 13:10, Jesus said that the one who bathed (louó) was completely clean and didn’t need to wash (niptó) except for his feet. What do bathing and washing have to do with mankind’s relationship with Jesus?
The total bath—the louó—occurs when we come to Jesus. It is when our sins are forgiven “as far as the east is from the west” [Psalm 103:12] and our scarlet sins are made “as white as snow.” [Isaiah 1:18] Once-and-done, the bath of salvation does not need to be done over and over again. With the exception of the unclean Judas, all of the disciples had bathed by trusting and believing in Jesus. When Jesus died on the cross, He paid the price for our sins (past, present, and future) once and for all time.
Having once been bathed and made new in Christ, we don’t need another bath. That our eternal salvation is secure in Christ, however, doesn’t negate the need to repent of our daily sins and ask for His forgiveness. No matter how clean they were every morning, the disciples’ feet got soiled while walking through Judah’s dirt so they needed to be washed daily. As clean as we are because of bathing in the righteous of Christ and try as hard as we might, we’re bound to step in some mud puddles and become soiled by the world’s sins as we walk through life in our fallen world. If we want to walk in daily fellowship with our Lord, we must confess and repent of the sins that soil us and allow Jesus to wash (nipto) away the filth of our fallen world every day. Salvation (the bathing) is a one-time act but sanctification (the washing) is a lifelong process; it is what allows His forgiveness to change our lives.