Is Footwashing necessary for salvation?

Updated: Mar 3

Although Footwashing isn't commonly practised for salvation in many Christian churches, we believe that the Bible points us to its necessity.





Sermon Transcript


This sermon covers the following points:


Footwashing: A disputed sacrament


Footwashing is one of the sacraments in True Jesus Church. It is also one of the hardest sacraments to convince our fellow Christians on its importance. It is the sixth of our ten Articles of Faith. It enables a person to have a part with our Lord Jesus Christ and serves as a constant reminder for one to have love, holiness, humility, forgiveness and servitude. After the sacrament of Water Baptism is carried out, one must receive the sacrament of Footwashing in the name of Jesus Christ.


Even though Footwashing is widely practised among Christian churches today, very few churches can accept its efficacies and relationship with salvation. Many churches perform Footwashing during the week leading up to Good Friday to emulate the example of Jesus Christ who demonstrated humility and love.


There are not many churches that perform Footwashing because they believe that it is part of an important instruction that allows us to enter into salvation.



What does the Bible say about Footwashing?


John 13:1-15 is the Bible’s sole record concerning Footwashing.


Now before the Feast of the Passover, when Jesus knew that His hour had come that He should depart from this world to the Father, having loved His own who were in the world, He loved them to the end.

And supper being ended, the devil having already put it 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 had come from God and was going to God, rose from supper and laid aside His garments, took a towel and girded Himself. After that, He poured water into a basin and began to wash the disciples’ feet, and to wipe them with the towel with which He was girded. Then He came to Simon Peter. And Peter said to Him, “Lord, are You washing my feet?”

Jesus answered and said to him, “What I am doing you do not understand now, but you will know after this.”

Peter said to Him, “You shall never wash my feet!”

Jesus answered him, “If I do not wash you, you have no part with Me.”

Simon Peter said to Him, “Lord, not my feet only, but also my hands and my head!”

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.” For He knew who would betray Him; therefore He said, “You are not all clean.”

So when He had washed their feet, taken His garments, and sat down again, He said to them, “Do you know what I have done to you? You call Me Teacher and Lord, and you say well, for so I am. If I then, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet. For I have given you an example, that you should do as I have done to you.



Why do people say Footwashing is unnecessary for salvation?


Footwashing is the hardest amongst the three sacraments to convince our fellow Christians on its connection to salvation. Their belief is built upon these three points/areas:


  1. There is only one verse that states the importance of Footwashing and this verse is found in John 13:8 - Jesus answered him, “If I do not wash you, you have no part with Me.”

  2. The practice of Footwashing cannot be found in the Book of Acts, unlike Water Baptism and the receiving of the Holy Spirit, which were repeatedly mentioned. There are no other records of the apostles following the instructions of the Lord Jesus Christ to carry out Footwashing.

  3. Many understand/interpret John 13:1-2 as Jesus’s teaching on humility, sacrifice and love towards Judas who betrayed Him, instead of a greater purpose which is salvation: Now before the Feast of the Passover, when Jesus knew that His hour had come that He should depart from this world to the Father, having loved His own who were in the world, He loved them to the end. And supper being ended, the devil having already put it into the heart of Judas Iscariot, Simon’s son, to betray Him,


They then quote Bible verses on how Jesus Christ came to serve and not to be served to substantiate their point.


One of these verses would be Philippians 2:7-8, whereby Paul said that Jesus emptied Himself and took on the form of a lowly servant to die for our sake. They make mention of how the later part of this verse, “this form of servant lowering Himself”, mirrors John 13.


Footwashing has also been challenged in many other aspects, with arguments such as these:

  1. “Isn’t salvation by grace through Faith? Why are you adding these rituals to corrupt the simplicity in Christ Jesus, just like what Paul mentioned in 2 Corinthians 11:3?”

  2. Footwashing is purely symbolic because all sins are washed away during Baptism therefore there is no clean and unclean issue at this point of time.

  3. If this sacrament is related to Salvation, why then was it being instituted during the Last Supper? Why was it not instituted immediately after Baptism so that people can see the importance of this practice?

  4. Jesus washed the feet of the disciples to prepare them to preach the gospel of peace. It is like what Isaiah and Paul says, “How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the gospel of peace!” (Rom 10:15)

  5. John 13:17 reads, “If you know these things, blessed are you if you do them.” If this is just a mere blessing, how can it be related to salvation?


The washing of one’s feet was commonly practised in the Old Testament as it was part of their daily activities, social life and religious living.


What does the Old Testament say about foot washing?


Song of Solomon 5:3

When the beloved was knocking on the door, the Shunamite woman said “I have washed my feet; How can I dirty them?”


2 Samuel 11:8

David instructed Uriah, the husband of Bathsheba to return home and wash his feet to prepare for bed.


Genesis 18:4

Abraham received guests and allowed them to be given water to wash their feet.


Genesis 43:24

The brothers of Joseph were given water to wash their feet.


From the Old Testament, we can see that the practice of foot washing relates to their daily and social way of life, to wash their feet before going to bed, to give water to the guest as an act of hospitality and in their religious practice, when the sons of Aaron were commanded to wash their hands and feet with bronze basin as recorded in the Book of Exodus.



What else does the New Testament say about foot washing?


There are also some examples of foot washing mentioned in the New Testament [in addition to John 13, mentioned above.]


Luke 7:44

Jesus entered into the house of his student however he was not given any water to wash his feet. Instead, an unworthy woman came and washed the feet of Jesus.


1 Timothy 5:9-10

This passage mentioned how women wash the feet of the saints.


With all these examples, a lot of people are convinced that Footwashing is purely customary, part of ceremonial cleansing that it is no longer needed today.



What happened to foot washing after the apostolic era?


After the Apostolic Era, there were very few records concerning Footwashing.


Between the 1st and 2nd century

A person called Tertullian was the only one who mentioned Footwashing.


In the 3rd century

Another person by the name of Origen discouraged the practice of Footwashing, saying it was not to be perpetuated literally.


In AD 300

During the Council of Elvira, a decision was made to discourage the washing of feet. Ambrose of Milan was against this ruling because he believed that Footwashing has its sacramental importance. At that time in the church of Milan, Footwashing was practised together with the Sacrament of Baptism.


In the 4th or 5th century

Augustine of Hippo said that Footwashing signifies the removal of non-mortal sin.


During the early centuries, there were only a few records of churches in Africa, Germany, Milan and Ireland that practised this kind of Footwashing.


Around 11th and 12th century

The churches in Ireland abolished Footwashing.


16th century

We are very familiar with Martin Luther. He is not the person who started the idea to reform against the Catholic Church. He was being influenced by people like Jan Hus. When the Hussites wanted to have radical reformation against the Catholic Church at that time, they started to revive a lot of practises that were lost after the Apostolic Era. Footwashing was one of the practises which was revived.


From the Scriptures and in the historical records that we can see, if Footwashing is not something of importance to Salvation, then people like Ambrose of Milan would never have the idea that this is something important to Salvation and part of Baptism. Yes, indeed, we see a lot of people who are against the practice of Footwashing. Especially when their understanding towards Footwashing is that it is merely a teaching which is symbolic.


Even though there are churches who practise Footwashing in a very symbolic manner, they have their leader of the church to perform Footwashing upon certain people.


Today when we look at the Scriptures, are we able to see the importance of this practice that relates to our salvation?


Why does Footwashing relate to my salvation?


John 13:1-15 is the sole record concerning Footwashing. Even though it is mentioned once, it doesn’t mean it is less/least important.


There are three points which I would like to share with you this afternoon that shows how Footwashing relates to our Salvation.


John 13:8

Peter said to Him, “You shall never wash my feet!”

Jesus answered him, “If I do not wash you, you have no part with Me.”


According to Peter’s understanding, it is the student who washes the feet of the teacher. Even if Jesus Christ is the host of this house, water is to be given to Peter to wash his own feet. But what Jesus Christ is performing at that time, was not something that is part of a tradition. What is of interest is the Greek word ‘part’ which is called ‘meros’ – to have a share, to have a portion.


Therefore John 13:8 shows that Footwashing is not a symbolic act.

What does it mean to have a share or have a portion?


Let us try to collect some verses that use the Greek word ‘meros’.


Physical Aspect of Meros

[Note: The underlined words are those that use the Greek word meros.]


Luke 15:12

And the younger of them said to his father, ‘Father, give me the portion of goods that falls to me.’ So he divided to them his livelihood.


John 19:23

Then the soldiers, when they had crucified Jesus, took His garments and made four parts, to each soldier a part, and also the tunic.


Ephesians 4:9

Now this, “He ascended”—what does it mean but that He also first descended into the lower parts of the earth?)

This is referring to the physical portion of this world.


Firstly, when we look at the physical sense, this inheritance belonged to the Father in one whole. The garment was one whole, belonging to the Lord Jesus Christ thereafter they divided it into several pieces/parts.


Figurative Aspect of Meros


Luke 11:36

If then your whole body is full of light, having no part dark, the whole body will be full of light, as when the bright shining of a lamp gives you light.”


This is a figure of speech which explains we are not part of this darkness and have no relationship with it.


1 Corinthians 12:27

Now you are the body of Christ, and members individually.


The word in New American Version bible is ‘individual’ in English but it says in the Greek original text, ‘Now you are Christ Body and part members of it. Not referring to individual or separate but part of this body.


Ephesians 4:16

From whom the whole body, joined and knit together by what every joint supplies, according to the effective working by which every part does its share, causes growth of the body for the edifying of itself in love.


Every single part is related to the whole body.


From the above three aspects, we can see that the same Greek word ‘meros’ refers to being part of something that is whole.


Even though you have washed yourself, received Baptism to wash away your sins, able to come before Jesus Christ to receive the life that he promised you, Jesus Christ will say, “you have no part with me” because you are not part of this whole body of Christ. Are you able to become part of this life that Jesus Christ has promised us?


Jesus Christ says we have to be part of Him.


Why?


2 Corinthians 4:11

For we who live are always delivered to death for Jesus’ sake, that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our mortal flesh.


Today, if we have a part with the Lord Jesus Christ, we are able to have this life of Jesus Christ which will manifest in our body. Baptism allows us to enter into this life. However, Footwashing allows us to be part of this life.


Why is this ‘part’ very important?


Because during Judgement Day, there will be a decision made based on the part we choose or belong to.


Revelations 21:8

But the cowardly, unbelieving, abominable, murderers, sexually immoral, sorcerers, idolaters, and all liars shall have their part in the lake which burns with fire and brimstone, which is the second death.”


Those who are sinners are part of this eternal punishment during Judgement Day.



Revelations 20:6

Blessed and holy is he who has part in the first resurrection. Over such the second death has no power, but they shall be priests of God and of Christ, and shall reign with Him a thousand years.


We are part of the first resurrection during Baptism. If we are able to remain in the part of this grace of God, the second death of eternal punishment will have no power over us.


Revelations 22:9

Then he said to me, “See that you do not do that. For I am your fellow servant, and of your brethren the prophets, and of those who keep the words of this book. Worship God.”


Are we heeding the words of this book?


Revelations 22:19

and if anyone takes away from the words of the book of this prophecy, God shall take away his part from the Book of Life, from the holy city, and from the things which are written in this book.


Today, can we understand the importance of being a part of this whole body of the Lord Jesus Christ? That if we have this part in the life He has promised us, we will have no part with the eternal punishment in hell during judgement day?



What If We Still Don’t Understand?

John 13:7

Jesus answered and said to him, “What I am doing you do not understand now, but you will know after this.”


If this is merely a symbolic teaching on humility and servitude, why then did Jesus Christ tell Peter that he is not able to understand now but will only come to realization later?


Paul says that God took on a lowly form to serve people. If this is about humility, we can already see that the master is lowering Himself to wash the disciples’ dirty feet.


John 14:26

“These things I have spoken to you while being present with you. But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in My name, He will teach you all things, and bring to your remembrance all things that I said to you.


Not all of Jesus Christ’s teachings were straightforward.


Some were parables which Jesus Christ needed to explain to his disciples and some were teachings known as sacraments relating to Salvation that required more effort to understand.


In the Gospel of John 6:53, Jesus Christ was telling his disciples that His body can be eaten and His blood can be drunk. Those who heard Jesus Christ saying this for the first time, thought He was crazy because it was a difficult saying/teaching to understand. Hence, they decided not to follow Him anymore.


Holy Communion & Footwashing sacraments are difficult to understand because it is not as simple as we interpret them to be. We have to be patient because Jesus promised to give us the Holy Spirit, which is the Spirit of truth.


John 14:17

the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees Him nor knows Him; but you know Him, for He dwells with you and will be in you.


John 15:26

“But when the Helper comes, whom I shall send to you from the Father, the Spirit of truth who proceeds from the Father, He will testify of Me.


The Spirit of truth testifies of Jesus Christ’s teachings. Therefore, the disciples had to wait for the Holy Spirit to descend upon them before they could understand the sacraments.


We tend to reject something immediately when we do not understand it and we cast it out as heresy. But we can see that even though the disciples couldn’t understand Jesus Christ’s teachings on the sacraments of Footwashing and Holy Communion, they were willing to believe in the word of the Lord Jesus Christ and kept His teachings because of their pure hearts.


When the disciples received the Holy Spirit, the Spirit of truth brought to their remembrance all things that Jesus Christ had taught them.



Why we owe it to Christ to obey this command of Footwashing


John 13:14 If I then, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet.


This is a commandment given to the disciples in which Jesus Christ set an example to them and all of us.


The Greek word for ‘ought to’ is ‘ofeílo’ and it also means ‘to owe’, to be indebted to something. Hence, we are obliged to rectify a debt we already owe. To owe means we are morally and legally required to fulfil this obligation.


Matthew 18:28, 30, 34

“But that servant went out and found one of his fellow servants who owed him a hundred denarii; and he laid hands on him and took him by the throat, saying, ‘Pay me what you owe!’

And he would not, but went and threw him into prison till he should pay the debt.

And his master was angry, and delivered him to the torturers until he should pay all that was due to him.

In this passage, the word ‘owe’ refers to the same Greek words used in the bible.


Matthew 23:16, 18

“Woe to you, blind guides, who say, ‘Whoever swears by the temple, it is nothing; but whoever swears by the gold of the temple, he is obliged to perform it.’

And, ‘Whoever swears by the altar, it is nothing; but whoever swears by the gift that is on it, he is obliged to perform it.’


The Greek word for ‘obligated’ is ‘ofeílo’.


Luke 7:41

“There was a certain creditor who had two debtors. One owed five hundred denarii, and the other fifty.


These are the examples whereby the same Greek word ‘ofeílo’ is used under the context of ‘owing something’ and that they are tied to a certain obligation that they must be able to fulfil,

including the example of ‘swearing in the temple’ as recorded in Matthew 23:16, 18.


Luke 17:10

So likewise you, when you have done all those things which you are commanded, say, ‘We are unprofitable servants. We have done what was our duty to do.’


Jesus Christ told the disciples not to expect any gratitude when they carry out His commandments because they are all unworthy servants and tied to a certain obligation that they must be able to fulfil, morally and legally.


John 19:17

The Jews answered him, “We have a law, and according to our law He ought to die, because He made Himself the Son of God.


‘Ought to’ in this verse is used under the context of the law because they were bound by the law. They were obligated to perform according to the law.


Romans 15:1, 27

We then who are strong ought to bear with the scruples of the weak, and not to please ourselves.

It pleased them indeed, and they are their debtors. For if the Gentiles have been partakers of their spiritual things, their duty is also to minister to them in material things.


If we are one family and related as one household, we are bound to deliver according to what is expected of us. We are also morally obligated to help one another and to bear one another’s burdens.


The Greek word ‘ofeílo’ which means ‘to owe’, to be indebted to something is used in verse 27 as well.


Keeping all the above examples in mind, we should recognize the importance and heavy instruction of Footwashing mentioned by Jesus Christ in John 13. When He says that we must do it, we are obligated to carry it out. It is not just a teaching which we can take lightly and decide to do or not.


Conclusion: Footwashing is an Essential Sacrament


Earlier in my sermon, I have listed many examples from the early century of Christianity to present time whereby people are discouraging Footwashing. They have downplayed the importance of this sacrament in relation to Salvation. Not because they do not understand John 13, but because they do not have Spirit of God to lead them into all understanding.


Without the Spirit of truth and revelation, we will not be able to affirm that the sacrament of Footwashing is related to Salvation. We must wait to receive the Holy Spirit in order to understand the difficult things from God.


When we perform Footwashing, we become one part with Jesus Christ.


The sacrament of Footwashing is not just a mere blessing as mentioned in John 13:16-17.


Matthew 28:20

teaching them to observe all things that I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” Amen.


If we keep all things that Jesus has commanded us, he will be with us always even to the end of this age.


Footwashing is the Sixth of our Ten Articles of Faith and it is very important because it allows us to have a part with the Lord Jesus Christ and teaches us love, holiness, humility and forgiveness. These two parts should be kept as whole and not be given varying importance. If we try to separate the teachings and the efficacies of the sacraments, we will downplay the importance of the sacrament.


We perform the sacrament of Footwashing and at the same time, remind our members to keep themselves in holiness. When we do that, Jesus Christ will be with us always even to the end of this age.


Today, we can present a lot of theological arguments for a belief of ours.


Ultimately, it is up to us whether we are willing to give ourselves a chance to keep this in our hearts. If we start to reject or doubt things which we don’t understand, or we find it difficult from the very beginning, then we are not allowing the Holy Spirit to give us a chance to understand the teachings at a later time.


If there are things which we don’t understand, we should keep it in our hearts and pray that the Holy Spirit will lead us into understanding the sacraments.