What is footwashing and when was it established?
On the evening of His departure, the Lord Jesus got up to show His disciples the full extent of His love. He “rose from supper, laid aside His garments, and girded Himself with a towel. Then 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” (Jn 13:4-5).
The Lord stripped Himself of His robes and served His subjects. The Creator bent before His creatures to wash the humblest part of their bodies. It was more than just a farewell ceremony. As He knelt before them one by one and washed the feet of the followers who would abandon Him, the teacher gave His last, greatest lesson of love.
Jesus said, “He who has bathed needs only to wash his feet, but is completely clean” (Jn 13:10). With this analogy, the Lord teaches us that a believer needs to accept footwashing after he or she has been baptized.
Why do I need to receive foot-washing?
“If I do not wash you, you have no part with me,” Jesus said (Jn 13:8). Footwashing is not a symbolic ritual. It is a command from the Lord that you obey in order to have a part in His life. God’s saving grace doesn’t end at baptism. His grace is a life-long gift. In order to participate in this lasting relationship, you need to accept footwashing from the Lord.
Like baptism, footwashing is a sacrament: a physical action the Lord commanded His believers to receive that carries the spiritual effect of salvation. Through baptism, the Lord Jesus cleanses us of all our past sins. Through footwashing, He prepares our feet to walk in the path that He has already laid: the way of righteousness that leads to His kingdom.
In following Jesus’ command, we also receive the spiritual teaching He conveyed. “For I have given you an example, that you should do as I have done to you. Most assuredly, I say to you, a servant is not greater than his master; nor is he who is sent greater than he who sent him” (Jn 13:15-16). Just as our Master washed the feet of sinners, we who follow Him are called to shed the outer shell of our ego, to bend humbly in service, and to share Christ’s love with others.
How and when must we perform footwashing?
According to the Lord’s command, the church today washes the feet of the baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ. The sacrament is performed on behalf of our Lord, and it is by His name that we are cleansed and saved.
The person administering the sacrament pours water into a basin, washes each new believer’s feet, and dries them with a towel. When you receive the sacrament, a brother or sister in Christ performs the footwashing, but in spirit, it is our Lord who washes your feet.
Footwashing is a reminder of Christ’s unfailing love. It teaches us to live with each other as Jesus lived with His followers: in gentleness, patience, and love. So sometimes, believers will also wash each other’s feet to express forgiveness and love.
What happens after I receive footwashing?
i. Keep your feet clean
Your feet—“the walk” you choose to walk—represent your behavior and lifestyle. Receiving foot-washing means allowing Christ to be the Lord of your life and committing yourself to walk in His footsteps. The Lord calls us to reject the sinful influences of society. He wants us to walk daily with Him and follow His examples in word and in deed. The Word of God “is a lamp to [our] feet and a light to [our] path” (Ps 119:105). We can keep ourselves clean by obeying God’s word, for His teachings direct our feet in the right way.
ii. Keep your feet in His church
We have a part with Jesus Christ as members of His body, the church. David, a king in Israel, sang, “I was glad when they said to me, ‘let us go to the house of the Lord!’ Our feet have been standing within your gates, O Jerusalem!” (Ps 122:1-2). Jerusalem was where God’s temple resided, and symbolizes the church today. We let our feet stand within its gates by remaining in the community of believers and adhering to the gospel that God has given the church.
iii. Walk in Christ’s love
After His last meal with the disciples, Jesus left them with these words: “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another; as I have loved you, that you also love one another. By this all will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another” (Jn 13:34-5). When we receive footwashing, we receive Christ’s call to share God’s love with others.
True love is not merely a feeling or philosophy. We demonstrate it through our actions. Jesus Christ laid down His life for us while we were still His enemies. By washing our feet, He sends us out to love our neighbors and enemies to the same extent. “If you know these things,” Jesus said, “happy are you if you do them” (Jn 13:17). May our footprints be the imprints of God’s love in the world.