The Basis of Fellowship
During the course of the feet-washing in John chapter 13 Simon Peter refused to allow the Lord Jesus to wash his feet. In His reply the Lord indicated that for Peter there could be no fellowship with Himself if there was no feet-washing. This did not mean that Peter would no longer be a disciple of the Lord. It simply meant that there would be an interruption of the fellowship which he normally enjoyed with his Lord.
This leads us to ask, what is the basis of this fellowship? how is it entered into in the first place, and then how is it maintained? It would appear that two things are needful. There must be the washing of regeneration, and there must be a daily cleansing. We need to consider each of these carefully.
The Washing of Regeneration. There are those who cannot possibly have fellowship with Christ, simply because they do not belong to Him. They are not among ‘His own’. They have no part with Him because they have no part in Him. Only those who are ‘in Christ’ can enjoy fellowship with Him day by day.
How is it possible to have a place among those who belong to Christ? What is involved in becoming His? We must notice carefully what the Lord said to Peter in verse 10. ‘He that is washed needeth not save to wash his feet, but is clean every whit’. The word ‘washed’ should be translated ‘bathed’. It has to do with the cleansing of the whole person. There is an initial washing or bathing which is necessary, and which answers to the ‘washing of regeneration’ mentioned in Titus 3. 5. ‘Not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to His mercy He saved us, by the washing of regeneration, and renewing of the Holy Ghost’.
The washing of regeneration has in view the New Birth. ‘Except a man be born again (from above), he cannot see the kingdom of God’. John 3. 3. Being born into the family of God involves a complete cleansing from all our sins. This is suggested in the bathing of the whole person. The one who is bathed is ‘clean every whit’. When a person receives the Lord Jesus as Saviour he is forgiven and cleansed from all his sins.
It is important to notice the implication in the Lord’s statement. He did not actually say it, but He implied that once the initial cleansing has taken place there is no need for it to be repeated. ‘He that is bathed needeth not (to be bathed a second time)… but is clean every whit’. Conversion is an experience which cannot be repeated. It is not possible to be saved more than once. The saying is true, ‘once saved, always saved’.
Here is a strong argument in support of the truth of the eternal security of the believer. It is in keeping with the words of the Good Shepherd regarding His sheep. ‘I give unto them eternal life; and they shall never perish’. John 10. 28. How comforting it is to know that our salvation depends not upon ourselves, but upon the finished work of Christ at Calvary. Once we become His we are His for ever.
The Daily Cleansing. The washing of regeneration makes possible our fellowship with Christ, but for the actual and continued enjoyment of it there must be that which the Lord insisted on in the case of Peter. ‘If I wash thee not, thou hast no part with Me’.
When Peter requested the washing of his hands and head as well as his feet, the Lord replied in the words we have considered, ‘He that is bathed needeth not save to wash his feet’. There is still the need for the feet-washing. The absence of this repeated cleansing means that the enjoyment of fellowship with Christ becomes an impossibility.
This has nothing to do with our salvation. The Lord did not say ‘in Me’, but ‘with Me’. This has in view, not union with Christ, but in communion, which is another word for fellowship. It is necessary for all who belong to Christ to receive this constant and repeated cleansing if they are to enjoy fellowship with Christ.
How is it possible for the Lord to still undertake the washing of His disciples’ feet? It is important to see that His whole action in the upper room was an enacted parable, providing a picture of His present ministry on behalf of His own.
In Ephesians 5 we have a description of the love-work of Christ on behalf of the Church. It covers the past, the present, and the future. As to the past we read, ‘Christ also loved the Church, and gave Himself for it’; v. 25. The present aspect is described in the words, ‘That He might sanctify and cleanse it with the washing of water by the word’, v. 26. Then we have His future love-work, ‘That He might present it to Himself a glorious church, not having spot, or wrinkle, or any such thing’; v. 27.
It is the present aspect which we have in view. At the present time the Lord is engaged in sanctifying and cleansing His own by means of the washing of water by the Word. This surely answers to the feet-washing of John 13. In His present ministry our great High Priest is engaged in cleansing away any defilement which we may contract due to our contact with the world. He does it by means of His Word. In John 15. 3 He could say to His disciples, ‘Now are ye clean through the word which I have spoken unto you’.