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.” For he knew who was to betray him; that was why he said, “Not all of you are clean.” (John 13:10-11).
It is important to not only understand what a particular biblical text says but also what it means. This entails understanding not only what verbs, nouns and other parts of speech are being used by the author but also to determine whether these words have any other characteristics of note. Such is the case with John 13:10-11.
Initially, Jesus was specifically speaking to Peter. We know this not only because of the immediately preceding context of John 13:1-9 but also by the singular form of the personal pronoun “him.” The text does not say “them” which would refer, at least initially, to the rest of the disciples in the upper room with Jesus.
Therefore, Jesus said to Peter, “The one who has bathed does not need to wash, except for his feet, but is completely clean.” Jesus was saying to Peter that if an individual is truly converted and sin occurs in their lives they do not need to be converted again but rather they are to confess their sins and receive sanctifying cleansing from God. In other words, they do not need to be completely bathed in the cleansing waters of salvation but rather just their feet need to be cleansed in the power of God’s ongoing forgiveness (I John 1:9).
Dr. John MacArthur explains it as follows. “The cleansing that Christ does at salvation never needs to be repeated—atonement is complete at that point. But all who have been cleansed by God’s gracious justification need constant washing in the experiential sense as they battle sin in the flesh. Believers are justified and granted imputed righteousness (Phil. 3:8–9), but still need sanctification and personal righteousness (Phil. 3:12–14).”
In keeping with this metaphor of cleansing referring to salvation and sanctification, Jesus then emphatically told not just Peter but the rest of the disciples in attendance “And you are clean.” We interpret the verse this way because the pronoun “you” which was in the singular form is now in the plural. Jesus was addressing all of the disciples, but not all of them possessed salvation.
Jesus then said “but not every one of you.” Once again, the pronoun “you” is in the plural form. Jesus made an exception in saying that everyone in the upper room were cleansed unto salvation. As the Apostle John is prone to do in his gospel, he adds a parenthetical comment. “For he knew who was to betray him; that was why he said, “Not all of you are clean.” In His omniscience, Jesus understood that one of His disciples was going to betray Him or hand Him over to His enemies. We know that this disciple was Judas Iscariot (John 6:70-71; 18:1-3).
John Calvin writes, “Peter might not set aside the washing of the feet as foolish; for as Christ washes from the head to the feet, those whom He receives as His disciples so in those whom He has cleansed the lower part remains to be daily cleansed. The term feet, therefore, metaphorically applied to all the passions and cares by which we are brought into contact with the world. Thus Christ always finds in us something to cleanse. What is here spoken of is not the forgiveness of sins but the renewal by which Christ, by gradual and uninterrupted succession, delivers His followers entirely from the sinful desires of the flesh.”
While post conversion sins cannot take away our salvation, they can harm our fellowship with Christ and also with other believers. We should also note that in spite of whatever fellowship we may have with other believers, it is most important that we first have a saving relationship with God through the person and work of Jesus Christ.
Soli deo Gloria!