Ichthys Acronym Image

Home             Site Links

Foot-washing, Bitter Herbs,

Baptism, and Borrowed Faith.

Word RTF

Question #1:  What is our Lord's washing of His disciples' feet in John13:12-17 also a symbolic reference to Christ's continually cleansing of our sins as we ask for forgiveness? I may be out in left field on this and that is why I ask. Also the bread that was dipped in a sop of bitter herds. Is there some reason the Jews did this at Passover ?

Response#1:  On foot-washing I quite agree with you (so if we are in left field we are there together). Indeed, the issue of cleansing from sin is an essential part of the meaning of this example Jesus gives (for more on this please see the link: “Repentance, Confession, and Forgiveness”). But let's start with the "ministry" part of the example.

The ministering to other believers described here is a vivid description of our forgiving them and also going out of our way for them to try and turn them from sin and error to the right way for their spiritual benefit - just as our Lord ministered to us both 1) through His sacrifice for our sins on the cross, and 2) through His teaching of His Word. We cannot atone for the sins of our brothers and sisters, and there is no need to do so because Jesus has already died for them. In imitation of our Lord, however, we can 1) act directly, praying on their behalf, and intervening and interceding when they are on the wrong track (cf. Jas.5:20; 1Jn.5:16 Jude 1:23); 2) indirectly, parallel to His ministry of the Word, we can also be diligent in our ministries on their behalf, for all true ministry ultimately contributes to spiritual growth, and spiritual growth produces closeness to God through the Word whereby the individual under the influence of the Spirit is more likely to turn back of his/her own accord after lapsing.

The foot-washing lesson does also teach that we have forgiveness of the sins we commit as members of the body of Christ. We have already been bathed (i.e., have received a blanket forgiveness for all of our sins), have been sanctified "positionally" (see "Sanctification: Peter lesson #13"), and have entered into Christ (Matt.28:19). However, since we still live in bodies of corruption (cf. Rom.7:14-25), we continue to sin after salvation (even though we most definitely have been called to holiness and commanded to turn away from sin: 1Jn.2:1). Therefore we all continue to need cleansing after salvation (1Jn.1:5-9) - we need our feet washed (forgiveness of sins committed as believers), not another bath. That is to say, we do not lose our salvation just because of personal sins - our salvation is based upon our continuing faith in Jesus Christ. The problem with giving in to a life of sin is not that God cannot forgive us, but rather that without confession and repentance of our sinful ways a time will come when we can no longer "look God in the face", and at that point faith begins to wither and die (see: "Apostasy and the Sin unto Death" in Bible Basics 3B: Hamartiology)..

On your second question, according to Exodus 12:8 and Numbers 9:11, the bitter herbs are a part of the Passover because it was commanded so by God, just as in the case of the unleavened bread and the method of cooking the lamb (roasted in fire, not boiled or etc.). Each of these elements contain a different symbolism. Taking them in reverse order, the lamb's contact with fire is a clear picture of the intense death of our Lord who was judged on the cross for our sins (1Pet.1:19; cf. Ex.12:5; 1Cor.5:7; Heb.9:14), without which judgment we would face the fires of hell (Matt.25:41; Rev.20:10). The unleavened bread is a reminder of the haste with which the children of Israel had to leave Egypt, and of the dramatic rescue by God's power that this departure entailed (Ex.12:11; 12:39; Deut.16:3). Finally - your question - the bitter herbs represent the bitterness of the lives of the Israelites in the slavery of Egypt. The word for "bitter herbs" in Exodus 12:8 and Numbers 9:11 is based on the same root as the adjective "bitter" used in the beginning of this book at Exodus 1:4: "[The Egyptians] made [the Israelites'] lives bitter with hard labor . . . . . ". Thus eating the bitter herbs was to serve as reminder of the bitterness from which they had been released by the grace, mercy and power of the Lord. This is something that the generation of the Exodus would have done well to keep in mind when they yearned for the "flesh pots of Egypt", but they forgot this very vivid lesson of the bitter herbs (cf. Num.11:4-6; 14:22; Ps.81; 95; 106), namely that it is much better to rely on God's provision and deliverance even in tough times than to long for what you had before, because in truth you are forgetting the vanity and hardship of your life before you turned to Him. And, analogously, if we ever long for the pleasures of pre-salvation, pre-repentance sin, we too should recall that sin was the harshest of task-masters (cf. Jn.8:34-38), and rejoice instead in the freedom with which God in Jesus Christ has set us free (Gal.4:24 - 5:1).

Hope this is of some help. Feel free to write again.

In our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.

Bob L.

Question #2: 

I was adult baptized and my spouse was baptized as a baby. We still don't know which one is right and were wondering if you could help us. Thanks.


I have written several extensive e-mail responses on the question of water baptism which will fill in the details behind the general statements given here:

        Baptism: Water and Spirit

        Is water baptism required for Christians today?

        Baptism and salvation

        "The baptism which now saves you": 1st Peter 3:21

        An Extended Conversation about the Baptism of the Holy Spirit

        How does being "slain in the Spirit" relate to being baptized in the Spirit?

You will notice just from the titles of the above files that this question is intimately connected with that of the baptism of (with/by) the Holy Spirit - not that they are at all truly related, but it is the case that many references to baptism in the New Testament which have been taken by some to refer to water baptism actually refer to the baptism of (with/by) the Spirit.

First, as things now stand in the Church of Jesus Christ, all believers enjoy the Spirit's baptism; that is, all who believe in Jesus are, at the point of saving faith, baptized by the Spirit into Jesus (i.e., they are made into an integral part of His Body, the Church: Rom.8:1 etc.), and are, at the same time, baptized with the Spirit (i.e., have the unction of the Holy Spirit which is both a mark and seal of all believers in this age: 2Cor.1:21-22; Eph.1:13-14; 4:30; cf. Ezek.9:1-11; Jn.6:27; 14:16; 1Pet. 1:1-2). These two blessing together constitute the “baptism of the Holy Spirit”; they cannot be separated one from another, and they have nothing whatsoever to do with water or water baptism. This is the baptism, that is, the one with true spiritual significance as John the baptist predicted (Matt.3:11), as Jesus made clear (Acts 1:5; cf. Jn.3:5), and as Paul (Eph.4:5; cf. 1Cor.1:17), and Peter (1Pet.3:21) both affirmed. Without the Spirit's baptism (which makes us part of Christ and empowers us to serve Christ), the ritual of water baptism would be entirely meaningless (and such it certainly is for all who are water baptized without true faith in Jesus Christ).

On the other hand, for all those who do enjoy the true baptism, that of the Spirit, and that includes all genuine believers in Jesus Christ, it is certainly worth asking how important water baptism is, and whether it is now even a necessary ritual at all. Matthew 28:19-20 is often cited as the basis for the necessity of water baptism, but in my view this verse is talking about the Spirit's baptism which the disciples (and the rest of us by extension) are charged with mediating, just as they do in fact mediate it throughout the book of Acts (please see the first file listed above for more details). The Greek text of Matthew 28:19-20 really reads "make them disciples by baptizing them into the Person of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit". It doesn't say anything about water, and the idea that somehow this a formula to be recited when doing water baptism doesn't really “hold water”: 1) there is no recorded NT instance of the use of this as such a formula during water baptism; and 2) only an act of God can make us one with God, can place us “into Him”, and since that is precisely what the baptism of the Spirit does in making us one with Christ, it stands to reason that it was this Spirit baptism, the important baptism, that Jesus would and did make mention of in final words in Matthew.

Given that virtually everywhere in the gospels and in the epistles it is Spirit baptism that is emphasized, it is far from impossible then that it is precisely this same Spirit baptism to which Jesus is referring at Matthew 28:19. If so (and I definitely believe so), "baptizing" refers to leading others to salvation (at which point they receive the Spirit's baptism), while "teaching" (in v.20) refers to aiding their spiritual growth in the power of the Spirit (cf. Jn.21:15-19). For those who wish to find water in this passage, it must be explained 1) what in the world "baptizing into the Person of" might mean in terms of a water-based ritual (it is clear what this would mean if it is Spirit baptism that is in view, namely, being supernaturally made part of Christ's body through faith in the gospel), and 2) why a single ritual (and not the most important one - communion is clearly more important, being emphasized by our Lord and reiterated in the epistles) should have equal importance to an entire life of spiritual growth to which it is paralleled in verse 20. Everything we know about the importance of reality over ritual in the Church argues against this. Everything we proclaim about grace and faith tells us that adherence to rote rituals is not what walking with Jesus is truly all about.

It is true that there are several instances of water baptism in the book of Acts, but some of these have been misinterpreted. I will take but one example here for the sake of brevity. In Acts 19:1-7, the way it is often translated and interpreted, there appears to be an example of Paul making sure to water baptize believers who had not yet participated in that ritual. But in fact, these believers had indeed been water baptized, for they had received "the baptism of John" (which was, after all, water baptism only - it was the coming Messiah who would "baptize with the Spirit and with fire" Matt.3:11). Secondly, the Greek text strongly suggests that what Paul does here is not immerse them in water (in fact there is no mention made of any water) but rather put his hands on them to mediate the baptism of the Holy Spirit (something the apostles uniquely did as a badge of their authority: cf. Acts 8:14-19). For in verse 5 these persons are "baptized into the Person of the Lord Jesus upon hearing [the gospel message given by Paul at the end of verse four]". This is clearly not a ritual but a reality (cf. Rom.6:3; Gal.3:27), and in the immediately following text of verse 6 it states very explicitly "for when Paul put his hands upon them the Holy Spirit came upon them". That is, the Spirit's baptism in the days of the early Church was often mediated by the apostles' "laying on of hands" (and that without water: Acts 8:18-19). This was often also accompanied by a visible expression of His presence so as to demonstrate the reality of the person being baptized "by the Spirit" into Jesus by means of said person's obvious baptism "with the Spirit" in the expression of prophesying and the like (cf. 1Cor.2:4; Gal.3:2; cf. Acts 8:17 where the exact same Greek phraseology is also used for mediating the baptism of the Spirit; cf. Heb.6:2).

Now there are no longer any apostles or any such visibly miraculous demonstrations of the Spirit's power - we have the scriptures which explain all these matters for us, and now take it on faith. But that faith is backed up by the millions of quiet miracles of personal experience that demonstrate so clearly to us that we do have the Spirit and so most definitely have also then been baptized into Jesus by the Spirit. The best that ritual water baptism could ever do (whether at birth for those who observe it thus or after faith for those who voluntarily partake) is to explain and teach these principles. Sadly, however, I do not know of a single group which uses water baptism that also understands what it is meant to represent. It is just for this reason, no doubt, that Paul could express such exasperation that he had ever made use of the ritual - for the Lord had sent him to proclaim the truth of the gospel, and optional rituals of this sort when misapplied were bound to be detrimental rather than beneficial to true spiritual growth (1Cor.1:13-17). In my view, this is where the church visible is today in regard to this ritual. It is not wrong to water baptize or to be water baptized, but it is wrong to suggest that it is necessary for salvation and wrong to infuse this ritual with "magic" properties that have no basis in the Bible. The whole tone and tenor of the New Testament is clear: it is the baptism of the Spirit that we are so privileged to enjoy, and that is a reality that will ever transcend any ritual, no matter how steeped in tradition it has become.

And [so] those who are under the control of the flesh are not able to please God. But you are not under the control of the flesh, but under the control of the Spirit – if indeed the Spirit of God dwells in you. And if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, that person does not belong to Him. Romans 8:8-9

I hope that you will find this helpful in some way.

Yours in our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ in whom we have eternal life.

Bob Luginbill

Question #3:

I think that the only reason I believe that Jesus is God's Son is because that is what I was taught. I have never had any special experience with Christ. I don't think I have ever even had a special feeling (though I probably tried to force such a feeling) or a "peace" about Christ being my Lord. I have been greatly blessed, and I believe that all good things come from God, but surely these blessings are not an indication of the presence of faith. May I ask why you believe that Jesus is the Son of God... the only way to God? It seems that one has to make his faith his own. I may have lived my life so far on "borrowed faith".


There is an old Sunday school song most of us know well: "Jesus loves me, this I know, 'cause the Bible tells me so". That is the short answer to your question about the basis for my own faith, but find herewith below a more detailed response.

I think it is probably a good thing that you are reexamining the foundations of your faith. Everyone should do this at least once after they have turned the corner and decided to live for the Lord with whatever is left of the lives they have been given on this earth. That day came for me, and it comes for many, often after a period of living for themselves - this is my testimony and that of many, many Christians I know who have now made service to the Lord the center-piece of their lives. In seminary, those who dedicate themselves to serving the Lord full time (or at least to a very deep degree) more often than not go through this again. It is not something that one needs to do over and over again, but I sense from our e-mail conversation that you are at that point of really coming to terms with your Christianity - it is my hope and my prayer that this "deconstruction" will lead you to a sound and blessed "reconstruction" that puts your faith, growth, and service on a solid footing for all your years to come, and turns out to lead to blessing and happiness that cannot even yet be imagined.

I think that the important thing is not how we came to believe but only that we believe. Doubting Thomas proclaimed that he would not believe in the resurrection "unless I see the nail marks in His hands . . . etc."; when he finally does see Jesus face to face and then professes his faith, our Lord replies, "blessed are those who have not seen, and yet believe". None of us Christians now alive have yet seen the Lord. We have only the word of those who did see Him as it is recorded in scripture. You say that you only believe because you were taught about Him by others - but that is the only way that any of us have had any tangible information about Jesus (and all of it is - by this late date in history assuredly - derivative from the Bible). But that is faith! Believing that what you have been told and that what you have read in scripture is true, even when you do not have any personal experiential evidence or anything empirical to hang your hat on, is the essence of faith. And that is truly part of whole reason why we are here: to demonstrate to the world of men and angels that we trust God even when by the world's standard there seems to be no good empirical reason to do so.

There is another very important element at work here, of course, namely, God's Holy Spirit. No one can even understand the truth, let alone believe in it, without the ministry of the Holy Spirit:

But as it is written: "What the eye has not seen and the ear has not heard, and [what] has not entered the heart of man, [these are the very] things which God has prepared for those who love Him". And God has revealed [these very things] to us through His Spirit. For the Spirit searches out everything, even the deep things of God. For who knows the things of a man except the spirit of man which is in him? In the same way too no one knows the things of God except the Spirit of God. And we have not received the spirit of the world, but the Spirit which is from God, in order that we might know the things graciously given to us by God.
1st Corinthians 2:9-12

When we hear the truth, and when we are willing to accept the truth, the Spirit is the One who makes the truth "knowable" to us - so we are not on our own in this. The Spirit speaks to our heart, our consciences, and guides us whenever we are truly willing to be led by Him (Gal.5:16-26).

It is not a question of feeling or of having an emotional experience. I can sympathize with your frustration here, because there is much heresy abroad in the church visible today, some of which stridently proclaims that if one has not had a moving experience, then faith and salvation is at least suspect. Nothing could be further from the truth. True, positive, "good" emotion is that which is based upon the solid-rock foundation of truth, and which comes in response to solid truth taught in scripture. If, on the other hand, it is something "worked up" for the sake of having an experience, it is at best worthless, and at worst dangerous (for the person will then likely come to rely on how he/she "feels" to see if what they read in scripture is right or not).

In my personal observation and experience - and I think in this I also have the truth of scripture and the Spirit of God - the deeper we get into the Bible, the more we know, really know about Jesus from scripture, the more clearly and definitively we appreciate just what it is He has done for us from a detailed appreciation of the scriptures that teach us about Him and His work, then the more we begin to experience true emotion, the sort of love we feel for people we can see, only that in the case of our Lord we can't see Him except through the faith in our heart. But that faith has to have something to grab onto. We "have faith", but not without an object. The object is Jesus, but for that faith to strengthen He has to become more than a name to us. Indeed, He is everything to us, since in truth He has died for us that we might not die. We have been transformed from death to live forever because He loved us and paid for our sins while we were still His enemies. Persevere in spiritual growth, and I promise you that the joy of that is in Jesus Christ will come to fill your heart through the Spirit as it has every brother and sister in Christ who has dedicated themselves to draw nearer to Him.

In anticipation of this ultimate deliverance, your joy overflows, though at present it may be your lot to suffer for a time through various trials to the end that your faith may be shown to be genuine. This validation of your faith is far more valuable than gold, for gold, though it too is assayed by fire, ultimately perishes. But your faith, when proven genuine in the crucible of life, will result in praise, glory and honor for you at the glorious return of Jesus Christ. Though you have never laid eyes on Him, yet you love Him. And though you cannot see Him at this present time, yet you have faith in Him. For this reason you rejoice with an inexpressible joy that bespeaks the glorious future to come, when you shall carry off in victory the ultimate prize - the deliverance of your lives - which is the very purpose and objective of this faith of yours. 1st Peter 1:6-9

There is, of course, more, so much, much more. What I would like to say to you is that the scripture itself is the Word of truth and Jesus is the Word, so that everything we learn from the Bible is in a very real sense about Jesus - it cannot be separated from Him.

Your faith is not borrowed. Your faith is real. Faith must be nurtured. It can only be strengthened by truth from the Bible, by believing that truth, by applying that truth to our lives, and by having the faith so strengthened, strengthened even more in the crucible of life (1Pet.1:6-9).

Know that you are on the right track. The Spirit is leading you deeper into the Word of God - that is the only way to truly know Jesus, who He is, what He has done for us, how it will be to live with Him forever. Emotion and depth of feeling will come, just as these grow in any other human relationship - the better we get to know people who are worth knowing, the deeper our feelings for them become. And no one is more worthy of this effort on our parts than the One who loved us and died for us even when we were yet rejecting Him.

May you find true peace and joy in Jesus Christ, welling up in the Spirit, through the ineffable power of the Word of God.

In Him who is our all, our dear Lord and Savior Jesus Christ,

Bob L.

Ichthys Home