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Basin Theology 101

by Skip Heitzig |
Right after 9/11, I went to New York City to help at ground zero for a few weeks. One evening as we were leaving, something caught my eye: an organization had set up tubs of water and disinfectant and were cleaning the workers' dirty, contaminated boots. As I waited in line to get my boots cleaned, I said to one of the guys crouching over somebody's feet, "Hey, you remind me of Jesus Christ." He looked at me like I was from Mars. But it was a great conversation opener that led to a great conversation about Jesus and serving.

You've probably heard of basic theology, systematic theology, or biblical theology, but I want to tell you about another kind of theology: basin theology. In John 13:4-5, we read that at the Last Supper, Jesus "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."

Basin theology is the theology of Jesus—the theology of self-sacrifice and humility. Today I want to point out three things about this kind of theology. First of all, humility is often misunderstood. Look at Peter's reaction to Jesus washing his feet: "Then [Jesus] 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!'" (vv. 6-9).

I think Peter was trying to be super spiritual and humble, but he ended up making the situation all about him. He misunderstood what true humility is: a lot of people think humility is thinking poorly of yourself, but it's actually not thinking of yourself at all.

The second point about basin theology is that cleansing is never unnecessary. Jesus said to Peter, "He who is bathed needs only to wash his feet, but is completely clean; and you are clean" (v. 10). In those days, you would take a bath before going to dinner at someone's house, but by the time you walked to wherever you were going—on dusty roads in open-toed sandals—your feet could get pretty gnarly, so a servant would wash your feet.

Here's the spiritual illustration: you got a bath when you came to Jesus Christ; He washed away all your sins. But as you walk through this world, your feet get dirty and contaminated. That's why the Bible says to believers, "If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness" (1 John 1:9). Unconfessed sin hinders your relationship with God; that's why cleansing is never unnecessary.

The third and final point I want to make is that serving is always indispensable among God's people. Read John 13:12-17: "So when [Jesus] 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. 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. If you know these things, blessed are you if do them.'"

Jesus gave us several reasons why we should serve one another: because He set the example for us, first of all, but also because if we do what He told us, we will be blessed, or happy. And that's the principle I want to leave you with: humbleness equals happiness. It's counterintuitive to humble yourself before God and before someone else and serve them, but you'll emerge from it much more content and happy that you pleased the Lord.

In His strong love,

Skip Heitzig

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