Another outcome of our union with Christ might surprise some Christians. It’s brought to the fore in two New Testament passages, both well known.
In John 13, Jesus washes his disciples’ feet. To do so, he wraps himself with a towel. Both the wrapping and the washing are the typical tasks of a servant. The account indicates that Peter, at least, is uncomfortable with the implication; he bursts out with “You’re going to wash my feet?! … You shall never wash my feet!” (Jn 13.6, 8). As we all know, he relents—we might say over-relents—and Jesus patiently explains how the action is going to proceed (Jn 13.8-10).
When he’s finished, Jesus says,
14 If I then, your Lord and Master, have washed your feet, ye also ought to wash one another’s feet. 15 For I have given you an example, that ye should do as I have done to you (Jn 13.14-15).
A minority of Christians have taken this as an ordinance; they have foot-washing ceremonies in church, as they do with baptism and the Lord’s Supper. I don’t see a problem with that, but I don’t think it’s necessary; in fact, I think that in a way it misses the point, particularly as expressed in Jesus’ next words:
The servant is not greater than his lord; neither he that is sent greater than he that sent him (Jn 13.16b).
I think he’s using foot-washing, a servant’s task in his day, to illustrate a larger principle: no follower of Jesus is too big, too important, to be above serving his fellows. I’d suggest that for us to think that we’ve fulfilled this responsibility by washing a fellow church member’s feet once a month, in a day when foot-washing is not a cultural necessity (and I’m not saying that this is the typical attitude among those who practice the rite), is to fall far short of Jesus’ teaching. We need to serve one another—in any or all of the forms that such service takes today. That may be as simple as holding a door, or more intensive, such as cooking a meal or watching someone’s kids or fixing their car (or paying to have it fixed).
What does your colleague need, that you are in a position to provide? Provide it.
Paul strongly reinforces this concept in the well-known Christological hymn in Philippians 2:
5 Let this mind be in you, which was also in Christ Jesus: 6 Who, being in the form of God, thought it not robbery to be equal with God: 7 But made himself of no reputation, and took upon him the form of a servant, and was made in the likeness of men: 8 And being found in fashion as a man, he humbled himself, and became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross (Php 2.5-8).
Christ didn’t hang on to his heavenly status, as though he would be at risk to take “upon him the form of a servant”; that’s a sign of insecurity, of weakness. He willingly set that aside—there’s not room here to go into detail about what that involved—and humbled himself, and met the needs of all of us.
Now, we obviously can’t give our lives to redeem all who will believe—and that’s already been accomplished anyway—but we can imitate his attitude and devotion in any number of ways, the opportunities that present themselves to us.
We love it when other people do that, but we’re afraid to do that ourselves.
However, that is precisely what it looks like to be in Christ.