But thanks be to God, who always leads us in triumph in Christ, and manifests through us the sweet aroma of the knowledge of Him in every place. For we are a fragrance of Christ to God among those who are being saved and among those who are perishing; to the one an aroma from death to death, to the other an aroma from life to life. And who is adequate for these things?
–2 Cor 2:14–16
I am pregnant, and pregnancy can wreak havoc on my senses. In particular, my sense of smell is very sensitive. I notice aromas that others don’t, and I am bothered by smells that others find pleasant. Perfume, for example. Oh boy, perfume is the pregnant woman’s enemy.
Paul says something similar about the knowledge of Christ. Christ never changes, and yet people have very different responses to Him.
This was true even during His earthly ministry. Luke 13 provides one of many examples of how people responded to Jesus. Jesus heals a woman on the Sabbath, which infuriates the religious leaders. After Jesus poses a question to them to reveal how backward their priorities are, Luke records verse 17: “As He said this, all His opponents were being humiliated; and the entire crowd was rejoicing over all the glorious things being done by Him.”
People either loved Jesus or hated Him.
We, however, live in a culture of religious tolerance. In this cultural climate, Jesus gets lumped in with other religious figures and given the generic thumbs-up of approval (His Facebook page has over 12 million “likes”!). I hear criticism of Christians a lot more than I hear direct criticism of Jesus Himself. It’s just not cool to hate Jesus.
But what about the real Jesus? What about the real, actual message of the cross?
“For the word of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God."
–1 Cor 1:18
The message of the cross—that we are dead in our sins, separated from God, and headed to hell, but that because of Christ’s death, we can be forgiven and reborn and spend eternity with God—is still just as polarizing as what Paul describes in 2 Corinthians 2. To some, that message is a sweet aroma, but to others, it smells rancid.
I’ve talked to people who consider themselves very accepting and tolerant, and yet when I lay out the gospel, they recoil at the idea that they have sin and need forgiveness. To them, Jesus (the real Jesus) is offensive, and they want nothing to do with Him.
Then there are others who have a very different response. To the person who knows she is broken, who has seen the destructive results of living life as the captain of her own ship, the message of salvation is a sweet relief. She sees her need for a Savior, and her heart sings when she hears the gospel.
Through us, God manifests the sweet aroma of His Son, and that smells very different to different people. I need to remember this. I can be so worried about offending someone, so afraid of turning someone off to Jesus that I forget that Jesus Himself is polarizing.
Sometimes we can think that, if people reject our message, it’s because we’re doing something wrong. I can often (mistakenly) think that if people just understood the gospel, of course they would accept Jesus. Grace is such a beautiful message, how could they not? Well, to someone committed to the idea that they are good enough to deserve God’s approval, the message of grace is repugnant.
A friend of mine likes to remind people, “If people are telling you ‘no’ [when you share your faith], you’re doing your job.” Our job isn’t to win people (of course, we aren’t to make the message extra offensive by our own behavior, but that’s a different topic). Our job is to be the aroma of Christ and let Jesus do what He does—draw to Himself those whose hearts are inclined.
The gospel can be hard medicine. Help us to remember this as we’re appealing to the people in our lives to be reconciled to You. Thank You for the amazing privilege of being the aroma of You to a lost and dying world. Amen.
See You In The Round!
Scripture quotations taken from the New American Standard Bible (NASB), Copyright © 1960, 1962, 1963, 1968, 1971, 1972, 1973, 1975, 1977, 1995 by The Lockman Foundation