What Perfume Are You Wearing?
A friend posted this on her Facebook page yesterday: “I just got done putting wood in our wood boiler and got in the car to drive the boys to the library. One son said, ‘Oh mom, you smell just like smoked salmon . . . no, more like smoked lake trout.’ I responded, ‘Is that a compliment?’ ‘Yep!,’ he said, ‘I love that smell.'”
Cute, huh! I’m headed to a meeting later this morning at our local courthouse. There is a sign on the entry door asking individuals attending meetings at the courthouse to refrain from wearing “scents,” on account of severe allergies among county employees in the building. It is a “Scents Free Zone” (yes, I see the cultural pun, but that is another story.)
Thing is, there are some aromas that please and invite us and others that disturb and repulse us. And those aromas can play both positive and negative roles in our lives. Flies are attracted to their deaths by the smell emitted by the Venus Fly Trap, but are attracted to life by the smell of 10 day old tuna left in the garbage can in the summer sun. Smells serve very important functions in our lives beyond merely creating sensations of pleasure or disgust.
So, imagine what Paul must have intended when he wrote these words in his second letter to the Corinthian church: “But thanks be to God, who in Christ always leads us in triumphal procession, and through us spreads the fragrance of the knowledge of him everywhere. For we are the aroma of Christ to God among those who are being saved and among those who are perishing, to one a fragrance from death to death, to the other a fragrance from life to life. Who is sufficient for these things?” (2 Corinthians 2:14-16, ESV).
As we live for Christ in the world, filled with His Spirit and surrendered to His sovereignty, obediently living out His teachings, committed to faithfully following as His disciples, we give off an aroma that is perceived by God, by Christ, by Christians, and by the world. To those who are hearing the gospel of Jesus Christ and trusting in Him — His life, death, and resurrection — for the forgiveness of their sin and for new and eternal life, true disciples exude the spiritual scent of life. God moves people from slavery to fear of death and from an expectation of death as judgment for sin to freedom and life in response to their faith in Christ and personal repentance. People see that journey lived out in us, and those who long for the same fearless freedom find the aroma of Christ in the believer pleasing and desirable for themselves.
But to those who reject Christ and the gospel, the hope and holiness within the believer accentuates the condition of death that prevails in the life of the unbeliever, and just as physical death stinks, so to, to the unbeliever, does the righteous judgment of a holy and just God repulse and disgust. To the one seeking God we are the savor of life, to the one rejecting God, the aroma of death.
The practical question this sets before us is this: “Do we continually and consistently bear the perfume of God, the aroma of Christ, in all life conditions and situations, or are there people, places, and situations where we attempt to the cover the aroma of Christ with the scent of the world, with the result that both those who are being saved and those who are perishing are confused by us?” That’s a reflective question worth prayerfully searching out. The aroma of Christ is what it is, and will have the effect it has based on who perceives it. Do we give perceivers in the world an authentic whiff of Christ by the way we live, the decisions we make, the values we hold, the words we speak, and the positions we take?