2 Corinthians 2:14-16 (ESV)
14 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. 15 For we are the aroma of Christ to God among those who are being saved and among those who are perishing, 16 to one a fragrance from death to death, to the other a fragrance from life to life. Who is sufficient for these things?
Have you ever noticed that people do not always agree on what smells good? I have in my mind a particular Japanese dish that my wife really likes. It is called natto, and it is a sort of smelly, slimy, fermented soybean paste (if you can’t tell, I’m not a fan). Here’s how to make it yourself! While I find this dish completely inedible, my wife, who is typically the most smell-sensitive person I know, loves it.
Do you find it strange that I now have a gospel comparison to make? No, I do not think of Jesus as similar to Japanese beans; however, there is something to learn. Paul points out in the verses above that Christians who share the gospel are like a fragrance. To some, that fragrance is the sweet smell of life. To others, that fragrance is the reminder of death.
In eternity, every person will be judged by God. Some will receive his mercy and grace because they have been found under the protection of Jesus. Others will find themselves under the judgment of God because they have not received Jesus’ forgiveness. To each, a reminder of who Jesus is will be a very different thing. To a forgiven person, the message of Jesus is life itself. To a lost person, the message of Jesus is foolish, repulsive, and altogether nonsensical—that is, until God opens their hearts to see its beauty.
Learn from this as you share your faith. If a person is not being drawn to Jesus, your gospel presentation will not smell good to them. Don’t let that bother you. Don’t let yourself try to perfume the gospel with any scents that are beyond what it truly is. Just tell the truth in a kind, honest, open way. If they reject the clear gospel, they are not rejecting you.
However, if a person is being drawn to Christ, the gospel will smell sweet, enticing, alluring. The very same gospel, the same honest and clear gospel, becomes the scent of life to someone who recognizes their sin and sees for the first time the offer of grace in Christ. Like before, you need not perfume the gospel by adding to it or hiding parts of it. Just tell the truth and watch God make it sweet to those he is saving.
It would take a radical conversion of my taste buds and my olfactory nerves to make me ever desire natto. However, radical conversions do happen. It takes a radical conversion of a person’s soul to make the gospel of Jesus Christ smell sweet to their spirit, but God does those kinds of conversions. Let us be faithful just to tell the truth and watch God do what we know is impossible. AS we do so, he will get the glory and we will be, as Paul says, to some the smell of life to life and for others the smell of death to death. However, as we tell the truth of Christ, we will always be a sweet aroma to the God who sent us out to take his message to a lost world, and that is where our joy is found.