(July 25, 1990)
What thoughts come with the smell of warm apple pie... the difficulty of losing ten pounds?... Grandma’s house?... Cheddar cheese and melting ice cream?... Or harvest time and a crew of men around the table?
Odors evoke memories. Some publishers even put them in “scratch and sniff” stories to make scenes more alive for young readers. For example, one child’s book I’ve read has berry pie, pepper, chocolate and automobile exhaust fumes hidden in the ink.
Children are not the only ones treated to scented ink. At least one major food chain uses it in their flyers. It is subtle, fades quickly, but reminds potential customers of how good food tastes and hopefully draws them into the store.
The Bible talks about the allure of a sweet scent too. It is not a splash of cologne or aftershave but a heavenly fragrance, the aroma of Christ. The Apostle Paul put it this way, “Thanks be to God who... through us spreads everywhere the fragrance of the knowledge of Him. For we are to God the aroma of Christ among those who are being saved and those who are perishing. To the one we are the smell of death; to the other, the fragrance of life...” (2 Corinthians 2:14-16).
The origin of this metaphor is found back to the Old Testament where sacrifices for sin were burned on an altar: “And you shall burn the whole ram upon the altar: it is a burnt offering to the LORD: it is a sweet savor, an offering made by fire to the LORD.” Exodus 29:18
Figuratively speaking, the smell of the sacrifice rose to the nostrils of God and gave evidence that a sinner had made the necessary offering, in faith, for the forgiveness his sin. That offering was a shadow of a future offering that would be made by a Savior.
When Jesus came, He became the final and perfect sacrifice. As He died on the cross, His offering rose as a sweet smell to God, setting sinners free from the death penalty. Now, according to the New Testament, those who believe in Christ are bearers of that sweet smell.
Notice that 2 Corinthians 2 says “we are to God the aroma of Christ;” that is, our new life is first for God, for His delight because it gave Him great pleasure to provide it.
Secondly, this aroma “is among those who are being saved... the fragrance of life.” Our Christlikeness is also for the pleasure of those who are Christians. To one another, it is a reminder of the perfect sacrifice of Christ and attracts us to the Savior. It is He who gives each one His sweet fragrance.
Lastly, it is “the smell of death... for those who are perishing.” Perhaps the Bible means that those who do not believe in Christ see His death as defeat. To them, the gospel is nothing but a morbid message. Maybe they think Christians are mere fools, bearing not an attracting odor of life but one that repels. To those who don’t believe, Christians may also be an unwanted reminder of an uncertain eternity.
Just what is this aroma? Is it the niceness of a committed Christian? The loveliness of Jesus? Perhaps; but since this word is used in context with sacrifice, I believe it is the message of the Cross lived out in the lives of those who believe in Him. Because Jesus died for our sins, was buried, and rose again, we die to sin, put our past behind us, and live in newness of life. The death of the old nature demonstrated in practical obedience smells good to God, just as our new life in Christ also pleases Him.
I know -- not all Christians smell right. Sometimes that God-given odor can be masked with the stench of sin. But when confess our sins and take a wash in His Word, He restores the sweet aroma, then uses it to bring the memory of Him to the hearts of those around us.