By Linda Rex
I was reflecting the other day on some of my experiences out on the farm. When you live with and interact daily with animals of any kind, you experience the realities of life and death. Death of humans and animals is inevitable and can happen at the most inopportune times, creating the unpleasant task of finding a place for burial.
And death normally isn’t a very pleasant experience. After a day or two, the dead body will begin to bloat and stink, and the scavengers will begin to make a meal off of it. The stench of a rotting corpse, to me, is quite nauseating and disgusting, even though it is the normal process of decomposition. I prefer to get as far as I can from any dead body.
It’s interesting that the apostle Paul uses this stench of death as a way of describing how those who reject Christ see the lives of those who are living in communion with God. In one way we are seen as a fragrance—a lovely scent—of Christ rising to God. In the other, we are seen as a “dreadful smell of death and doom”. How can we be both at the same time?
Really it comes down to perception. What is real about each of us is not readily apparent to everyone all at once. Our new life in Christ—which is true for each and every person—is hidden with God in Christ. This means that it is a spiritual reality, an objective truth that may or may not be subjectively evident in each of our lives. In Jesus Christ each and every person lived, died and rose and again. God sent the Spirit to all. But what God has done for us in Jesus Christ and by sending the Spirit is not necessarily immediately obvious because not everyone believes or receives the gift of God in Christ and lives it out.
When a person meets and comes to know well someone who is actively participating in a new life in Christ, they are faced with the truth of the resurrection. The resurrection of Jesus, in which we are all included, means that Jesus, and all of us in him, died. There was a time when Jesus’ body was a corpse—he died—and so we each died. And we all rose from the grave in him.
The thing is—if we died in Christ—what we used to be is now, dead. That scripture that says “the heart is deceitful above all things and desperately wicked” (Jer 17:9) no longer applies. Sure, it can certainly look as though this old way of living and being is still alive. We can live and act and talk in a way that implies this is still the case. But God has declared in Jesus Christ a definite “No” to this being our nature any longer. He has given us the new heart he promised his people.
But what if we don’t want a new heart? What if we think the heart we have is just fine? What if we don’t see any problem with the way we are living now? What if we don’t believe that God has done any of this for us?
If this is the case, we will perceive this way of being—of living a new life in Christ—as something it is not. We will see it as being a lie, or as being something offensive that we want no part of, and so we will resist and reject the Spirit and his work of renewal. To us it will be a stinking, rotting mess. Because the evidence of this new life in Jesus tells us that without Jesus, a smelly, rotten corpse is just what we are.
We don’t like to be told the truth about ourselves. If we concede that in Jesus Christ we are made new, that means we have to die to our old ways of being and doing. If we agree that Jesus Christ defines our new humanity, that means we have to give up being lord of our lives and submit to his ways of being and doing. And that just stinks!
Jesus pounded out the importance of death and resurrection over and over in his ministry. We die with Christ and we rise with Christ—he is our life. Apart from him we have no hope. We are just old rotting corpses that God never meant for us to be.
God created beautiful things when he created human beings and he didn’t create humans to be the mess we are today. This is not who we are. In God’s purpose we are made to reflect and bear his image. When others look at us, God intends for them to see a reflection of his perichoretic nature of unity, diversity and equality. God’s purpose is for us to be creatures in whom and with whom he will dwell, who will participate with him in a relationship full of love and grace.
But because evil and sin and death has entered our cosmos, God sent his Son to take it all on himself and in the process create a new humanity with God’s nature hidden within. Then he sent his Spirit to awaken each of us to faith in Christ, so that we can participate in this new humanity. God has replaced all the dead corpses with vibrantly alive beloved children—but not everyone is willing to make the exchange. Some still want to hang on to their old dead bodies.
Personally, I’m more than happy to participate with God in the process of replacing the old with the new. The old me, which is dead, was not a very pleasant person to be around. She was pretty stinky and disgusting. As far as I’m concerned, this new life he has given me is what I want to be a part of and share with others, even if to them I am a reminder of the death of their old selves in Christ.
To a culture enamored with old ways of living and being I may be offensive and disturbing, like an old rotting corpse that stinks. But in the end, this old rotting corpse will dissolve into the ground from which it was made, and I will shine, like so many others who share Christ’s new life, as the stars in the heaven. To me, that seems to be the better, more satisfying choice.
Thank you, Father, for the gift you have given us of new life in your Son and by your Spirit. Awaken each of us to the new life that is ours. Grant us the grace to participate with you in your divine life and love as your beloved children, and to leave all that died with Christ buried with him in the tomb. Through Jesus, our Lord, and by your Spirit. Amen.
“But thank God! He has made us his captives and continues to lead us along in Christ’s triumphal procession. Now he uses us to spread the knowledge of Christ everywhere, like a sweet perfume. Our lives are a Christ-like fragrance rising up to God. But this fragrance is perceived differently by those who are being saved and by those who are perishing. To those who are perishing, we are a dreadful smell of death and doom. But to those who are being saved, we are a life-giving perfume. And who is adequate for such a task as this?” 2 Co 2:14–16 NLT
This morning I had a quiet chat with my daughter as I was preparing to write this blog. When she began to leave the room, she asked why my room smelled like perfume. We had lit a couple of candles while we were talking, but what she didn’t know was that I had lit both candles earlier, long before she came in, and had just blown them out before she arrived. They had filled the room with a combination of the scents “Midnight Oasis” and “Sweet Lavender”, both of which were pretty strong scents.
I like the way some scents hang in the air and give a room a pleasant feel when you enter it. Sometimes a soft, spicy scent can make a room feel pleasant and homey—like the scent of cinnamon that lingers in the air of the kitchen after I’ve finished baking snickerdoodles or apple pie.
I’m not real fond of the heavy scent that I often smell at a flower or candle shop. Usually it is much too overpowering for me to really enjoy. For the most part, a barely discernible scent is more my style.
Speaking of scents, I wonder if we realize that sometimes we leave behind a strong scent—and I don’t mean a physical scent, but the kind that is a feeling or impression. We leave behind something that sticks in people’s minds about us after we’re gone. And I wonder whether or not it is what the apostle Paul describes as “a fragrance of Christ to God” or “a sweet aroma of the knowledge of him.”
Jesus offered himself in our place as a sacrifice, the aroma of which was and is pleasing to God. He calls us to be living sacrifices as well, ones who leave behind the sweet aroma that is our participation in Christ’s fragrance as we share with others the knowledge of Christ. When we walk in love as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, we are a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God just as he was.
Have you ever met someone and immediately known that you’d better watch yourself or you would be the brunt of criticism and/or ridicule? Some people just have this air of condemnation about them. They give off an odor of a critical spirit, of impatience and sometimes even cruelty. The air fairly sizzles with negative energy when you get close.
Personally, I know that there are days when I am guilty of walking about with a cloud over my head, dripping raindrops all over everybody I come near. When I have an “Eeyore” day, I’m not much fun to be around. In fact, I can be downright stinky on days like that.
Whether we like it or not, we’re always giving off some sort of aroma, bad or good. Paul counsels us to make it an aroma of love—the fragrance of grace that is shared with us in Jesus. When others are around us, they should catch the scent of God’s mercy and compassion, and be influenced by it. They should experience God’s grace in a real way as they interact with us. And it should linger in their hearts and minds when we leave.
It’s a good thing that it’s Christ in us who is the true fragrance we are to manifest. We share in his perfect life and perfect love. It is his grace that we live and walk in and share with others. He is our life, and we share that life with others. What a blessing that it is all of grace!
How often I have been struggling to keep a good attitude and have found myself in conversation with someone who doesn’t need my junk—they just need a good dose of Christ! Thankfully God hears the quiet prayers of our hearts, for it seems that he gives me just the right thing to say or do in that moment. So in spite of me, there is left behind a gift of his grace and love to minister to the one who is hurting. I am so grateful that he is the true minister, not me in those moments. The fragrance of grace is Christ in me.
No matter what God has called you or me to do in our lives, no matter where we may find ourselves, or what we may be asked to do at any moment, God is present and powerful in us, with us, and for us. His grace makes it possible for us to exhude the very life and love of God himself. We place our trust in him and he goes to work. And then in the end—he gets all the praise and glory, not us. God “manifests through us the sweet aroma” and we are all blessed in the process. Praise God!
Thank you, Lord, that you take our stinky selves and transform us by your grace into sweet smelling sacrifices that are a reflection of your love and mercy. Grant us the grace to let you transform us and make us into people who are a joy to be around and a blessing to others. We trust you to finish what you have begun in us, through Jesus Christ and by your Holy Spirit. Amen.
“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? For we are not like many, peddling the word of God, but as from sincerity, but as from God, we speak in Christ in the sight of God.” 2 Cor. 2:14–17
“Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children; and walk in love, just as Christ also loved you and gave Himself up for us, an offering and a sacrifice to God as a fragrant aroma.” Eph. 5:1–2