Smelly Christians

Our sense of smell is very important to us. With it we experience the world around us, build memories that can be triggered years later by just a whiff of a long forgotten aroma. We can be comforted or repelled by smells. When I come home from work at the restaurant in the heat of the kitchen, my wife’s nose warns her not hug me until I’ve washed away the smell of food, and sweat.

One smell can cause different reactions to different people. When most folks drive past a dairy farm they may find the odor of cows too strong to bear, and roll up their windows. For me, who was introduced to cows at my great uncle’s farm in Texas at an early age, the dairy air (pun intended) reminds me of him teaching me how to milk a cow by hand. I roll the car windows down and inhale, remembering a happy time.

In 2 Corinthians2:15-17 Paul writes: “For we are to God the pleasing aroma of Christ among those who are being saved and those who are perishing. To the one we are an aroma that brings death; to the other, an aroma that brings life. And who is equal to such a task?  Unlike so many, we do not peddle the word of God for profit. On the contrary, in Christ we speak before God with sincerity, as those sent from God.” Paul is referring to the fact that simply by being in faithful relationship with Jesus Christians have an affect on those around them. By their actions, words, and influence, Christians can remind people of the very presence of God, and because of this, their testimony can be received very differently by two groups of people. For other believers, we can be a source of encouragement, and support. For non-believers we can be a reminder that they may be in danger of God’s judgment and cause discomfort simply by being the people God has called us to be.

As a result we can have one of two effects. Among other Christians, we can be able to foster a feeling of community, acceptance, and hope. This will often help other believers grow in their own faith walk, and cause them to seek us out in times of need. Among non-Christians, we may sometimes find rejection, defensiveness, and even hostility is the reaction we receive. We need to be careful in this latter case that we ourselves aren’t doing something that would be overtly offensive to others to deserve a negative response. If we’re rude, or arrogant, or mistreat others we cannot then say, “Well, see, I’m being rejected for being a Christian.” No, you’re being rejected because you’re acting like a jerk, and not exemplifying the traits of Jesus in your life.

When we are living a life wholly submitted to God, we can carry with us the aroma of Christ in all we do, and regardless of how people respond, we may know if we’re treated positively or negatively it is because people see God in our lives and respond according to their own state of heart. This takes some of the pressure off us to be performative in our Christian life. We don’t have to be anyone other than who God is transforming us into–the likeness of Jesus Christ. Any responsibility for how we are received is taken off our shoulders and placed on those around us. This frees us to do the work Christ has prepared for us, and help us to focus on His message of peace, rather than our image. When we focus on Jesus, we can see ourselves and others in a new, clearer light.

Let us give off a strong aroma of Christ in all we are, in all we do so that we may show forth His love among everyone we meet, and let His presence be evident opening the door for opportunities to minister to both believers and non-believers. For believers, we are able to be a help, and hope. For non-believers we can open up discussion about the nature of faith, and how they may find salvation so that they may not be so afraid of dealing with their own need for forgiveness, and finally receive the same peace that they sense in us.


Pastor John McCarty

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