“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 Cor 2:15-16)

One smell you’ll probably never encounter on the streets of Los Angeles where I live, but that is common in Iran, Azerbaijan, Greece, Turkey and the Balkans is the smell of rotisserie Kokoretsi (Greek spelling). Kokoretsi looks like a wound-up ball of rope that someone decided to cook. That’s because it is a long rope — of animal intestines. Honestly, I can’t stand the smell of Kokoretsi, but I know plenty of people whose mouths start to water the moment a waft of the stuff comes in contact with their olfactory nerves. You might say that Kokoretsi is “to one a fragrance from death to death, to the other a fragrance from life to life” (2 Cor 2:16). Same smell, different response.

What do people smell when they smell you? If you are in Christ — and you are if you truly know Christ — some people will like the way you smell and be drawn to your message, while others will be repelled by it.

I’m thinking of a well-known athlete who openly acknowledges that he is a Christ-follower. He is not at all pushy, mind you, just unashamed to tell others that he belongs to Christ. A lot of Christians appreciate his Christian testimony. Some who normally don’t follow sports support him simply because they’re glad for a positive representative of their faith. On the other hand, the amount of public vitriol that has been spewed against this young man — simply because he is unafraid to acknowledge that he is a believer in Christ — has been excessive. Same message … same fragrance … varying responses.

Perhaps now is a good time to clear up a misconception. I know some Christians who think that if we could simply package our message in an inoffensive way, people would automatically come to faith. They suppose that if we could only figure out how to manufacture the precise formula for our fragrance, people would inevitably be drawn to the pleasant scent. In other words, they think that the only problem with people coming to faith in Christ is the bad odor Christians put off.

I’m afraid that those who think this way are a bit naïve. While I wholeheartedly agree that we should strive to remove anything that hinders people from receiving the message of the gospel (as long as the gospel itself is not altered in any way), and while I enthusiastically agree that we should seek to become all things to all people to win some (1 Cor 9:22), we need to remember that the gospel will always be a stumbling block to some and foolishness to others (1 Cor 1:23). Some people will refuse to accept the message no matter how well it is packaged.

Still, just because some will be drawn to the fragrance of Christ in you while others will be repelled by it doesn’t give you permission to be inconsiderate or pushy or arrogant when talking to those who don’t believe. You should seek for your scent to match your message, a message about reconciliation through Christ. In other words, don’t dilute the fragrant message of Christ with a putrid odor that hinders people from accepting the message.

Oh that our lives might emit the fragrance of Christ! May people be drawn to Jesus through our lives the way I am irresistibly drawn to the smell of fresh bread! But even if we are careful not to dilute the message, some people will never be able to smell the wonderful aroma of Christ since they have chosen death over life. This too, is an aspect of the ‘in Christ’ life.

Excerpted from my recently-released devotional book, How to Live an ‘In Christ’ Life: 100 Devotional Readings on Union with Christ (Christian Focus, 2020).

This post and other resources are available at Kindle Afresh: The Blog and Website of Kenneth Berding.