Let’s be honest: Christians stink! Or at least, we ought to.
2 Corinthians 2:15-16
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.
Christians smell like Christ. For those who are saved, or are elect but not yet converted, we generally will smell like a sweet perfume. For those who are not repentant, though, we stink like a rotting corpse.
My brother-in-law, who is Korean, likes a type of food called kimchi. Kimchi has a strong, distinctive smell. The smell of it is disgusting to me, but pleasant to him. Each of us smell the same thing. It’s our reaction to the kimchi that causes us to react to the smell. He thinks kimchi tastes good. I won’t touch it. The problem is not with the kimchi; it’s with me.
On the other hand, I don’t know of anyone who has a reaction to the smell of something like a cracker. Crackers are basically odorless and tasteless. They will neither make your mouth water, nor offend your tastebuds or nose.
Christians who are really representing Christ in the world must have one of two effects on people. Some of them will be attracted to us and the message of the Cross. We will be a sweet smelling perfume to them. Others will be repulsed. Both types of people will “smell” the same thing. The difference is in them.
We are what we are. The light of a lamp on a lampstand drives away certain things. The aroma of Christ smells like the stench of death to some men. We may not dim our lights in order to be more acceptable. What good is a dim light?
If Christianity is a stench of death to those who will not repent, what are we to make of those Christians and those churches with which the unrepentant are quite comfortable? What are we to make of churches in which unrepentant homosexuals, or racists, or adulterers, or greedy and oppressive businessmen, are quite content?
Could it be, perhaps, that these Christians have little smell at all? They are neither the sweet perfume of God to the saints, nor the stench of death to the rebellious.
There were few lukewarm reactions to Christ. Sinners flocked to Him to hear Him preach and teach. They threw themselves at His feet in tears, and annointed Him with incredibly expensive perfume. Others chased Him from their cities or tried to stone Him. They followed Him around, or chased Him away. There seems to be little middle ground.
When the apostles and evangelists carried His message to the rest of the world, they had similar reactions. Some converts burned their ungodly scrolls and spells and other evil things. Some sold their possessions to share with one another. In other cities, riots erupted. Paul was mocked on Mars Hill by some, but others wanted to hear more.
But the world has no such reaction to us. We blend in. We don’t provoke extreme reactions one way or the other. Sinners are neither converted nor driven away by our message. Saints struggle with what ought to be basic parts of our practical sanctification. The aroma of Christ, as expressed by His saints, has become so faint here that few are drawn to it or repulsed by it.
The gospel is not a product to be marketed. We do not need surveys and focus groups, nor do we need to “target” our message. It is universal. Our target audience/market is the whole world. We are simply messengers for God. The message stands in His power and authority, and we need to neither earn the right to proclaim it nor repackage it so it’s more relevant. It’s not our job to make the gospel acceptable. It is acceptable to those whose hearts God has prepared. All we have to do is preach it from the rooftops.
In Matthew 5:13-16, Christ gave us two sets of roles and responsibilities.
In verse 13, He said “You are the salt of the earth”. That’s our role. Our responsibility is simply to retain our saltiness. Tasteless salt is worthless.
In verses 14-16, He described us as “the light of the world” which cannot be hidden. Our role was described as a city on a hill or a lamp on a lampstand. We give light to all around us, visible to any who look at us. We are not glow-sticks. We should illuminate “all who are in the house”. Our responsibility is simply to “let your light shine before men in such a way that they may see your good works and glorify” God.
Our light is intended to shine brightly from a high place where all can see it. Could it be that it’s grown so dim that it has to be taken off the lampstand and brought up real close so people can see that, in fact, there _is_ a faint glow? Is our light so dim that if we stayed on the hill nobody would be able to see it?
Christ gave us the method to validate the message. We are to live lives of personal holiness and do good works. Particularly, He said the world would judge us primarily _based on how we treat each other_ (see John 17:20-23).
What if we took it seriously? What if we did good to everyone as we had opportunity, and _especially_ those of the household of faith (Galatians 6:10)? What if we used our liberty to serve one another instead of our fleshly desires (Galatians 5:13)? What if we took Ephesians 4 to heart? What if husbands loved and led their wives sacrificially, and wives submitted to their husbands? (Epheisans 5:22-33) What if we raised our children in the fear and admonition of the Lord? (Ephesians 6:4) What if we were self disciplined and willing to endure hardship and give up some of the things of this world to follow Christ as a soldier (2 Timothy 2:1-7)?
Could it just be that if we worked on keeping our light bright and our salt salty, we wouldn’t have to worry so much about slick marketing or “covert operations” to MAKE the message relevant? Might people care less about how well they know us, and more about the obvious difference in our lives? Maybe we could be done with all sorts of false pretenses (cleverly designed tracts, surveys that aren’t, etc) and be honest. Is the approach to a post-modern culture oddly identical to the approach to the first century culture? The same approach that has worked all over the world for 2,000 years? Could it be that personal holiness, good works, and a clear message would trump all other concerns?
Many people would stop accepting us. We probably would “stink” more. But maybe we’d also smell a bit sweeter to those with hearts inclined to God.