The Aroma of Christ

This is an excerpt from a thrilling little book, The Gospel, by Ray Ortlund, which everyone of you should read and re-read... and re-read again.

Paul writes, "We are the aroma of Christ to God among those who are being saved and among those who are perishing" (2 Cor. 2:15). The emphatic words are of Christ. It is the strong scent of Christ that people detect when our churches are filled with the gospel. How amazing that they should experience Christ himself through us! We are so unlike him in so many ways. Still, his scent comes through.

Even more wonderfully, we are "a Christ-like fragrance rising up to God (NLT). That is Paul's main point here. Whatever people might think of us, God savors us as we lift up Jesus Christ crucified. One commentator writes, "Nothing delights the heart of God more than the preaching of the gospel of Christ."

In what sense are we an "aroma"? The imagery comes from the Old Testament. It's used as early as the episode of Noah's sacrifice-"the LORD smelled the pleasing aroma" (Gen. 8:21)- and it shows up in the laws about sacrifices in Leviticus (e.g. Lev. 1:9, 13, 17, etc.). It pleased God that Noah and the Levitical priests offered atoning sacrifices, bearing witness to God's merciful way with sinners. Likewise, it pleased God that Christ offered the ultimate atonement in himself at the cross. And it pleases God today when we offer ourselves and our churches as living sacrifices (Rom. 12:1) for the display of the gospel of Christ. Throughout the Bible, God's pleasure comes to a focal point at the cross of Christ. This sacrifice was foreshadowd in Old Testamnet times; it was actualized in Christ himself; and it's reenacted in us today.

It has been said, "It is the burning of the offering that makes it a pleasing aroma." And churches where hearts burn with the gospel give off the aroma of Christ himself, wonderful to God in heaven above. There is much about us that God graciously overlooks. What he notices, and what pleases him, is our churches' passion for Christ crucified.

"Among those who are being saved," we are a sweet fragrance of Christ himself. People are cheered and helped by our gospel, as if the Lord himself were present in our efforts, because his Spirit is. These people enter in and join us.

"Among those who are perishing," we give off an offensive stink. People wonder what's wrong with us, why we don't get it, why we don't bathe in a shower of up-to-date thought. These people turn up their noses. Yet even when people are offended, our gospel ministries remain sweet to God above.

What insight do we gain from these two strong reactions? What is the Bible saying that can help us amid the bewildering complexity of human opinions, positive and negative? It's what John Calvin said so simply about the gospel: "It is never preached in vain."

Jesus's purpose in coming into the world was not condemnation but salvation (John 3:17). Yet to this day, some people show an allergic reaction to his saving gospel. They break out in a rash of rejection, even while other people get healthier and healthier. Notice the present tenses in 2 Corinthians 2:15: "are being saved" and "are perishing." Some people are on the road to eternal ruin. The gospel whispers to them: "Everything you most deeply believe in is destroying you even now. You are completely wrong. Run to Christ!" But they don't. Others are on the road to eternal life. The gospel declares to them: "Everything you most deeply hope for is becoming real in you even now. Stick with Christ!" And they do. The gospel makes a felt impact on both kinds of people.

But the one thing the gospel never does is nothing.

- Ray Ortlund, The Gospel, p. 94-96.

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