What's That Smell?

We'd picked the wrong weekend to visit Vienna.

 After several hours of tromping through the cold drizzle, we ended up back in our hotel lobby sipping steaming cups of tea. 

When an American couple entered the lobby, registered, and initiated a conversation, we explained we were missionaries in Budapest. The woman was quick to tell us that she'd attended a Christian college.

Since they’d been traveling together for weeks and registered for one room, I assumed they were married. But when I asked where they lived, the woman seemed embarrassed to admit they were friends who lived in different states. 

We said nothing to add to her discomfort but continued in friendly conversation until they went to their room.

 The following morning at breakfast, they brushed past the empty table next to ours, barely acknowledging our greetings. At first I didn’t understand, but I think it was our smell.

A whole generation of Americans are ignorant of God’s loving prohibitions against sex outside of marriage. They don’t realize premarital sex is harmful to their spiritual and emotional well-being. But this couple were from our generation, and the woman had gone to Bible college. They understood their relationship was neither healthy for them nor pleasing to God. And Michael and I were an uncomfortable reminder of that truth. 

“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...” 2 Corinthians 2:15,16 (NLT)  

Of course, Christ’s fragrance isn’t the only thing that offends people. We can also emit the nasty odors of self-righteousness, legalism and superiority. American Christians often emphasize God’s judgment more than His love, focusing on what we oppose more than what we embrace. It's not our job to judge those outside of the church (1 Corinthians 5:9-13).

Or we can do just the opposite--emphasize God’s love without warning people of the consequences of sin. God gives His commands for our good, and we mustn’t water them down or ignore them…they are part of the Gospel. If people don’t understand their sin, they won’t understand their need for a Savior.

 As fragrance-bearers, how do we avoid over-emphasizing or neglecting aspects of Christ’s character? When should we talk grace and when judgement? 

Some people are wallowing in regret for their sin, feeling they can never be saved. We must tell them of God’s grace and love. Others are self-satisfied, thinking they deserve God’s mercy no matter what they do or believe. We must tell them of God’s purity and judgment.

Fortunately, “our competence comes from God. He has made us competent as ministers of a new covenant—not of the letter but of the Spirit; for the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life.” (2 Corinthians 3:5). 

With the help of God’s Spirit we can bear Christ’s fragrance accurately! 

copyright 2011, Gail Burton Purath  

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