2 Corinthians 2:14-16. But thanks be to God, who in Christ always leads us in triumphal procession, and through us spreads the fragrance of the knowledge of him everywhere. 15 For we are the aroma of Christ to God among those who are being saved and among those who are perishing, 16 to one a fragrance from death to death, to the other a fragrance from life to life. Who is sufficient for these things?
In the Roman Empire when a general or emperor would win a big battle they would plan a massive triumphal procession back into the city. Like a championship parade for us today, but with a major twist – the conquered enemies would be paraded around for everyone to see. They were the prisoners of war and the spoils of war. Along with the conquered enemies, this triumphal parade would also include lots and lots of incense. The spoils and smells of victory!
The sense of smell is a powerful thing. Have you ever smelled something from your past and all kinds of memories come back? Maybe there is a smell that reminds you of a great time in your life. This is the picture Paul has in mind when he describes us in Christ. We are the spoils and smells of Christ’s victory. Our lives are incense in Christ’s fragrant victory parade. God parades us in Christ’s triumphal procession.
2000 years ago, Christ himself was paraded out of the city to the cross by his enemies. He was the conquered one who smelled of defeat. But, by his resurrection, he is now the Conquering One. The Valiant Hero. Our Christus Victor.
Because of Christ’s willingness to turn our defeat into victory, we who once lived in open rebellion against Christ are now in his victory parade. We have been defeated by Christ’s love. But our defeat is not bad news; it is THE good news. We have been defeated and set free to be the aroma of Christ. Christ has conquered our rebellious hearts and now in our weakness his strength is made known.
Christian, you smell like Christ’s Spirit (no not literally). To some your life is the sweet smell of the victory of Jesus – a fragrance from life to life. To others it is the stench of their own rebellion – a fragrance from death to death. How do we smell like Christ? The images Paul uses here are many and mixed, but also quite vivid. We are humbled, conquered prisoners of war in the triumphal procession. We are a fragrance of joy and honor to the King. And we are the sacrificial fragrance of Christ to God. We smell like Christ when we live his same sacrificial life. His humbled, obedient life. His joy filled life.
This is no small thing. In fact, Paul asks who is sufficient for these things? Of course the answer is no one apart from Christ. None of us could be the aroma of Christ’s life without the imputed righteousness of Christ freely given to us by grace. But that is the whole point of “to live is Christ” isn’t it? We can never do it alone. If our weakness, sacrifice, and humility are going to be the fragrance of Christ’s own sacrifice then we will need to live by faith in the one who loved us and gave himself for us.
When we choose to embrace the cruciform life, our suffering and weakness will always be the aroma of the crucified Christ to others. To some it will smell sweet, and to others it will be a stench. For some your growth in Christ will be a blessing and to others it will be a curse. Some will embrace you, others will reject you. Our response is a life of hope and humility that spreads the fragrance of the knowledge of him everywhere. The rest is up to God.
What does your life “smell” like? Is it Christ and his sacrifice? Have you experienced acceptance by some and yet rejection by others for your faith in Christ? How does union with Christ allow you to see yourself humbly as the conquered one, and joyfully as the sweet aroma to God?