“For we are the aroma of Christ among those who are saved and those who are perishing. To the one we are the smell of death; to the other, the fragrance of life. And who is equal to such a task?” –2 Corinthians 2:15-16
Sometimes I can’t help but wonder why anyone would ever turn Jesus down. When I think of Jesus, I think of love, friendship, grace, mercy, peace, joy, hope, beauty, kindness, forgiveness, freedom—and the list goes on and on and on. Jesus defines all that is beautiful and glorious and happy. Why would anyone turn that down? I wrote the question in my journal and have been talking it over with God ever since.
I think, I think, I’m catching on.
R.C. Sproul’s book, The Holiness of God, helped me start to understand. In this book, Sproul refers to Isaiah’s encounter with God in Isaiah 6 and Peter’s encounter with Jesus in Luke 5. When Isaiah met God, he said, “Woe to me! . . . “I am ruined! For I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips, and my eyes have seen the King, the LORD Almighty” (v. 5). Seeing Jesus in action, Peter said, “Go away from me, Lord; I am a sinful man!” (v. 8). The two men were experiencing something that frightens people away from God. In fact, they were experiencing God, and they wanted to draw away, not because of God but because of what He revealed in them.
As people go about their daily routines, minding their own business, their sin blends into the world’s sin and seems to disappear. All feels right; it’s comfortable. In God’s Presence, however, sin becomes painfully obvious. People feel ruined, full of shame, and eager to hide. They want the relief that comes only through God’s grace, yet often react by telling Jesus to go away.
We see this happening in Luke 8:26-39. When Jesus visited the region of Gerasenes, he was met by a demon-possessed man who lived in the town graveyard. No one could subdue this man, so he hung around among the tombs. Jesus sent the demons into a herd of pigs, setting the man free.
You’d think the townspeople would have been thankful. Instead, they told Jesus to go away. I kind of wonder if maybe, perhaps, on some level, the people sorta liked their demon-crazed mascot. Compared to him, they looked pretty good—whatever they did. All sin in their town seemed to be in the graveyard where it belonged until Jesus sent the demons away. Suddenly, the people were in the Presence of Holy Perfection—and they felt uncomfortable. They told Jesus to go away.
If Christ dwells in us, if we are forgiven and living under His grace, it doesn’t matter how much love, friendship, grace, mercy, peace, joy, hope, beauty, kindness, forgiveness, and freedom we offer to the perishing. People will smell death when we’re around. They will watch for and point out and sometimes even invent failures in us to make themselves feel better about themselves (which is one reason why we must confess our sins and ask forgiveness instead of covering things up). Sometimes, unsaved loved ones may even tell us to just go away
No wonder Paul asked, “And who is equal to such a task?” How do we offer life when people smell death? How do we lead them to Christ when He repulses them because of their sin?
We can’t, of course. But God’s Spirit can. And so we live for Jesus, no matter how the world treats us and we pray continually* (1 Thessalonians 5:17).
Lord, people don’t like being in Your Presence when there’s sin in their life. And Your Spirit dwells in us! Please help those we encounter to recognize their need in spite of their fear. Draw them to You when their instinct is to run away. This is something only You can do. Thankfully, it’s the longing of Your heart as well (Luke 13:34-35). In Jesus’ name, we pray. Amen.
*Praying continually is the theme of my book, Parachute Prayer. To learn more about training yourself in this discipline, click here.