But thanks be to God, who always leads us in triumphal procession in Christ and through us spreads everywhere the fragrance of the knowledge of him. For we are to God the aroma of Christ among those who are being 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? Unlike so many, we do not peddle the word of God for profit. On the contrary, in Christ we speak before God with sincerity, like men sent from God. (2 Corinthians 2:14-17)
The ministry of the gospel is a work of God. First through the apostles, and then through the rest of us, he spreads everywhere the knowledge about himself and his Son, Jesus Christ. This knowledge is likened to a fragrance. And because it is propagated by his people, we are also likened to the aroma of Christ. The message and its messengers stand in close relation, and regarded either with fondness or disdain.
The same aroma is perceived differently by those who are being saved and those who are perishing.
To those who are destined for salvation, that is, to those of us who believe, the gospel exudes a most attractive and pleasing scent. We are drawn to God and the Lord Jesus Christ. We are mesmerized by the knowledge about him. We acknowledge the Scripture as the publication of his very words. We delight in its every page and cheer every sentence in hearty approval. We perceive its wisdom and sense its gravity.
But to those who are destined for damnation, or those who would persist in unbelief and thus perish, this Christian religion comes as a most repulsive stench. What a sickening odor! What an ominous scent! Usually, they cannot be more impressed with their own magnanimity and open-mindedness, but this…they have no tolerance for it. And no wonder – the gospel is a message of life to those who believe, but it is a death sentence to those who refuse.
So the same aroma – the same Christ, the same gospel – means two opposite verdicts upon men and incites two opposite reactions from them. This is the way it ought to be. Although the Christian faith is indeed good news in that it saves sinners by Jesus Christ, it is not regarded as such by those who refuse to accept it, because there are serious intellectual and ethical defects in them, and because God has not initiated a radical change that would reverse this condition.
More concerned with appearance than with substance, with effect than with truth, some have tried to make the gospel pleasant to the reprobates. However, in order to do this they had to temper with the formula. The fragrance is no longer the aroma of Christ, but a concoction manufactured by men to lure those who care nothing for the knowledge of God and of his Son. Now the elect finds the smell repugnant to their nostrils. These are not true ambassadors of Christ, but they peddle the word of God for profit, for respect, and for status. They separate and repackage the ingredients of the gospel to satisfy men’s lusts and to cater to their every whim. Now the Christian faith is not about God, sin, and salvation, but about man’s comfort and welfare, and the attainment of his selfish dreams.
Make no mistake about it: for those of us who believe, the gospel indeed fulfills our dreams – we dream that God’s glory would fill all things and subdue all things, that every knee would bow at the name of Jesus Christ, and that we should worship him forever. But this is a nightmare to the reprobates. Think about this the other way. What will it take for a non-Christian to make his worldview appeal to me? He will have to change it so much that it becomes Christianity. And this means that he can no longer be a Christian, or I will not really be in agreement with him. As a Christian, I will never be attracted to something that is of unbelief, that is of the anti-Christ.
Likewise, a non-Christian in himself will never love the Christian faith unless it is changed to something that is entirely different from the original, which is to say that it is no longer the Christian faith. But this is what some have done in order to make the message appetizing to unbelievers, and in doing so they have ceased to preach the gospel. Now they use words and expressions from Scripture to promote the psychology and philosophy of men. There is no salvation in this. The message must not be altered; rather, God must change the non-Christian, to correct the defects in him. Since the non-Christian is defective through and through, God must change so much about him that the event is said to be a new birth. This is regeneration, or what it means to be born again.