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)
A friend of mine has created a line of organic soaps. Nowadays she ships all over the country, but in the beginning she handed me a misshapen soap bar she’d mixed up on her kitchen stove. “I had to be very careful to cook it long enough to burn off the lye,” she said cheerfully, “or it would have burned your skin off.”
Needless to say, I was not enthused about using that first bar.
It also got me thinking about soap. We take it for granted, but this lowly household product is actually created by a sophisticated chemical process involving fatty acids and high heat, yielding a product which makes insoluble particles soluble in water. Basically, it destroys the molecular structure of dirt and grease so that they can be easily washed away.
Note the process: Soap destroys dirt in order to wash it away. First destruction, then cleanliness. You cannot have one without the other.
Spiritually, God’s Holy Spirit works in much the same way. Before I came to know Jesus I was absolutely caked with dirt—the residual sludge of brokenness, disappointment, spotty doctrine and rationalization. Sadly, there was even a part of me that was proud of my dirt, because it was MY DIRT, darn it. It wasn’t easy to watch it wash away.
But as Christ’s love gently dissolved the gunk surrounding my heart, I realized three things. The first was that clean was better than dirty. Seems obvious, but this was a huge revelation for me. The second was that getting clean made me realize just how yucky and smelly I’d become. My spiritual nose had become used to the stench of my sin. As Jesus washed me clean, I had to face my spiritual stinkiness, and had to confess it to God.
The third thing was heartbreaking. I had friends—good friends—who did not support my cleansing process. As Paul wrote to the church of Corinth two millennia ago, ‘to those who are perishing, we are a dreadful smell of death and doom’. My conversion appalled them. They knew and loved my dirt-caked self. They could not relate to me as a heaven-smelling person. We walked away from each other, and I still miss them.
Soap destroys as it cleanses. So does the blood of the Lamb. Still, I highly recommend it. Anyone who has caught a whiff of ‘Christ-like fragrance’ knows there’s no sweeter smell. Clean is better than dirty. I guarantee it.