Posted in theology

The Smell Test

By Elizabeth Prata

Do you pass the smell test?

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?” (2 Corinthians 2:14-17)

This is a beautiful passage, with many layered and deep elements. First, Christ uses His believers to spread the fragrance of knowledge of Him. Christ as the ultimate fragrance. The word “smell” can have many nuances, each with their own evocation of meaning. ‘Odor’ evokes something unpleasant, and the word ‘smell’ is simply utilitarian. But “fragrance” is a perfume…that is a sweet and wonderful aroma, evoking lightness and sweetness, as Christ is, of course.

Second, the verse moves from Christ as the fragrance to the believers themselves as having fragrance. Any believer is in Christ and as such, has His aroma as well. To God, this is most pleasing.

Last, the one who is perishing smells the odor of death instead of the perfumed fragrance of Christ. Why? They are perishing.

However, with the 2 Corinthians verse an additional thought came upon me regarding the spiritual implications of perfume and fragrance. To the perishing, the knowledge of Christ is an odor unto death. They writhe under it, flee from it. If trapped with it, they try to cover it with anything handy, air freshener, orange peels…of false doctrine or watered down gospel, (as a metaphor) but the smell of Christ can never be covered up. The aroma remains the same, only its effects differ upon the receiver.

In this passage, Paul was evoking a common sight, the triumphal procession. The order of the participants in the procession was standard, from the generals to the soldiers carrying the spoils, to the captives in chains. Behind them, the priests come swinging the incense bowls. The captives in chains knew they would be executed soon. What was the perfume of victory to those lining the streets was the smell of death to those in chains.

Metaphorically, the captives could strew orange peels to cover the smell, they could hang air fresheners to cover it, but there is no avoiding the fragrance of Christ. It’s pungent, pervasive, and eternal.

How’s your aroma? Is it pleasing to God? Are you in the triumphal procession as a victor or a captive? His fragrance through us spreading everywhere the knowledge of Him. Do you pass the smell test?


Christian writer and Georgia teacher's aide who loves Jesus, a quiet life, art, beauty, and children.