While our son and family were here this past week, we hiked up into the Cabinet Mountain Wilderness area where we had a major forest fire last summer that caused a number of families to have to evacuate their homes. Fortunately the fire stopped short of destroying any private property, but really took its toll in the forest. All along the trail were the charred remains of trees, including some giant cedars, many of which crashed to the forest floor, leaving a tangled mess of remains. Others are still standing, but very precariously, and will undoubtedly soon come down with wind or snow. The carnage left by the fire caused the trail to have to be detoured in several locations. But, there are still sections of live trees and vegetation that escaped the fire, so, as we hiked there was an interesting aroma of both life and death. On a nice warm summer day, you can smell the aroma given off by trees and plants as they grow. It is an aroma of life and fruitfulness. But along with that pleasing aroma in the forest was the smell of charred trees and burned bushes. It was an interesting combination of the aroma of both life and death.
The Apostle Paul speaks of such a strange combination in his second letter to the Corinthians, where he writes: “But thanks be to God, who always leads us in His triumph in Christ, and manifests through us the sweet aroma of the knowledge of Him in every place. For we are a fragrance of Christ to God among those who are being saved and among those who are perishing; to the one and aroma from death to death, to the other an aroma from life to life…” (II Cor. 2:14-16). Paul was drawing from the Roman practice of a conquering army parading its captured prisoners as they return home, while incense is being burned, an aroma of life to the conquerors, but of death to those prisoners who were about to be executed. In this case the aroma was the same, but it meant something entirely different to two groups of people. Paul says that the “aroma” of our lives as believers will be a fragrance of Christ among those who are being saved, but to those who are living in rejection of Christ, it will be a fragrance of death.
In our case, as we walked through the forest that was devastated by a wildfire last summer, there were two aromas, one the result of death and destruction, the other a product of vibrant life and growth. We as believers, as we walk about on this earth, should be emitting an “aroma of life,” the abundant life that we have in Christ (Jn. 10:10). That fragrance contrasts with the aroma of death and destruction all about us that is caused by the consequences of sin and by those who are living in rejection of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. God spoke through the prophet Jeremiah, saying, “You shall also say to this people, ‘behold, I set before you the way of life and the way of death’” (Jer. 21: 8). It is possible for those under the condemnation of sin to move from their condition of death and destruction to that of life and beauty through faith in Christ. Jesus said, “Truly, truly, I say to you, he who hears My word, and believes Him who sent Me, has eternal life, and does not come into judgment, but has passed out of death into life” (Jn. 5:24). Paul wrote: “Who (God) has saved us, and called us with a holy calling, not according to our works, but according to His own purpose and grace which was granted us in Christ Jesus from all eternity; but now has been revealed by the appearing of our Savior Christ Jesus, who abolished death, and brought life and immortality to light through the gospel” (I Tim. 1:9,10).
Our hike in the wilderness that has been scarred by a forest fire was much like what we see in the world as a whole. We see the affects of sin and the death and destruction it brings, but we also see the beauty of God’s creation that still shines through and we have the beautiful aroma of those who are true followers of Jesus who, as Christ’s ambassadors, are being salt and light. So, in which category do you fit? Are you still living under the curse of sin and death, under the condemnation of the Law, or have you experienced new life in Christ and are demonstrating His love and forgiveness in a world of hatred and bitterness? What kind of aroma does your life emit? If you have never done so, I encourage you to trust Jesus Christ as your Savior and receive not only eternal life and an assurance of heaven, but a whole new life here as a “new creation in Christ” (II Cor. 5:17).