In what way are Christians the aroma of Christ?

The idea that Christians are the "aroma of Christ" comes from 2 Corinthians 2:15. To fully understand the meaning, we must look at the context of the phrase. After mentioning missionary travels, Paul writes in 2 Corinthians 2:14–16, "But thanks be to God, who in Christ always leads us in triumphal procession, and through us spreads the fragrance of the knowledge of him everywhere. For we are the aroma of Christ to God among those who are being saved and among those who are perishing, to one a fragrance from death to death, to the other a fragrance from life to life. Who is sufficient for these things?" The phrase "triumphal procession" is the key to understanding what Paul is referencing: the Roman ceremony of the triumphal parade reserved for commanders who have won land for Rome.

When a Roman commander conquered new territory for Rome, he would request from the Senate to go on a triumphal procession through Rome. If he made it through a series of qualifications he was deemed Triumphator and paraded through the city along with the spoils of his conquest. The Triumphator was specially adorned for this ceremony: he traded out his regular toga for a completely purple toga, a color not typically worn by Romans because it symbolized royalty; his face was painted red in reference to the red statue of Jupiter, the patron god of Rome; and finally he would be crowned in the laurel crown symbolizing his victory and pulled in a chariot by four white horses. He was proceeded by the spoils from his newly conquered land—exotic animals, gold, jewels, spices, incense, even a band of slaves from the conquered peoples—and his army would follow him in celebration. At the end of the parade the conquered people would be ceremonially slaughtered in front of the temple of Jupiter.

Paul makes several connections between Christian reality and this ceremony. First he says that "Christ always leads us in triumphal procession." At the height of the use of this Roman ceremony, there would be a triumphal procession every three to five years. Christ, however, is constantly leading His people in victory. Secondly, Paul says that Christ uses us to "spread the fragrance of the knowledge of him." Everyone would have known when the triumphal procession was taking place because the sound and smell of it would permeate the city. Likewise, Christians are the evidence of Christ's victory that cannot be denied, spread throughout the world. The "aroma" that we are spreading, a.k.a. the gospel, is a "fragrance from life to life" to "those who are being saved." The spreading of the gospel through God's people brings hope and encouragement to those who receive it in faith. On the other hand, like the conquered people who are killed at the end of the triumphal procession, "among those who are perishing" the gospel is a "fragrance from death to death." The gospel condemns those who are living as enemies of Christ and refuse to turn to Him (John 3:16–18). They are already enslaved to sin and Satan, but they will face an even worse end.

In this metaphor Paul presents a duality to the gospel, the double-edged sword. It certainly brings life and hope to all who will receive God's grace, but it also proclaims the condemnation of those who refuse God. Thankfully, unlike the triumphal procession, the enemy is welcomed to join in victory. God is always extending His hand of mercy to His enemies to repent of their sins and live their lives for Him in victory. Christ died for all people while we were His enemies (Romans 5:10), and now we have the honor of spreading the knowledge and evidence of His love throughout the world. We are the aroma of Christ tasked with bringing the knowledge of His triumph to all peoples so that all might make a decision to join in the procession.

Related Truth:

How can a Christian be an ambassador for Christ?

How can I be an effective witness for Christ? How can I effectively witness to a lost world?

In light of Christ's return, how are we to live our lives?

What is the gospel?

What does it mean for Christians to be in the world but not of the world?

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