After some lively discussion over Anne Rice’s recent departure from Christianity, I have been thinking a lot about the Gospel and what it should do to our lives. The thing that strikes me the most, and repeatedly, is that for most of us, it does nothing. It is simply something that we believe so that we don’t end up in hell after we die. In fact, I’ll hazard to say, for an entire generation of Christians, this is really the only motivation to be a Christian and believe the Gospel at all (apart from the promises of health, wealth, and prosperity, of course). But, as anyone who has read this blog for any length of time will know, this is not what I believe the entirety of the Gospel is. While not being eternally tortured by the divine is good motivation to accept something as true, if this is your only motivation, you’re no better off than a demon. In fact, Scripture says as much.
The fact of the matter is, the Gospel should change us to our core. When we come into union with God through Christ, something totally amazing is supposed to happen. Paul explains it better than I could:
Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come. All this is from God, who through Christ reconciled us to himself and gave us the ministry of reconciliation; that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting to us the message of reconciliation. (2 Corinthians 5:17-19 ESV)
As a result,
[W]e 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. (2 Corinthians 2:15-16a ESV)
For starters, Paul asserts, if we are in Christ, we are new creations. “The old has passed away; behold, the new has come.” The Gospel doesn’t take everything that we are now, no matter how arrogant and foolish, and simply redirect it. Becoming a Christian doesn’t take all of our sinful tendencies (arrogance, bigotry, sexism, whatever) and turn them to good causes, leaving us basically unchanged. Rather, all that is fleshly about us should change. The old life passes away, a new life takes it’s place. We become reformed into something pleasing to God.
Even if something is considered a sin by Scripture, this does not give us the right, as Christians, to simply treat sinners with open disrespect. Rather, having been there ourselves, we should empathize with them. We should be able to effectively say that we’ve been messed up too, but God has put us back together.
Sadly, this is often not the case. So many times, we choose hate over love. We choose to fight back when we should turn the other cheek. We choose violence over compassion. Instead of offering freedom, we offer legalism.
What’s interesting about this passage of Scripture, though, is that our reconciliation to God doesn’t stop at being made new creatures. Hearing most Evangelicals talk, that would be the impression. But it goes a step further. According to Paul, we are reconciled to God and given “the ministry of reconciliation; that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting to us the message of reconciliation.” Or, to say it another way, God reconciles us to Himself so that we can reconcile others to God.
This is why Paul says near the beginning of the second letter to the Corinthians that they are “the aroma of Christ to God.” In case we miss what Paul is saying here, let me quote from the ESV Study Bible on this verse:
The terms used here are used often in the Greek [Old Testament] to refer to the aroma of a sacrifice pleasing to God. With Christ pictured as the primary sacrifice, Paul’s offering of his entire life to God, including his suffering for the sake of Christ, can then be seen as an extension of Christ’s death in the world, as the aroma of Christ to God.
When we are made new in Christ, we become something that He is pleased with as He was pleased with the burnt offerings given properly by the Israelites. But it isn’t just about that. It is also about the ministry we have been given. We are made right with God and then given a mission. Not only are we aromatic to God, but also to other people, as the ESV Study Bible goes on to say,
Some encounter Paul’s life and message and dislike it, leading to their own condemnation. Others are attracted by the Christlike beauty seen in Paul and his message, and they accept it, leading to their own eternal life.
It is “Christlike beauty” that people should see in us as a result of our being made new. They shouldn’t see more of the same only in favor of “Christian” things instead of “worldly” things. Our entire lives are to be changed, transformed, by Christ’s indwelling presence.
Is it said about us that we are anti-_________ or that we are pro-Christ? Nothing should define us apart from Christ and the Gospel, and if anything does, it is a diversion set up by the evil one to lead people astray. The Gospel should change our lives for the better. Has it done so for you?