We had a little incident with our two dachshunds, Klaus and Chloe, when we arrived at the house following morning worship. The dogs had gone out front for a bit to play and explore. Upon returning inside, it became clear that they had done more than sniff around outside. Klaus in particular had decided to go rolling in someone else’s yard, and if you own a dog, you know what that means. When he came back in and took his position under the dinner table, an odor so strong emerged that it became clear we would not be able to finish eating lunch before he got a bath (and Chloe got one for good measure, as well). The stench was such that it was difficult to function with him in the vicinity. Sort of a strange anecdote to be posting on a student minister’s blog, isn’t it? Well, as that little episode was going down, it triggered this passage in my mind in connection with some major happenings going on in the world…
But thanks be to God, who always leads us in 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 an aroma from death to death, to the other an aroma from life to life. And who is adequate for these things? – 2 Corinthians 2:14-16
When I walk out of Starbucks after studying on Monday mornings, no one has to ask me where I have been. You can smell it on me. When I pick up kids in my youth group who live in a home with smokers, I don’t have to ask them if someone has been smoking. I can smell it within moments. When I get around godly people, I don’t have ask; it becomes clear quickly. They smell of Christ. To the world at large, Biblical Christianity is an incomparably pungent stench because it carries the odor of God the Son. There is a form of religiosity that is good and acceptable in the American public forum, but it is not the life-altering, world-shaping faith of a disciple of Christ. We could find acceptance in this arena if only we subscribed to a godless, powerless, dead faith (2 Timothy 3:5). But that’s not Christianity–at least not the real thing.
As I was scrubbing the filth off of my wretched dog, I thought about the way that our culture is trying to take the edge off of our faith. A few synonymous verbs come to mind: Domesticate, Tame, Train, House-Break. In fact, it’s quite a similar mindset that any sensible pet-owner employs when deal with a new pet: You can live here, but you will play by our rules. We will control your smell, your diet, your sleeping habits, food allowance, etc. Most likely we will have you spayed or neutered, as Bob Barker would request us to do. I looked at the pet shampoo I was using and saw the word boldly printed: Deodorizing. That’s it. That’s the Christianity that is good and acceptable to this world. A deodorized, neutered, house-broken “Christian” faith.
Deodorization – “You can talk about the positives of being ‘people of faith,’ the unique bond shared by ‘the Abrahamic faiths,’ or maybe being a ‘Nation under God,’ but just leave Jesus Christ out of it. Do not pray in His Name, do not ” Anything about the practice of our faith that smells like the real Jesus Christ of Scripture is strictly forbidden in the public arena. Perhaps some of that Bible stuff is acceptable within the walls of your own house or church, but it is really quite unbecoming in our enlightened age. So any form of Christianity in the public realm must first undergo a heavy deodorizing scrub with a secular steel wool brush. After all, the slightest scent of the real Christ is an odor offensive beyond consideration. Unfortunately, this not an option our Master has left open to us. That is not how Christianity works: “You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden; nor does anyone light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on the lampstand, and it gives light to all who are in the house. Let your light shine before men in such a way that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father who is in heaven (Matthew 5:14-16).” Just as Moses could not hide the radiance of his face following his encounter with God, so Christians cannot simply scrub away the smell of Christ from our bodies. In Him we live and move and have our being (Acts 17:28). We died, and our life is hidden with Christ in God (Colossians 3:3). We have been crucified and no longer live, but Christ lives in us (Galatians 2:20).
Neutering – “Okay, it is fine for you to believe what you want to believe. Just keep it to yourself.” We are within our rights (for now) to believe what we want to believe with regard to spiritual truth; we just aren’t allowed to talk to anyone about it. That might possibly be a workable compromise, except that no student is above his teacher, and our Teacher sent us out with an explicit task: “Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit (Matthew 28:19).” For us to do that is going to require us to talk about our faith, sin, Jesus Christ, God, Heaven, Hell, etc. Jesus did not leave Neutered Christianity open to us as a viable option. This one isn’t really going to work for us.
Obedience Training – “Potty here, not here. Eat this, not that. Sleep here, not there. Listen to my voice; do what I say; live as I say.” We can’t serve two masters. We can’t fear both God and man. We can’t follow two shepherds. “My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me (John 10:27).”
Folks, we’re at a cultural impasse. Christians are not welcome, because we would first have to be deodorized, neutered, and trained. But a Christian can’t simply stop smelling like Christ. He can’t simply stop talking about Christ. And he can’t submit himself to cultural sensitivity training to that would be required for him to be acceptable in our “pluralistic” society. And so I close with a few a reminders from Jesus and a couple of guys who could speak firsthand of the trials that come with following Him that none of our present predicament comes in any way as a surprise to God. In fact if it were His way, He could rightly say to us, “Told you so.”
“If the world hates you, know that it has hated Me before it hated you. If you were of the world, the world would love its own; but because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, because of this the world hates you. Remember the word that I said to you, ‘A slave is not greater than his master.’ If they persecuted me, they will also persecute you; if they kept My word, they will keep yours also. But all these things they will do to you for My name’s sake, because they do not know the One who sent me.'” – John 15:18-21
Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery ordeal among you, which comes upon you for your testing, as though some strange thing were happening to you; but to the degree that you share the sufferings of Christ, keep on rejoicing, so that also at the revelation of His glory you may rejoice with exultation. If you are reviled for the name of Christ, you are blessed, because the Spirit of glory and of God rests on you. Make sure that none of you suffers as a murderer, or thief, or evildoer, or a troublesome meddler; but if anyone suffers as a Christian, he is not to be ashamed, but is to glorify God in this name. – 1 Peter 4:12-16
Do not be surprised, brethren, if the world hates you. – 1 John 3:13