A Bible search for the word “always” led me to see to a curious juxtaposition of verses in 2 Corinthians. On one hand we have the victorious image of 2:14 (ESV):
“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.”
That’s the kind of verse everyone would like to claim. We’d all like to feel triumphant over sin, adversity, and death. And we often seem to think that our faith will be easily shared with others, like a fragrance wafting across the room with no real effort on our part. But then just two chapters later the Apostle Paul writes:
“[We are] always carrying in the body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be manifested in our bodies. For we who live are always being given over to death for Jesus’ sake, so that the life of Jesus may be manifested in our mortal flesh” (4:10-11).
That picture isn’t so pleasant or desirable. We don’t particularly want any form of death, whether it is the daily death of our own selfish desires or the death that comes from persecution for our faith. Christianity would be so much easier and more appealing to the world if it were obviously victorious and comfortable. If it were really about health and wealth, it wouldn’t be hard to convert people. There would be no need for evangelistic crusades or prayer meetings or hard conversations. In fact, it wouldn’t even require the work of the Holy Spirit.
But from the beginning faith has required death. When Adam and Eve sinned in the Garden of Eden, death was introduced into the world (Gen. 3). The curse included the death-like futility of toil, physical death, and spiritual death. God’s first action after pronouncing this death was to kill animals in order to make garments of skins to cloth Adam and Eve (v. 21). It wasn’t long until the Old Testament sacrificial system was enacted as a temporary substitutionary death that pointed ahead to the Messiah who would “give His life as a ransom for many” (Matt. 20:28), and “without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness of sins” (Heb. 9:22).
We must first put our faith in the One who died in our place, but it doesn’t end there. As we put on our new life in Christ, it requires the death of our old self—we can’t put on the new without putting off the old. “For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God… Put to death therefore what is earthly in you” (Col. 3:3, 5). We won’t be conformed to the image of Christ without sacrificing our own wills to His (Rom. 12:1-2). We won’t “spread the fragrance of the knowledge of Him everywhere” unless His life is being lived out day by day. “In this the love of God was made manifest among us, that God sent His only Son into the world, so that we might live through Him” (1 John 4:9).
In this age of self, this is not a popular message. Everyone wants to live their own life, follow their heart, and fulfill their own desires. But for those who claim faith in Christ, it is not my life but His, not my desires but His, not my will but His. “Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, whom you have from God? You are not your own, for you were bought with a price. So glorify God in your body” (1 Cor. 6:19-20). This message is repeated in various ways throughout the New Testament, so anyone who believes that they can be a Christian and yet live however they please is sadly deceived.
“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?” (2 Cor. 2:15-16).
May we be a fragrant offering, broken and poured out for Him.
“It is my eager expectation and hope that I will not be at all ashamed, but that with full courage now as always Christ will be honored in my body, whether by life or by death” (Phil. 1:20).
© 2020 Dawn Rutan. Image copyright free from pixabay.com. The opinions stated do not necessarily reflect the views of my church or employer.