Bob Tamasy: A Fragrant Aroma, Or Just A Big Stink?

  • Thursday, September 14, 2023
  • Bob Tamasy
Bob Tamasy
Bob Tamasy

Of our five human senses (not including the so-called “sixth sense” some people seem to have), the sense of smell is perhaps the most under-appreciated. And yet, I can’t count the number of times a fragrance or aroma has awakened old memories for me.

To this day I can remember the enticing smell of my mom’s lemon meringue pie or Hungarian nut rolls fresh out of the oven. One of my first girlfriends used to wear a particularly appealing cologne. For years afterward, whenever I caught that familiar whiff emanating from someone, my thoughts would briefly return to her. For some people there’s nothing more invigorating than the smell of fresh paint.

Or course, not all smells are created equal. Sometimes when the trash hasn’t been taken out as promptly as it should, the unpleasing odor serves as a reminder. Have you ever walked across your yard and received the odiferous alert that you just stepped in the droppings of the neighbor’s dog? Or you’ve grabbed a carton of milk out of the refrigerator and before you can pour it on your cereal, a quick sniff confirms it’s gone sour?

Have you ever considered that the sense of smell has spiritual implications? The Scriptures seem to suggest that subconsciously people can “smell” the presence of Jesus Christ in us as believers?

According to 2 Corinthians 2:14-16, that’s the case both literally and figuratively: “But thanks be to God, who always leads us in triumphal procession in Christ and through us spreads everywhere the fragrance of the knowledge of Him. For we are to God the aroma of Christ among those who are being saved and those who are perishing. To the one we are the smell of death; to the other, the fragrance of life….”

In his devotional book, Grace Notes, author Philip Yancey alluded to this in recalling “the old-fashioned atomizer” women used prior to refinements in spray technology. Using the atomizer, he noted, women would squeeze a rubber bulb, propelling droplets of perfume through the fine holes at the other end.

“A few drops suffice for a whole body; a few pumps change the atmosphere in a room. That is how grace should work…. It doesn’t convert the entire world or an entire society, but it does enrich the atmosphere,” Yancey observed.

The question is, as followers of Christ do we give off a fragrant aroma of His grace – or do we just create a big stink?

As the passage in 2 Corinthians points out, the “smell” others sense coming from us can differ according to where they are spiritually. We are “the aroma of Christ among those who are being saved…the fragrance of life.” However, for “those who are perishing,” we seem more like “the smell of death,” even if they might not be consciously aware of it.

This might be one reason we sometimes hear people comment, upon learning of our faith in Christ, “I knew there was something different about you.” Perhaps it’s only subliminal recognition, but Ephesians 5:1-2 admonishes us to, “Be imitators of God, therefore, as beloved children, and walk in love, just as Christ loved us and gave Himself up for us as a fragrant sacrificial offering to God.”

People sometimes respond in different ways to the same smells. For instance, some people love chicken liver and the smell of it cooking. Not me. I love the smell of cooked cabbage, but have a son-in-law who hates it. One reason there are so many varieties of perfume is that one person finds a certain fragrance enticing while another finds it repelling.

In a similar way, I suspect some atheists and agnostics react so negatively to even the mention of Jesus because of the “smell,” while for those of us know Him, nothing could be more appealing. When 2 Corinthians 5:17 declares, “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come!” this might include receiving new “noses” or a transformed sense of “smell.”

We can’t control how others react to “the fragrance of the knowledge of [Christ].” As we’re told, for some it’s “the smell of death.” What we can control, however, is that what repels them is not our words, attitudes and actions as His “ambassadors,” to use the term from 2 Corinthians 5:20.

When we have the opportunity to interact with non-believers, are we kind and compassionate, reflecting the Lord’s grace? Or do we come across as judgmental and hateful? Through our lives do we demonstrate integrity, humility, joy, patience and the other “fruit of the Spirit,” or does our behavior seem to contradict what our lips profess? Maybe we need to inspect the contents of our “atomizers.”

* * *

Robert J. Tamasy is a veteran journalist, former newspaper editor and magazine editor. Bob has written, co-authored and edited more than 15 books. These include the newly published, ”Marketplace Ambassadors”; “Business At Its Best: Timeless Wisdom from Proverbs for Today’s Workplace”; “Tufting Legacies,” “The Heart of Mentoring,” and “Pursuing Life With a Shepherd’s Heart.” A weekly business meditation he edits, “Monday Manna,” is translated into more than 20 languages and sent via email around the world by CBMC International. The address for his blog is His email address is

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