And walk in love, as Christ also has loved us and given Himself for us, an offering and a sacrifice to God for a sweet-smelling aroma. – Ephesians 5:2
The Wiktionary defines “smell test” in part as “an informal method for determining whether something is authentic, credible, or ethical, by using one’s common sense or sense of propriety.”  Did you know that the Bible provides us a kind of smell test for Christians? Jesus sets the standard for any spiritual smell test. Of Him it states, “And walk in love, as Christ also has loved us and given Himself for us, an offering and a sacrifice to God for a sweet-smelling aroma” (Ephesians 5:2). The smell test of Jesus according to this verse is love that leads to offering and sacrifice. That’s a sweet, sweet smelling aroma. Unfortunately, there are too many people who call themselves Christians but who do not pass the smell test.
I brought my SUV in for an oil and filter change this morning. As I entered the newly redone customer waiting area, I sat down and tuned into my IPad to read the Bible. But then I noticed a disturbing and unpleasant smell. It wasn’t a smell I could sense with my nose. It was a smell I sensed in my spirit. You see, a TV program playing in this waiting area was tuned into a talk show program considering the problem of sex trafficking. It started to smell when one offender was interviewed and began his confession with the words, “I was brought up in a Christian household. I go to church. I’m married and have two children.” I kept my head down. My heart sunk, as did my spirit. The problem of sexual immorality is pervasive in our society. It is wrecking a lot of lives. There are many scars of immoral sexual activity left in the souls of those victimized by sexual sins. That’ particularly the case with those involved with sex trafficking. But what compounds the problem is when those who are called to a holy life indulge in sexual sin. It’s true that the testimonies of victims frequently allude to the fact that it is Christian church workers who are instrumental in their rescue. But how sad it is when such workers are cleaning up after the mess left by Christians. How sad it is when it is a Christian who shortsightedly and superficially gives into sexual temptation not considering the depth of hurt and pain their indulgence will cause others. Such Christians don’t pass the smell test. The smell left by that “Christian” man interviewed in that TV program left an embarrassing stench in that waiting room area.
Now the Christian offender in the above circumstance may well be a genuine Christian. But if they are, their sinful behavior indicates a sever backslidden state. It’s more likely they are a stunning example of false conversion. The fellow mentioned above did seem to be remorseful in his interview. The point is, we shouldn’t presume that Christians can’t indulge in serious sins. Samson had his Delilah. David committed adultery with Bathsheba. Sexual sin is serous. But we too, if we’re honest, must admit we aren’t necessarily above or beyond falling into some kind of sin ourselves. Be honest. It’s true. It’s scary. So how can we guard against such sinful falls? Is there a safeguard? How can we assure that our Christianity is genuine? How can we pass Jesus’ smell test?
The context of Ephesians 5:2 provides us with a well-rounded smell test for genuine Christianity. Taking notice of what is mentioned in Ephesians 5 serves as a preventative measure as well as provides us with a gauge of where we stand, or fall, spiritually. Let’s clear the air. Let’s take a whiff of Ephesians 5.
Therefore be imitators of God as dear children. 2 And walk in love, as Christ also has loved us and given Himself for us, an offering and a sacrifice to God for a sweet-smelling aroma.
3 But fornication and all uncleanness or covetousness, let it not even be named among you, as is fitting for saints; 4 neither filthiness, nor foolish talking, nor coarse jesting, which are not fitting, but rather giving of thanks. 5 For this you know, that no fornicator, unclean person, nor covetous man, who is an idolater, has any inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and God. 6 Let no one deceive you with empty words, for because of these things the wrath of God comes upon the sons of disobedience. 7 Therefore do not be partakers with them.
8 For you were once darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Walk as children of light 9 (for the fruit of the Spirit is in all goodness, righteousness, and truth), 10 finding out what is acceptable to the Lord. 11 And have no fellowship with the unfruitful works of darkness, but rather expose them. 12 For it is shameful even to speak of those things which are done by them in secret. 13 But all things that are exposed are made manifest by the light, for whatever makes manifest is light. 14 Therefore He says:
“Awake, you who sleep,
Arise from the dead,
And Christ will give you light.”
15 See then that you walk circumspectly, not as fools but as wise, 16 redeeming the time, because the days are evil.
17 Therefore do not be unwise, but understand what the will of the Lord is. 18 And do not be drunk with wine, in which is dissipation; but be filled with the Spirit, 19 speaking to one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody in your heart to the Lord, 20 giving thanks always for all things to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, 21 submitting to one another in the fear of God.
Verse two says, “and walk in love, as Christ also has loved us and given Himself for us, an offering and a sacrifice to God for a sweet-smelling aroma.” The first thing we notice is that the aroma sought to pass a smell test is a Christ-like aroma. We want to smell like Jesus. When we walk among others, we want to leave a holy aroma like Jesus. So, the most basic aspect of the smell test is that we smell like Jesus, we walk, talk, and think, like Jesus. This, Paul is inspired to write, is a “walk worthy of the calling with which you were called” (Ephesians 4:1).
The walk worthy of our calling in Christ, the walk that passes the smell test, is a walk whereby we offer ourselves totally (all that we are and all that we have) to God as a sacrifice which we intend to be “a sweet-smelling aroma” to Him. This is what Jesus did. This is therefore what we His followers should do. There is an aroma associated with our worthy walk.
An aroma is something that gets our attention through our sense of smell. There are good aromas and bad aromas. A woman with the right kind and amount of perfume or a man with the right kind and amount of cologne can turn a head and leave a lasting impression. Too much of even a good perfume or cologne can create a headache, cause an allergic reaction, turn a head away in nausea or cause an eye to tear. There are other good aromas like the smell of fresh wood, a flower, leather, a home cooked meal, barbecue, or the beach. And there are bad aromas like the stench of road kill or a skunk, excrement, rotten food, a dirty body, or burning rubber.
Read Ephesians 5. In these verses Paul is inspired to give us some aspects of a worthy walk that leaves a sweet-smelling aroma behind. When you walk in this way you will attract people to the Lord. But he also mentions some things that create a stench that is offensive to the Lord and should not characterize children of God. In this way Paul makes his point by way of contrasts. When you put all of these things together you get ten ingredients of a spiritual sweet smelling aroma. Let’s look at these verses and gauge how you score on the smell test.
First, a worthy walk of God-like love leaves a sweet smelling aroma (5:1-2). God pours out His love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit who indwells the believer (Romans 5:5). Love is what the followers of Christ are to be known by (John 13:35). God’s love is to be the compelling force in all we do (2 Corinthians 5:14-16). When a person injects love into life’s circumstances it leaves a certain undeniable aroma to those who are the objects of it and it becomes a sweet smelling aroma to the Lord who looks down and sees it. Do you smell of Christ-like love or do you leave the stench of loveless body odor?
Second, a worthy walk of sexual purity leaves a sweet smelling aroma (5:3-7). This point is made by Paul by contrasting stench producing lust, sexual impurity and coarse speech. “Fornication’ is any sexual activity outside of the marriage covenant. “Uncleanness” refers to immoral thoughts and activities associated with those preoccupied with sex. “Covetousness” is lusting after more of something you already have enough of. What we see in verse three is reference to the kind of sexual perversity so common in a world lost in sin and living in outright rebellion against God and all He calls holy. Verse four speaks of those sexually perverse conversations and inappropriate jokes filled with sexual innuendo or outright filth. Such talk is not fitting. Instead we ought to focus on what God has blessed us with and be thankful.
Third, a worthy walk of giving thanks to God leaves a sweet smelling aroma (5:4). The answer to sexual perversion is turning to the Lord and giving Him thanks for all we do have. Life apart from God is filled with a lust for more; an insatiable appetite to fill hedonistic lusts for pleasure. Such lust often drives people to use and abuse others and see them as mere objects rather than human beings created in the image of God. The picture is one of lost humanity functioning on a base animalistic level. God’s wrath is on those living in such sinful ways. Instead we should turn to God and be thankful for the beauty we have from God.
Fourth, a worthy walk in God’s light of “goodness, righteousness and truth” leaves a sweet smelling aroma (5:8-9). Those who have experienced the wealth of salvation in Christ have stepped out of this world’s darkness and into God’s light. The result is a life of fruitfulness manifested in goodness, righteousness and truth. Those who walk in this way leave a sweet smelling aroma of good works, the respectability of doing what is right and living by and sharing with others the truth of God’s word.
Fifth, a worthy walk of seeking what is acceptable to God leaves a sweet smelling aroma (5:10). The person who lives by what is acceptable to God leaves a sweet smelling aroma that indelibly marks those with whom they make contact. When we live in ways that are pleasing to God we leave a mark and impression that glorifies God before others.
Sixth, a worthy walk separates from and exposing of the unfruitful works of darkness creates a sweet-smelling aroma (5:11-13). We are not only to refrain from unfruitful works of darkness but we are to take action and expose them. This is the aroma of holy activism. We walk in a way that points out the shamefulness of sinful lifestyles. We shine God’s light of His Word into the dark. Like turning on a light in a rodent infested barn, the light makes the rodents run.
Seventh, a worthy walk of evangelism leaves a sweet smelling aroma (5:14). We call sinful people to awake from their spiritual slumber; we call lethargic Laodicean Christians to wake up and shine His light. This leaves a sweet-smelling aroma as people are freed from the bondage of their various sins.
Eighth, a worthy walk of circumspect wisdom in a dark world leaves a sweet smelling aroma (5:15-16). We need to be aware of what is going on around us. We are wise to the extent we apply God’s Word to what is going on around us. That is what true wisdom is. We do this mindful that the time is short and we are close to the end. The evidence of this is that the days are getting more and more evil. We therefore redeem the time by offering the redemption of Christ to a world bankrupt in sin.
Ninth, a worthy walk of knowing God’s will leaves a sweet-smelling aroma (5:17). We don’t live ignorantly without being guided by God’s will. To live apart from the will of God is foolish. But instead we seek out, learn, and live by the will of God as revealed in his Word. That leaves a sweet smelling aroma.
Tenth, a worthy walk of continually being filled with the Spirit leaves a sweet smelling aroma (5:18-21). Such a life is characterized by worship (5:19). Such a life is filled with thankfulness in all situations and for all things (5:20). Such a life is humble and has a mutually submissive attitude toward others in the body of Christ (5:21). It is only in the power provided by the indwelling Holy Spirit that we can walk a walk worthy of God’s calling on us and give off a life aroma glorifying to God.
How’d you score? Did you come out smelling like a rose? Or did you come out smelling like a skunk? I’ve been told that some people actually like the smell of skunk. I don’t understand this. It’s kind of like a dog returning to its vomit. But don’t settle for being spiritually stinky. Look at the rest of the chapter and take a bath in His word.
22 Wives, submit to your own husbands, as to the Lord. 23 For the husband is head of the wife, as also Christ is head of the church; and He is the Savior of the body. 24 Therefore, just as the church is subject to Christ, so let the wives be to their own husbands in everything.
25 Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ also loved the church and gave Himself for her, 26 that He might sanctify and cleanse her with the washing of water by the word, 27 that He might present her to Himself a glorious church, not having spot or wrinkle or any such thing, but that she should be holy and without blemish. 28 So husbands ought to love their own wives as their own bodies; he who loves his wife loves himself. 29 For no one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, just as the Lord does the church. 30 For we are members of His body, of His flesh and of His bones. 31 “For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.” 32 This is a great mystery, but I speak concerning Christ and the church. 33 Nevertheless let each one of you in particular so love his own wife as himself, and let the wife see that she respects her husband.
You know, our olfactory sensors can lose their sense of smell. If you ignore your initial sense of smelling something, your olfactory senses stop smelling the smell. I think this is a kind of defense mechanism. If you work in a pig sty with smelly pigs all day, mercifully your sense of smell dulls and you get used to the stench of pigs and their slop. That’s a good thing. But when you walk from the sty to the house, what was good for you isn’t going to be good for those around you. You’re still going to stink! You’re going to have to hose down, take a bath or a shower to wash off the filth.
You may have passed the smell test of Ephesians 5 so far. But let me ask you, is your passing grade due to actually passing the smell test, or have you been around the filth of the world that you’ve been dulled to its stench? There’s an easy way to find out the truth. Ask someone else how you smell. Tell them to be honest. Be ready for some odorous reality.
But if you’re assessment of your smell test is accurate and you passed with flying colors, good for you. Praise the Lord! But even if you’ve passed and done well, you still have to maintain your spiritual hygiene. And if you flunked, or want to improve, the rest of Ephesians 5 can help you.
Paul concludes Ephesians 5 by referring to the most important relationship outside of our saving relationship with God in Christ, marriage. I don’t think this is accidental. If you’ve been married for any amount of time, you know that marriage has a way of exposing rotten smells that could otherwise be covered up. If you can be successful in marriage, it’s a good bet you can pass the smell test in areas outside of marriage. What we learn in God’s word about marital relationships will help us to come out smelling like a rose in other areas of our life. How can we freshen up our spiritual lives if we start to smell? How can we take a bath that will clean off the smell of sin?
Subject yourself to Jesus (5:22-24). There’s nothing that will create a spiritual stench faster than pride and rebellion. Paul is moved by the Spirit to speak first of wives and their need to “submit to your own husband, as to the Lord.” I know that isn’t a popular truth for our world today, especially amongst women. I think its been greater misunderstood. It doesn’t mean a wife should be a man’s slave. What is stated here is for a wife to her own husband, not generally to women toward men. And even subjection of a wife to her husband doesn’t mean she is to be his slave. This is “as to the Lord.”
The wife is to “respect” her husband (5:33). If you’re an Abigail with a fool like Nabal for a husband, just look to her as your example and how God is able to deliver you (1 Samuel 25). He might not necessarily drop dead of a heart attack, but if you act wisely and trust the Lord, He is sure to give you grace. And wives shouldn’t ever pray against their husbands, pray for them. Always keep Jesus in mind. When we submit to others, we really submit to the Lord. We submit to Jesus because of all our Lord has done for us; how incredibly totally He has loved us and given Himself for us. He has a way f working things out. He is able to restore the years the locust has eaten (Joel 2:25). Subject yourself to Jesus.
But subjecting ourselves to anyone, even Jesus, riles up our sinful rebellious nature. And when we refuse to submit to Jesus, we start to sweat and stink and the aroma of rotting flesh permeates the area. Jesus is “the Head of the church; and He is the Savior of the body” therefore, submit to Him and be sprayed with the most beautiful smelling perfume you’ve ever smelled.
Love like Jesus (5:25, 28-29, 33). “Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ also loved the church and gave Himself for he.” (5:25). Guys, if you aren’t loving your bride like Jesus loves His Bride the Church, then don’t complain. It’s a lot easier to submit to someone who loves you and who doesn’t lord their roles over you. Paul says very succinctly, “For no one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, just as the Lord does the church” (5:29). Your wife is a reflection on you. Love your wife, on the bad days and the good days. There’s no condition here. Husbands are simply commanded to love their wives. Love them even if they’re growling at you. Love them even if they burn breakfast or dinner or forget to pack your lunch the way you like it. Love them even when they aren’t “in the mood.” Love them as they age and their physical beauty is diminished (because you’re aging too!). Love them by serving them. Love them by sacrificing for them and helping them. Love them when you’re dead tired. Love them always and in every way. No excuses. Love them.
And we, inside and outside of marriage are to love others. There’s not sweeter smell than the smell of Christ-like love. Simply love. No matter what, love.
Take a bath in God’s word. What young man growing from adolescence to teenage to adult hasn’t learned that, a sweaty time at the gym needs more than a spray of deodorant or a swipe of anti-perspirant? You seat at the gym, you need to take a shower and wash the smells away. Same is true spiritually. We need to be sanctified, cleansed, by the “washing of water by the word” (Ephesians 5:26).
Be united; be one. The last thing Paul mentions here is the picture of unity a marriage is designed to give. He says, “For we are members of His body, of His flesh and of His bones” (5:30). He is the “head” (5:23). We are the parts of His body. We’re the potentially smelly parts. Just as in marriage we leave our parents to unite to our spouse (5:31), we subordinate all other relationships to the supreme saving relationship between “Christ and the church” (5:32).
So, how’d you do? Did you pass the smell test? Maybe you scored less than you thought you should. If so, look at marital relationship and what we are taught from it. My prayer is that we can clean up and come out smelling like a rose in the garden of the Lord. But first, you have to take the smell test.