I was what you might call a liquid nitrogen convert to Christianity.
If you have ever bumped into anyone who has “seen the light,” you know what I am talking about—very excited, very passionate, tons of energy, and fully committed at the start. That was me—all jacked up, lit up, en fuego. For many, I am sure, the label “whack job” would have fit or at least WARNING: HIGHLY FLAMMABLE MATERIAL. Some of my friends who witnessed my initial transformation would confirm that. This simply meant I was not ashamed to be called a Christian, to spread the aroma of Christ, and champion my victorious Savior. It also meant liberally wielding the sword of the Spirit—the Bible.
I was thrilled to be going to heaven. I was relieved that my sins were forgiven. I was hopeful about my purpose for the first time in my life. God gave me new and positive identities—I am salt, I am light, I am an aroma of life. That’s a big momentum shift for a guy whose classmates voted him “the life of the party” and whom neighborhood parents told their kids to avoid. With one life-altering decision, a major explosion of passion and purpose had erupted within me, exploding ten kilotons’ worth of spiritual fuel. That’s the upside of my Holy Spirit slingshot.
The other highly volatile mixture of accelerant residing inside of me was the stuff I was hoping my newfound faith would magically erase. These unstable elements of my character included patterns of thinking, mixed motives, emotional injuries in need of healing, hidden insecurities, longings, disappointments, shame, discontentment, and a deeply rooted need for acceptance. The Holy Spirit wanted to work those out in his own way over time. Aroma That Spreads What I didn’t know was that Satan wanted to exploit them in his own way over time.
Jesus’ words to his disciples we discussed earlier tell the whole story: “Make sure that the light you think you have is not actually darkness.” (Luke 11:35 NLT) Just like salt can be rendered useless and light’s power can be cut off, your aroma (Christ in you) can distance others from God rather than attract them. In a reframing of Jesus’ words about light, I hear the Holy Spirit issuing this caution to all followers of Christ: “Make sure the sweet smell you think you’re spreading is not actually a stench.”
If the devil couldn’t take away my salvation and connection to Jesus, he would do his best to make that connection as unhealthy and toxic as possible. His aim was simple: take an authentic conversion and attempt to make it shallow, synthetic, and full of contradictions. How, you say? He used the residual emotional and mental character issues left inside of me to fashion a faith around the broken parts of my manhood—the parts that make anything they touch self-centered, dysfunctional, and willing to entertain sin.
Satan probably has a similar strategy with other believers. I can just see Satan telling his emissaries:
Get him focused on certain behaviors and performance markers.
He’ll over perform, because he’s a pleaser and a competitor.
He’ll take the credit for his own goodness instead of crediting the work of the cross and giving God the glory. Spiritual pride is as good as any form of pride.
Cause him to worry
about things he shouldn’t worry about, like maintaining his image as the perfect Christian. Take the focus off the internal (character change) and put it on the external (behaviors).
Create a public–private split.
Make him one person publicly and another person privately who secretly struggles with things his religious image will never allow him to talk about.
Create a false sense of security and dependence upon his behaviors for God versus finding his security in God.
When he messes up, he’ll feel guilty and convince himself he’ll never measure up. You know how many we’ve seen throw in the towel.
Make him hide his true self
with other Christians—the ones who struggle with flaws and temptations. The longer he hides his true self, the higher the wall will become, making it impossible to reveal who he really is. He’ll be miserable, feel stuck, and want to go back to old habits of coping with stress and pressure.
Use his religious image to make him appear narrow-minded, ignorant, and superstitious,
blind to reality and the real need people have for compassion, mercy, and love. Use his faith expression to alienate rather than connect.
Encourage him to think negatively towards or be suspicious of “normal” people so he can feel better about himself.
He will replace God’s power of judgment with his own, further separating him from people he could lead to Christ.
Use his faith to cultivate a false sense of control,
authority, and power that is self-serving. • Motivate him through fear and guilt. Breed spiritual insecurities and doubts. Magnify spiritual failures.
Create distance between him and non-Christians
by making him think they will lead him astray. Give him a holy Aroma That Spreads huddle to keep him all warm and fuzzy. He will isolate himself from people who could benefit from his presence.
God followers too easily fall for the oldest trick in the book: I can fake it. Convictions without character is a C-A-T-A-S-T-R-OP-H-E. Bad character inside will never produce proper influence outside, just like no rearrangement of spoiled eggs can ever produce a good omelet. So start over! Work this puppy from the inside out beginning with your motives (the eggs). Find good ones and then the omelet you are serving up (your influence) will both smell and taste better to those around you who care to sample. Nothing worse than a rotten egg omelet.
Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You are like whitewashed tombs, which look beautiful on the outside but on the inside are full of the bones of the dead and everything unclean. In the same way, on the outside you appear to people as righteous but on the inside you are full of hypocrisy and wickedness. (Matthew 23:27-28 NIV)
Jesus says then and now, “I want spiritual integrity. I want talk and walk. I want belief and behaviors. I want words and ways. I want intentions and actions. A pretty tombstone and flowers on the top cannot negate the reality of a decomposing carcass under the surface. You’re acting! You might bamboozle the public but God says, ‘I see the real you. Have you forgotten how I evaluate my leaders?’”
The Lord does not look at the things people look at. People look at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart. (1 Samuel 16:7 NIV)
Satan’s goal is dysfunctional spirituality—making Christ followers into a sweet stench. He is working overtime to create inauthentic, judgmental, insecure, and insulated Christians who are so in love with acting Christian (the outward appearances) that they do not have a clue what it means to be one. They are uncomfortable around nonbelievers; they don’t know how to engage them, and they make “spiritual” excuses for not connecting with them.
• “They drink a lot.”
• “He identifies as same-sex attracted.”
• “They don’t go to church.”
• “He’s always using foul language.”
• “He’s Muslim.”
• “He’s a liberal.”
• “He’s a conservative.”
• “He’s been divorced three times.”
And so on. It’s as if they expect non-Christians to act like Christians! These kinds of religious attitudes confuse our decision making, slow our willingness to act lovingly toward people, and make our sweet smell a stench.
The Holy Spirit does not want a stench turned loose in our world.
Real faith that smells really sweet like Jesus, on the other hand, breaks all the rules of man to meet a need. The authentic aroma of Christ lingers on the same side of the road as the traumatized and forgotten. A genuine faith aroma is more about divesting yourself of your own dignity in order to restore someone else’s—like Jesus did coming to earth. Sincere faith means not being at peace until someone else’s peace is secured. The Samaritan in the parable, according to Jesus, is the true aroma of Christ, and his actions are the influencing behaviors of a real man of God.
This is why it’s so important for men to stay closely connected to the Holy Spirit. He is helping us become like Jesus, infusing us with the aroma of Christ. Anything that diverts focus from God— even when the goal is to draw people to God—repels people from God, serving the agenda of the devil.
So how do you measure sweet versus stench?
As Jesus explained to the religious guy with whom he shared the parable of the good Samaritan, we measure how religious we have become by how distant we are from the real needs of those around us who need our help. If our practice of faith in Christ, or our aroma:
• Projects judgment toward outsiders
• Distances us from fellow human beings in need • Makes us feel better more than making others feel relief and help
• Limits our audience exclusively to other Christians
• Labels nonbelievers or believers negatively
• Creates “second-class” Christians
• Emphasizes behaviors that define true believers
Then rest assured that Satan is making you stenchy. Jesus says, “Fight this!”
Kenny Luck founded Every Man Ministries (EMM) in 2000 to revolutionize men’s ministry, free men spiritually, and ignite spiritual health worldwide. He is currently the Leadership Pastor at Crossline Church in Laguna Hills, California. Prior to serving at Crossline, he was the men’s pastor at Saddleback Church in Lake Forest, California, from 1997 to 2014.
Kenny is a prolific writer, having authored or coauthored over 30 books including Every Man, God’s Man and Dangerous Good. He’s also been a featured contributor on Fox News and in several publications, including Christian Post, Charisma Magazine, and New Man Magazine. Learn more at everymanministries.com.
Taken from Overflow: Setting the Holy Spirit Loose in the World You Live In by Kenny Luck © 2022. Used by permission of NavPress. All rights reserved. Represented by Tyndale House Publishers, Inc.