In II Corinthians 14-17 Paul discusses the great triumph of the Gospel through his preaching. He even compares it to a glorious triumph, like those of Roman emperors, with Christ as the great conqueror, and Paul, himself, as one participating in and sharing the glory of it.
But the part of these scriptures that I want to center our thoughts on is found in vs. 15-16: “For we are to God the fragrance of Christ among those who are being saved and among those who are perishing. To the one we are the aroma of death leading to death, and to the other the aroma of life leading to life.”
What is Paul saying? When the Gospel was preached by Paul and the apostles, or when it is preached by faithful preachers today, some are saved by it, and others perished. Why was/is this true? It is similar to the parables of Jesus; they enlightened some, and others were hardened by them. It is not the Gospel, but men’s reaction to it that determines whether one is saved or lost. In I Corinthians 1:21, Paul wrote, “For after that in the wisdom of God the world by wisdom knew not God, it pleased God by the foolishness of preaching to save them that believe.” He stated that it was the Gospel he preached to those at Corinth by which they were saved (I Cor. 15:1-4).
What Paul has in mind is the responsibility that lies within each one of us when we hear the truth taught. We must decide to accept it and be obedient to it, or we can decide to reject it and stand in rebellion to what is taught in God’s word. God has never forced anyone to do His will. Ability to choose has been given to all beginning in the Garden of Eden. We often refer to this as the “free moral agency” of mankind. Right from the beginning bad choices were made, even as they are today.
Another example that demonstrates this same thing can be found in Acts 28 as Paul was being held in Rome for trial. He was granted some freedoms and used it as an opportunity to preach the Gospel. In verses 21-22, we are told: “But we desire to hear from you what you think; for concerning this sect, we know that it is spoken against everywhere. So when they had appointed him a day, many came to him at his lodging, to whom he explained and solemnly testified of the kingdom of God, persuading them concerning Jesus from both the Law of Moses and the Prophets, from morning till evening.” What was the result of Paul’s preaching on this occasion? “And some believed the things which were spoken, and some believed not” (v. 24).
What should we conclude from this? We today have the obligation to “Preach the Gospel” (Mark 16:15; II Tim. 4:1-4). But those who hear must decide their reaction. And that reaction will determine whether they are saved or lost. How about YOU? What effect has the Gospel had upon you? Have you followed its instructions and been “then made free from sin” (Rom. 6:17-18)? Or have you turned a deaf ear, and refused to obey its teaching? The choice is yours. Eternity hangs in the balance!
-Paul Wilmoth