Every house has a unique smell, and ours is no different. Most of the time you don’t notice the particular scent of your own house, but the past few days that hasn’t been the case here. I noticed a distinctly awful smell that wasn’t going away. At first I tried my usual tricks. I pulled out my air purifier, I sprayed air freshener, I washed towels and washcloths, all to no avail. The smell was still there, underneath it all. So I decided to sniff out the source. Shockingly, it wasn’t the bathroom this time. It was definitely emanating from the kitchen. My journey took me to many exotic places until I came to a remote one I’d never before visited—under the oven. I tugged the thing slowly out of its place and was shocked at the abject squalor I found there. Months (or years…) of neglect had taken its toll. Who knows what had long since spilled and been forgotten? Even the sides of the oven were dirty from food drippings and crumbs brushed aside. It was disgusting and humbling, but once it was scrubbed squeaky clean and everything put back into its place, I realized the smell was gone. I’d gotten to the source.
If you’ve ever tried to get rid of a bad smell, you know how difficult it can be. Sometimes it’s just faster and easier to cover it up rather than take the time to find it and clean it. Throw on some deodorant or perfume when you don’t have time to take a shower, gargle some mouthwash on the go, or spray air fresheners into a room to cover up the unpleasant odor for a while. And sometimes that works. But eventually, you’ll have to take care of the problem at its source. You’ll have to take a shower or brush your teeth or pull out the couch to clean the spilled and spoiled milk underneath. We’ve all been there at one time or another. Especially when it comes to our sin.
Try as we might, we can’t cover up the stench of our sin on our own. Oh, sure, we might try to cover it for a while. We might do lots of good works, we might put on our best face in public, we might give money to charity, but underneath it all, at the very source, we are still poor, miserable sinners. Not a pretty thought. Isaiah 64:6 tells us that “All of us have become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous acts are like filthy rags.” That’s the nice version. “Filthy rags” actually refers to menstrual cloths, which are about as nasty (and smelly!) as you can get. And that’s our “righteous acts.” We may be able to fool others, but we can’t fool God.
It doesn’t take long to uncover the source of our sin—the heart. “For out of the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false testimony, slander. These are what make a man ‘unclean,’” Jesus reminds us in Matthew 15:19-20. You know what’s in your own heart, and so does God. And no matter how hard you try to cover it up, you can’t. You need another source: Jesus, the “source of eternal salvation for all who obey Him” (Hebrews 5:9). Through His sacrificial death for you and His glorious resurrection, He has earned heaven for you. And this Jesus, true man but also true God, is in the business of heart transplants.
“Create in me a pure heart, O God,” we pray with David in Psalm 51:10. And again in Psalm 139:23-24, we pray, “Search me, O God, and know my heart… See if there is any offensive way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting.” And the amazing thing is that despite God knowing the dreadful condition of our hearts, He comes in for a thorough cleansing. “I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you; I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh,” He promises in Ezekiel 36:26.
What does this new heart look like? It is a heart filled with the peace and knowledge of sins forgiven; a heart belonging to Jesus. “For it is with your heart that you believe and are justified, and it is with your mouth that you confess and are saved,” Romans 10:10 tells us. As a result of this new heart, we know the stench of our sin has been replaced with something else. “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,” we rejoice with Paul in 2 Corinthians 2:14-15.
Now that’s a pleasant aroma. I’ll take that any day. No matter what my house smells like.