The Smell of Forgiveness

Dan Lovaglia, Camp Pastor, Camp Paradise | October 5, 2023

Follow God’s example, therefore, as dearly loved children and walk in the way of love, just as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.
Ephesians 5:1-2 

I spent a lot of time around janitor closets as a child. My dad has kept office buildings clean my whole life. From the time I could walk, he taught me to take out other people’s trash, mop floors, scrub toilets, and steer a vacuum. I loved heading out early in the morning and late at night to hang out with my father and be a part of his work. I have vivid memories of walking across brightly lit parking lots, wrestling with a ring of keys, turning off alarms, and heading straight to the janitor’s cleaning supply closet. Following in his footsteps, I got my own janitorial job in high school.

A lifetime of being in and around janitor closets taught me something: there’s a distinct smell when it comes to being clean. Step in and get a whiff of most broom closets or mud rooms and you’ll know what I mean. You may not appreciate the pungent aroma of “clean” like me, but it will be unforgettable, and I guarantee it’s better than the alternative. Take it a step further and there’s a powerful lesson in here about what forgiveness should smell like.

Did you notice that Ephesians 5:1-2 is a continuation of chapter four? Ephesians 4:32 says, “Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.” Scripture elaborates with an imperative to imitate our heavenly Father. We’re instructed to demonstrate self-sacrifice just like Jesus, to be permeated with unmistakable compassion, forgiveness, and love. Because we’ve been made clean, we should smell cleanly forgiven both as a grateful offering to God and as His witnesses in the world.

This may sound odd, but I think people should get a waft of what forgiveness smells like when they’re around you and me. They should be able to watch us—what we say, do, and don’t do—and see the heavenly Father in action. Jesus is our perfect example, yet He still had no problem washing dirty feet (John 13:1-17). Because we’ve been made clean in God’s eyes, we’re called to love and serve others from the overflow we’ve received. 

And who knows? The aroma of forgiveness just might start with you and I following our Father’s lead, hanging out closer to janitor closets and scrubbing more toilets.

Next Steps   

  • In response to God’s forgiveness, take time to start (or restart) serving people. Check out opportunities to give back at
  • To reflect further on what forgiveness should smell like, dig in and discuss how to follow Jesus’ humble example in Philippians 2:1-18.