Apple has been at the cutting edge of computer and phone technology for 30 years. Most recently, iPhone and iPad have revolutionized smart phones and portable computers. For the iPhone, the catch phrase has been: “There’s an app for that!” If you want to file an accident claim, there’s an application, or app for short, for the iPhone that does exactly that. If you want to track your FedEx package, there’s an app for that! If you want to have a bird guide while in the field, there’s an app for that. If you want to know about food you buy, there’s an app for that! Yes, use your iPhone to scan the HarvestMark code to discover where your food was grown, who grew it, and if there’s been any contamination, recall, or other safety issues.
Latest count, there are more than 425,000 apps for the iPhone. And now there is the iPad with over 90,000 apps for it. Life can be simplified and you can expand what you do with mobile devices. Technology is quite amazing!
In a recent show called “Memphis Beat” the entire force has been upgraded to smart phones. While investigating, two detectives come to a house that is locked. One wonders how to get in; the other takes out his smart phone and says, “I have an app for that!” He then uses the phone to break the window so they can get into the house.
In my spiritual life I wish there was an app for that. Have you ever heard people claim that if you become a Christian everything gets better? I’ve heard it, but it isn’t true, is it! It doesn’t take long to discover that my Christian life is a constant battle ground between my sin and what God wants for me to do. The frustration of living and dealing with my sin seems overwhelming. I want to take out a smart phone and shout, “There’s an app for that!” And my struggle with sin would be instantly resolved.
But such will not happen. In our epistle reading for today, Paul addresses this constant battle between the old person who is still sinful, and the new self in Jesus Christ. Notice the tension in v. 15 when Paul writes: “For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate.” Or even more forcefully in v. 19 “For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I keep on doing.” Paul nails it, doesn’t he? Some days it seems that I can make progress in my struggle, but other days I feel like I’m sliding down a step hill covered with chocolate. I soothe my mind with that last bit about chocolate, because if my life is that bad, then I want to grasp at anything to take the edge off my pitiful condition. At least in defeat I can satisfy my one desire for something tasting good! Of course, all that does is add to my struggle with weight and guilt. Wow, I wish there was an app for that!
Do you find yourself in a similar predicament? Maybe you have a relationship that just isn’t right, a parent, spouse, or child. A conversation can start well, but within five minutes the tension arises, the words become more pointed. And now instead of seeing that person every week, the span is now months. It seems that no matter what you try, you end up aggravating the relationship or frustrating yourself. Good intentions yield to discouragement, defeat, even despair. Do you ever wish there was an app for that?
The reality is that the Christian life is not a simple case of following a set of rules and everything works out right. If that had been true then the Ten Commandments of Moses would have been sufficient. But adding more laws to Law never helps, it only contributes to further failure. The solution is not piling on more Law, nor is it denying the reality of the conflict, nor is there an app for iPhone, iPad, or iSelf to solve the problem. Paul acknowledges the struggle in the Christian life. Left to his own devices, he shouts out “Wretch man that I am! Who will save me from this body of death?” (v. 24). When I focus on my difficulties, my defeats, my despair, then I will always look at the negative, only see problems. Indeed, my cry echoes Paul, “Who will save me from this body of death?”
Paul answers his own question with a ringing statement of praise: “Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord!” The solution is not an app, not me, not you, but Jesus Christ.
Does that sound simplistic? Perhaps. But Paul has carefully laid out for the Romans Christians — and us — the basis of our faith. Namely what Jesus Christ has done. In Romans 1-2, Paul showed that we all, whether Jew or Gentile, are condemned before God because of our sin, whether by the Law of Moses or the law written in our hearts. He concludes in Romans 3:19, “Now we know that whatever the law says it speaks to those who are under the law, so that every mouth may be stopped, and the whole world may be held accountable to God.”
Then he proceeds to the key in 3:21-22: “But now the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the law, although the Law and the Prophets bear witness to it— the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe.” The focus in chapters 3 and 4 is on our right standing before God because of what Jesus Christ has done. No matter your sin, your past, your strength, when you believe and stand before God, you are declared righteous, perfect, holy… all that Christ has done for you has been credited to your account.
But Paul doesn’t stop with that. In chapters 5 and 6, he adds that this salvation has so many components that it is not captured by one word or one phrase. In 5:1 he writes, “Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.” Paul expands that concept of peace by noting that even when we suffer, we have that “peace that passes all understanding.” In chapter 6 Paul brings them back to their foundation in baptism:
What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin that grace may abound? By no means! How can we who died to sin still live in it? Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized pinto Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life. (Romans 6:1-4)
That is, while sin is part of this life, we as Christians have been made alive in Christ to fight against sin. Baptism is not something that is a nice event to remember as a family function. By baptism, God has made you his child, he has given you the full gifts of his mercy, including the Holy Spirit. That means we do not have to give into sin at every turn. In Romans 6:11-12 we read, “So you also must consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus. Let not sin therefore reign in your mortal body, to make you obey its passions.”
Now the battle lines are drawn. You are a new person in Christ through baptism; you still live in this mortal life. And that brings us back to Romans 7 and our present dilemma. “For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I keep on doing.”
Following Paul’s logic here means remembering and reappropriating what Jesus Christ has done for us. As we being every service with these words, “If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” That is, God knows that our lives are messed up with sin, with failure, with discouragement. But he has covered all that with Jesus Christ. When we hear those wonderful words of forgiveness, we start again with the absolute pure righteousness of Christ. Our sin? Forgiven in Christ! Our failure in relationships? Renewed and restored in Christ! Jesus Christ died for us, and he lives for us.
While you might see all that is wrong, in Christ God sees all that is right. And lifts our eyes above our present temporary struggle to the goal. As Jesus promises in the Gospel reading, Matthew 11:28-29, Jesus said: “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.”
No wonder Paul concludes his lament, “Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death?” with that ringing praise and declaration: “Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord!”
In your sin and your struggle, you don’t need an app for that. You need Jesus Christ for that!