A better promise than a better you.
This article was originally written for Mockingbird.
The fall season has finally come and you know what that means? Football is back. Pumpkin spice is on everything. And Apple is doing keynotes. A few weeks ago, Apple, Inc. CEO Tim Cook took the stage to show off the latest generation of wearables and handhelds from the minimalistic tech company. This year’s crop of devices featured slightly upgraded internals with vaguely different external designs. For as much of an Apple enthusiast as I am, in my estimation they’re in a bit of an “ingenuity rut.” They innovate slowly and, for years now, have stuck to a pattern of releasing a device in year A, only to release the same device in year B accompanied by a rebrand and a slight upgrade to the internal mechanics. The iPhone “S” has become a technological predictability at this point.
But what has stuck with me since the September Apple event and the subsequent weeks of marketing the new devices is Apple’s method of selling its watch. The new Apple Watch Series 4 is boosted by a larger display and faster components “to help you stay even more active, healthy, and connected.” It’s “all new. For a better you.” (Yes, those are actual lines from Apple’s page promoting the fourth generation Apple Watch.)
There’s a better you in you.
To be honest with you, I was tempted to just say, “This speaks for itself,” and call it a day. But the deceptively false gospel that’s made so apparent, here, is worth calling out. Because the gospel of God is so much better than the promise of a better you.
I’m struck by how this ad speaks to me and for me. There’s a sense in which I want this ad to be true. I want there to be a better me in me. I realize my faults, my shortcomings, my failures. I feel the weight of the societal law that makes me feel “less than” when I skip the gym for several days straight. I, too, see what the world tells me is the ideal all late-20s males should be striving for. I look in the mirror, see my “dad bod,” and am at once frustrated by my failure to live up to that standard.
But luckily for me, all I need is this watch and all those flaws will be fixed. Because this watch will make me stronger. It’ll get me out of bed and into a workout routine. A routine, mind you, that’ll lead me into more and more intense training that’ll help me become the version of myself I’ve always longed for. It’ll make me faster. It’ll make me more productive. More assertive. More creative. More energetic. Finally, the technological silver bullet for all my deficiencies has arrived. Finally, my life’s missing piece has been “fundamentally redesigned and re-engineered” to be “part guardian, part guru,” guiding me into untold realms of actualized self-help and self-improvement, and motivating me to be a better me. Because there’s a better me in me. I just have to unleash it.
At least, that’s what we’re told. That’s what we’re force-fed. And, no doubt, that’s what we honestly believe — or want to believe. Such is why the message of Jesus of Nazareth was, and still is, met with no small amount of consternation. “For from within, out of people’s hearts,” Jesus declared, “come evil thoughts, sexual immoralities, thefts, murders, adulteries, greed, evil actions, deceit, self-indulgence, envy, slander, pride, and foolishness. All these evil things come from within and defile a person.” (Mk 7:21–23) Christ’s message to the crowd wasn’t that there’s a better version of themselves inside of them, and he’d come to set that version loose. Rather, there’s a worse version of themselves inside of them, and he came to die for that version of them. So writes the beloved Robert Capon:
Salvation is not some felicitous state to which we can lift ourselves by our own bootstraps after the contemplation of sufficiently good examples. It is an utterly new creation into which we are brought by our death in Jesus’ death and our resurrection in his. It comes not out of our own efforts, however well-inspired or successfully pursued, but out of the shipwreck of all human effort whatsoever . . . Death and resurrection are the key to the whole mystery of our redemption.1
Jesus didn’t come propagating a message that made people better. He came proclaiming death and resurrection. His sermons were all about opening people’s eyes to their true misery and his marvelous mercy that meets them in their misery. That meets them where they are. In their wretchedness. In their shortcomings. In their not-enough-ness.
Jesus’s gospel dispossesses us of our cancerous, competitive spirits and shepherds us to find pasture in his enough-ness. He doesn’t dangle an elusive “better version of you” to motivate you to become better. Because there’s no such thing. Instead, he gives you his own righteousness. He gives you himself. “He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree; so that, having died to sins, we might live for righteousness. By his wounds you have been healed.” (1 Pt 2:24; cf. Rom 8:3; 2 Cor 5:21; Gal 3:13) By his blood, you are. By his grace, you go.
Robert Capon, The Parables of Grace (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1996), 62, 71.