Have you ever noticed how the wisdom of the world and the old covenant sound much alike? If you do good, you get good. You reap what you sow. What goes around, comes around. Both perspectives advocate self-effort. Both preach self-dependence and reward based on merit. In contrast, the gospel of grace says it’s all about Jesus. Grace says it’s his effort, his merit and his righteousness that matters. There’s no mixing these two perspectives – it’s his effort or mine, his merit or mine.
In his 2007 best-seller Destined to Reign, Joseph Prince drew a clear line between the gospel of grace and the unholy concoction of grace and law that has been preached since the time of the Galatians. In his recent book entitled Unmerited Favor, Joseph Prince builds on that grace foundation by unpackaging the consequences of living self-dependent or Jesus-dependent lives. Prince’s basic idea is that if trust Jesus for salvation, we ought to trust him for everything else too. What stops the unmerited favor of God in our lives? According to Prince, the greatest obstacle is our own self-reliance:
“There are some believers who may not articulate it, but in their hearts they believe that without Jesus they can still succeed. By believing and acting on this, they fall from the high place of God’s grace (his unmerited favor) back into the law, back into trying to merit and deserve success by their own efforts.” (p.24)
This is both astonishing and obviously true.
Why is it that we trust Jesus for our salvation, we may even trust him for our healing, but we don’t trust him for our success? We work like part-time believers. We tell ourselves we’re doing it in his name and for his glory, but our work ethic is 100% old covenant thinking. Deep down we believe that success will only come if we make sacrifices or sow thousands of hours. Sure, we thank Jesus for the cross, but his work actually has no bearing on our work. We strive and struggle just like everyone else, ignoring the supernatural advantages that are ours in Christ.
Jesus didn’t just die to set us free from the curse of the law. He also died that we might inherit the blessings of Abraham. As Prince says,
“In Christ, you are an heir of the world – its goods, its endowments, its riches, its advantages and its pleasures. This is the promise that God made to Abraham and his seed. Don’t apologize for it. It is your inheritance in Christ!” (p.230)
Now right there some of you might switch off thinking that Prince is preaching a “health and wealth” gospel. He isn’t. Sure, he does have a fair bit to say about prosperity, but that is not his main message. (Lest you be distracted, I have posted elsewhere my summary of Joseph Prince’s teachings on prosperity and success.) What he is preaching in Unmerited Favor is complete and total dependence on Jesus for everything.
We Christians – and especially pastors – tend to get so caught up doing the Lord’s work that we lose focus and burn out. We know we shouldn’t, yet we do it anyway. According to Prince, we do this out of ignorance:
“Many good, well-meaning and sincere believers today are defeated by their lack of knowledge of the new covenant and all the benefits that Jesus has purchased for them at the cross… It is the lack of knowledge of what Jesus has accomplished at the cross that has robbed many believers of enjoying these good gifts and benefits.” (p.95)
I know from personal experience what it is to preach Mary while acting like Martha. Probably every pastor does. Just look at our schedules! If this is you, if you are busy to the point of distraction, then you definitely need to read Unmerited Favor. In it Prince gives the most compelling reason I have read for being more like Mary than Martha.
Jesus said, “one thing is needful” and that is to sit at his feet and behold him. For many of us – and particularly pastors – sometimes the hardest thing to do is to sit down. That looks too much like resting and how can we rest when there’s work to be done? So we sit for just a minute, then jump right back up into old covenant mentality and human performance.
A couple of years ago God spoke very clearly to me. He told me that he wanted me to “do nothing.” It was the hardest word I have ever received. Tell me to part the Red Sea and I’ll give it a go. Tell me to walk on the water and I’ll do it or drown trying. But tell me to do nothing at all except rest, and I mean long-term rest, living in that rest, remaining in that rest – well that’s ve-ry hard indeed! It does not come naturally.
But I am learning that when we make him our priority, when we have no agenda other than Jesus alone, the whole world changes around you. Problems bow down. Inspiration comes. You find yourself doing the right thing at the right time and, yes, you have restful increase instead of stressful increase (because it’s based on his merit, not yours).
If I were to sum up Unmerited Favor in two words, they would be stop trying, as in, stop trying to succeed in your own strength, stop trying to earn God’s favor, stop trying to make it happen, stop striving, stop struggling, and trust him for everything. No seriously, you really, actually need to stop because for as long as you continue to trust in your self-effort, you’re operating outside of grace and cursing your work. The sooner you stop, the better everything will be.
Or if I were to sum up Unmerited Favor in just one word, it would be receive. You can’t receive while you’re trying to make it happen. Grace doesn’t share the stage with human effort. If you want to enjoy the unmerited favor of God in your life, stop trying and just receive.
Prince is certainly not calling us to live idle, passive lives. Our performance stills matters. But effective performance is grounded on the revelation that we have been made righteous by faith. Right living follows right believing. I had hoped that he would say more about how we work under grace, but perhaps that’s for the next book.
You can read Unmerited Favor without first having read Destined to Reign, but I recommend you read both in the order they were written. If Destined to Reign is all about what Jesus had set you free from, then Unmerited Favor is what he has set you free into. In Destined to Reign Prince comes across as an authoritative preacher of the gospel. In Unmerited Favor he is more the tender pastor. Both books are outstanding.
– “Destined to Reign” by Joseph Prince
– Top 12 blessings in the New Covenant
– Two religions: works and blood