By the Rev. Lakeya Stewart
Melvin Williams is associated with the old Baptist devotional song that shouted, “Be ready when he comes, be ready when he comes… don’t let him catch you with your work undone, he’s coming again so soon!”
I remember growing up in the Baptist church hearing the words to this song almost weekly. My hands would be a-clappin’ as I would sway side to side. In the moment, the rhythm of the song and the catchy beat had my emotions elevated to a state of joy and praise, but deep within the words to this song scared me. I would often think, “What if he catches me with my work undone?”
So, what if he DID catch me with my work undone? I would often time fear what the repercussions of not serving God enough would be. I would wonder if I would be last to enter the pearly gates or even worse if I would be bound to hell. WHAT IF?
Now that I am older, wiser and have the resources to study scripture for myself, I know that this works based theology is not how believers enter the kingdom of God. The reality is, we cannot work ourselves into Heaven. In fact, any church or doctrine that suggests such toxic views is antithetical to scripture. We are saved by grace, through our faith in Christ Jesus.
How are we saved? John 3:16 is the first scripture that I learned as a child. Many of us learned those words: “For God so loved the world that He gave his only begotten son, that whosever believeth in him should not perish but have everlasting life.” The saving act of Christ has been given to believers as a gift. We could not possibly ever be “good enough” or “do enough” good works to appease the Father.
The good news is that God doesn’t require that we do 10 good works a day! Hallelujah! Many of us might find ourselves missing this mark. However, God does require that we love him with all of our heart, and that we love our neighbors as we love ourselves. If we do these things, shouldn’t good works naturally follow?
Christians who really put God first in their lives should understand the importance of helping their brother and sister when they see them in need. They also understand that they are now God’s hands and feet on earth as Jesus no longer walks on this earth as he once did. Knowledge of these principles often times is enough for believers to visit the sick, to visit those in nursing homes, to visit the prisons, to feed the homeless, to clothe the naked, to give to the needy, and to help those in distress.
Christians should not be forced to “do” works for fear of being caught with their work undone. The use of this language, although probably not intentional, invokes feelings of fear and mistrust of God. Songs that we sing and once heard have shaped our theology and our perception of God. Our task now is to study scripture for ourselves, to attend Bible study, to attend worship services and, most importantly, to pray to God for understanding of what is required of us.
On this week, I invite you to think about what kind of theology or biblical truths the songs that you sing on a daily basis really convey about Jesus. I leave you with one final question: Is the God that you sing about – a God who is loving, scary, or both?
For questions or further correspondence concerning future topics or speaking engagements, please email at RevStewartSpeaks@outlook.com.
The Rev. Dr. Lakeya Stewart, M.Div., D.Min., ABD attended Berea College and the Lexington Theological Seminary in Kentucky and earned a double major B.A. degree in Sociology and in African & African American Studies as well as the Master of Divinity Degree. Rev. Stewart is currently writing a dissertation on Toxic Leadership and Spiritual Abuse through Regent University.