Ask Chuck: Is it Sinful to be in Debt?

Dear Chuck,

Is it a sin to be in debt? I feel guilty for having debt. 

Not Debt Free

 

Dear Not Debt Free, 

No, there is not a law or command in the Bible to be out of debt, but it is a good principle to live by. 

Like you, most Christians probably know that it is best to live debt-free. The belief has been so popularized that it may overshadow more important Biblical financial principles. Having studied this topic for the past 20 years, it is my opinion that getting out of debt should not be a believer’s primary or ultimate goal. 

While it is important to pay off your debt, I believe there are three areas of greater significance that should concern us regarding stewardship. 

Get Out of Claiming Ownership

The Bible makes it very clear that you and I do not own anything; we are God’s stewards.  We came into the world naked and will depart in the same condition. This is not simply good theology, but a truth that God wants us to put into practice. If we claim ownership of our money and possessions, we become materialistic and vulnerable to placing our identity in what we have. The weight of trying to accumulate, protect, maintain, and grow our things can control our lives.

Here are three ways to get out of the ownership trap:

  1. Give it to the Lord. Make a quitclaim deed that represents your surrender of it all to Him. Record everything you think you own and declare with your mind and heart that it all belongs to God. 
  2. Catch yourself whenever you say “mine.”
  3. Get into learning the joy of being a faithful steward.

Psalm 24:1 (ESV) proclaims, “The earth is the LORD’s and the fullness thereof, the world and those who dwell therein…”

Get Out of Temporal Financial Planning

The vast majority of the personal finance industry, the financial planning industry, and much of the estate planning industry operate ignorant of God’s truth. He commands us to lay up treasures in Heaven and not on Earth. 

The parable of the foolish farmer in Luke chapter 12 is a good example. A wealthy entrepreneur struggling to manage his surplus made a short-term financial plan with the goal of taking life easy. Verses 17-21 (ESV) read: 

…He thought to himself, “What shall I do, for I have nowhere to store my crops?” And he said, “I will do this: I will tear down my barns and build larger ones, and there I will store all my grain and my goods. And I will say to my soul, ‘Soul, you have ample goods laid up for many years; relax, eat, drink, be merry.’” 

But God said to him, “Fool! This night your soul is required of you, and the things you have prepared, whose will they be?”  So is the one who lays up treasure for himself and is not rich toward God. 

Clearly, planning for our well-being while neglecting God is foolish. Here are three ways to get out of the temporal financial planning trap:

  1. Make a plan to “lay up for yourselves treasures in Heaven.”
  2. Repent of placing your security and hope in money.
  3. Write your obituary. What have you done to intentionally prepare for the day you will be evaluated by the Lord?

It is good to plan for today and tomorrow, but if we don’t get out of temporal financial planning we will never get into eternal financial planning and be prepared for “that day.”

Get Out of Greed, Coveting, and Selfishness

Greed is wanting more of what you already have. 

Coveting is wanting what someone else has. 

Selfishness is using what you have exclusively for your own benefit.

We can justify anything that we want or think that we need. Greed drove the foolish farmer to build bigger barns. Ahab coveted Naboth’s vineyard so murder was justified. Nabal’s selfishness temporarily deprived David and his starving soldiers of food. 

I know people with a twin-engine plane who are working to get a turboprop so they can travel to their beach house quicker. I know those with a turboprop waiting to get a next level jet, so they never have to fly commercial. I know people with two homes that are looking for a third while ignoring the millions of homeless people in the world. I know people who travel to locations that make jaw-dropping social media picture backdrops but never consider serving the poor who live there.

Three ways to get out of greed, coveting, and selfishness:

  1. Be grateful for what you have now.
  2. Be content with your circumstances by living one day at a time.
  3. Seek to make giving your highest financial priority.      

Get Your Heart Right 

Even if we are debt-free, we can stay trapped in a life of vanity and insignificance until we get out of greed, coveting, and selfishness.

Once you get out of claiming ownership, temporal financial planning, and any financial sins that grip your heart, it would be good to also get out of debt. But don’t simply pay off the bills to feel better about your financial condition. Remember the rich young ruler; he was out of debt, but his heart was not fully surrendered to the Lord. 

This article was originally published on The Christian Post on November 13, 2020.

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