I hear a lot about debt these days. Often the context is the national debt or the recent sequestration. The magnitude of these topics provides a momentary distraction from the debt my husband and I face. Since finishing college we’ve both taken steps toward debt-free living, which is an ideal we hold. We’ve diligently avoided credit card debt, but we owe on the student loans that helped finance our college educations, we have a mortgage, and we owe a small amount on my husband’s car. These debts weigh heavily on me. Was I wrong to take out loans to pay for college? Should we have bought an older car for my husband so we could have paid for it outright? These types of questions spur my contemplation on how I, as a Christian, should view debt.
Is debt sinful?
I’ve read the Bible through many times and I’ve never seen a verse that explicitly states that being in debt is a sin. However, I do believe Scriptural principles indicate a life of debt is not God’s best for us and that being free of debt helps us better serve Him.
Before I go any further, let me say this: I believe that sin can often lead to debt. If your motivation to buy your stereo (or car, golf clubs, purse, etc.) is to “keep up with the Joneses” and you have to purchase it on credit, then that’s a problem. If you are being lazy and refuse to work for an income and end up in debt as a result, then that’s a problem. Sins like greed, sloth, improper priorities, and rebellion can all lead to debt. These sins need to be called out and addressed appropriately.
What about other debts, though? Debts like a mortgage on a modest house, student loans, or medical bills that went to collection because you couldn’t afford to pay them?
In the Old Testament, the Mosaic Law doesn’t prohibit lending, though limitations are placed on when interest can be charged (see Exodus 22:25, Leviticus 25:35-36, and Deuteronomy 23:19-20). Lending and borrowing aren’t identified as sin there, nor are they in the New Testament. Even when interest is referred to in Jesus’ parables (the Parables of the Talents and Minas in Matthew and Luke, respectively) the point of the parables is using wisely what God has given.
The reason I believe debt is not God’s best for us is that borrowers become slaves of the lender (Proverbs 22:7). In being slaves we are not free to live as we want. In essence, we are torn between two masters—the debt and the Lord. We may not be able to give as generously to ministries or serve as often as we’d like. A significant portion of the money we earn must be given to the lender and we may need to work overtime hours to make ends meet. Often it becomes a struggle to receive the peace and joy God gives because anxiety and regret overshadow them.
God knew what he was talking about when he said, “You cannot serve both God and money” (Matthew 6:24). While this verse does say money (not debt), it is money we borrowed and money we owe, so I think it has relevance. Likewise, Paul’s encouragements to “not become slaves of men” (1 Corinthians 7:23) and to have no outstanding debt “except the continuing debt to love one another” (Romans 13:8) bear consideration. While the former verse does refer to literal slavery, the words of Proverbs 22:7 give some indication that the figurative and literal states share some similarities.
My conclusion from these verses and others on the topic (Psalm 37:21, Proverbs 22:26, Nehemiah 5:3-5, Matthew 5:42, and Luke 6:35) is that debt is not inherently sinful. Debt can result from sin (selfish ambition, pride, covetousness, etc.) and when it does it is reaping the consequences of what one has sown (Galatians 6:7-8). All debt, regardless of how it was incurred, carries great risks and hardships. Therefore, it is good and right to discourage Christians (and others) from getting into debt. Those of us who are in debt should work hard and pay it off (Colossians 3:23, Romans 13:7) and should make wise choices in regards to taking on additional debt. However, it is not beneficial or scriptural to browbeat ourselves regarding the debt we have.
Are you comfortable carrying debt or do you do everything you can to avoid taking it on? Have you ever considered if it is sinful? Do you think it is?