In many Christian circles, debt is considered to be a sin, and there’s strong Biblical support for that position. But is it also possible that unless it’s taken to an extreme that debt isn’t quite a sin–maybe it’s just a temptation.
Neither situation is good. A sin is a sin, and a temptation is something that has the potential to lead to sin. And even if a temptation isn’t an outright sin, it is something best avoided all the same.
Let’s look at both sides of the picture: debt as a sin, and debt as a temptation.
Debt as a sin
In our world, we don’t like to think of debt as a sin. It’s too common and even held up as a virtue in so many instances. Buying a home with a mortgage is one such “good use of debt”, taking on student loans is another. Big picture, we have the notion that debt is even good for the economy, stoking demand and keeping people employed.
But there are at least three ways that debt itself is a sin.
Buying what we can’t really afford. Debt is an attempt to spread out the cost of what it is we want to buy, usually over many years. This leads us to believe that we can afford to buy when we really can’t. God expects us to be good stewards of our money, and using debt to buy what we can’t immediately afford is a way of playing a financial shell game with ourselves. When we tell ourselves that we can afford something what we really mean is that we can afford the payments on it. That isn’t quite the same thing.
Debt is a form of slavery. God wants us to be slaves only to Him. Entering into debt is a form of voluntary slavery—a slavery we choose to go in to. And it’s slavery to someone other than God. Anything that takes us farther from God is a sin!
Proverbs 22:7 tells us “The rich rules over the poor and the borrower is the slave of the lender”. Since debt arrangements are legal, we might convince ourselves that that they’re somehow holy as well. But not everything that’s legal is holy. Putting ourselves at risk of being slaves to others certainly isn’t holy, especially if it’s for the purpose of buying something that isn’t entirely necessary, like a bigger house, a new car or a vacation. That’s mostly buying excess.
Coveting. Dictionary.com defines “covet” as ”to wish, long, or crave for something, especially the property of another person”. To do this is to violate the Tenth Commandment. Debt serves as an enabler when it comes to coveting—it allows us to transform the desire for something into the reality of having it. Usually what we desire are the things that other people have, and that’s coveting.
Debt can take coveting to a higher level. This happens when debt becomes a habit, even a lifestyle, in which a pattern of consumption based on debt develops. When the day of reckoning comes—a bankruptcy or other form of default—it isn’t a single act of sinfulness, but a series of sins committed over a very long period of time.
Debt as a temptation
The other possibility is that debt isn’t so much a sin as it is an action that has the potential to lead us into sin. That’s a temptation. We can think of similar correlations elsewhere: a married man spending time with an unmarried women to whom he’s attracted or an alcoholic frequenting bars. In each case there’s a temptation—an act that puts you in a position to sin but isn’t a sin in itself—and the sin itself, which is bringing the temptation to its logical conclusion.
Some ways that debt is really just a temptation:
It enables acquisition. Acquiring possessions in and of itself isn’t necessarily a sin. It’s when the acquisitions take extreme proportions, like when we begin spending more than we know we can afford. Homes and college are generally priced well above the means of the average person to pay cash, so debt is typically used to pay for the largest part of the purchase. If we stay well within reasonable ability to repay the loans, debt won’t really be a sin. However, if we continue to borrow even to make purchases that aren’t entirely necessary, we’re setting ourselves up to sin. That’s a temptation.
Creates the potential for default. Psalm 37:21 tells us “The wicked borrows but does not pay back…” That sounds an awful lot like a sin! And that’s exactly what debt sets us up for. There’s some point of default out there for everyone, and that’s what debt can set us up for. That’s a temptation.
It draws our attention away from Godly pursuits. Debt facilitates consumption; that’s not a sin per se, but there is some point out there where it becomes one. We can borrow and consume for a lifetime, but never cross that line where consumption becomes a sin. But because debt is relentless with regard to repayment, it will always have a prior on our lien on our incomes. And because of that commitment, it will also draw our time and attention. That will leave us less money, time and concern for doing Kingdom work. That’s a temptation at the very best and maybe even something worse.
What are your thoughts? Is debt a sin or a temptation?