Debt: The Spiritual Side

December 5, 2012

by Ronnie Rogers

Ronnie Rogers is senior pastor of Trinity Baptist Church in Norman, Okla., a university city cited by the North American Mission Board in 2006 as the most unchurched in the state. Pastor Rogers’ expositional sermons draw large collegiate crowds during the school year as he preaches and teaches (and writes) from a biblical perspective that boldly challenges popular culture.

I do not believe that Scripture teaches that financial debt is necessarily sin or evil. I do believe that it is probable that some choices, and maybe all, that lead to unmanageable debt are sinful, and the end result is that the borrower becomes a slave to the lender (Proverbs 22:7). Our nation is drowning in unmanageable debt, and so are many Americans. Unfortunately, many Christians lose their testimony and joy because they practice the same money management techniques as the rest of America and find themselves in the same financial bondage.

Although extraordinarily popular, it seems to strain credulity beyond imagination to attribute all of the financial woes of our day solely to economic factors or to imagine that Americans simply cannot add and subtract. Additionally, the major cause is not merely spending too much or making too little, all asseverations to the contrary notwithstanding. While there are certainly some people in the bowels of financial bondage or upheaval because of circumstances beyond their control, that does not seem to be the case most of the time.

Rather the genesis of both the national and personal financial meltdowns of our day is spiritual. It is easy to see that it is not merely a problem of numbers since everyone can add and subtract. Even when spending is cut or income increases, this is most often followed by other financial meltdowns because the core of the problem is spiritual; a reason that is summarily dismissed by most national economists as well as most Americans. As long as people view economic issues as merely economic issues, unnecessary financial woes will continue and should be expected.

Consequently, until the spiritual derivation of financial bondage is recognized and acted upon, debt will be America’s taskmaster. The following lays out the spiritual basis of the problem, and each requires repentance to start the process of true financial recovery and stability. God loves to forgive sin when true repentance is present. “Therefore repent and return, so that your sins may be wiped away, in order that times of refreshing may come from the presence of the Lord” (Acts 3:19).

The sin that leads nations or people into financial crises may be one of the following or may actually involve all of the sins listed. Additionally, I do believe financial counseling can be of enormous help, but if the spiritual dimension is ignored or marginalized, finances will never be viewed correctly. Without a proper spiritual view of finances, it is impossible to manage finances as intended by God, resulting in many walking headlong into unmanageable debt. I use the following to help others deal with why they are in debt and how to start anew and remain free from financial slavery. Unfortunately, I had to learn these truths up close and personal rather than by observation of other sinners.

Two questions can facilitate in discovering what may have either led to or is leading to financial bondage: first, what were, or are, the temptations to overextend? Second, what may have prompted the temptation?

  1. Greed — wanting more than God has provided you. “But immorality or any impurity or greed must not even be named among you, as is proper among saints; for this you know with certainty, that no immoral or impure person or covetous man, who is an idolater, has an inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and God” (Ephesians 5:3, 5). This verse associates “covetousness” with idolatry, which makes this a profoundly serious spiritual problem.
  2. Impatience — believing that God is not providing fast enough. “I wait for the Lord, my soul does wait, And in His word do I hope” (Psalm 130:5). Far too often, credit is misused to buy what people are unwilling to wait for. Of course, this very mindset is what paves the road to financial collapse.
  3. Pride — believing you deserve more than God has provided. “When pride comes, then comes dishonor. But with the humble is wisdom. …Pride goes before destruction, And a haughty spirit before stumbling” (Proverbs 11:2, 16:8). People, particularly Christians, are far too savvy to admit they overspend because of pride and, therefore, usually couch this sin in phrases like “I work hard…and deserve a little….”
  4. Lack of trust — believing God does not really love you or care about you. “Casting all your anxiety on Him, because He cares for you(1 Peter 5:7; John 3:16). This is one that saddens me because this sin is indeed a sin of distrust, but also quite often it is one involving a response to hurt and loss.
  5. Presuming on the grace of God — lack of planning. “The ants are not a strong people, But they prepare their food in the summer” (Proverbs 30:25). So the process looks something like this: lack of planning leads to too much debt, which leads to less and less planning for future needs. I do believe there can be exceptions to this. For example, someone could have tried to plan, but the sudden and totally unexpected loss of a job, catastrophic health problems (baby born with unforeseen congenital heart defect or family member diagnosed with cancer) or other events that demand exorbitant financial resources or a long-term uncontrollable drain on present and future resources.
  6. Discontent—tying one’s happiness to things rather than God. “Make sure that your character is free from the love of money, being content with what you have; for He Himself has said, ‘I will never desert you, nor will I ever forsake you”’ (Hebrews 13:5). I do not believe it is sin to desire more, but it is sin to tie our contentment with fulfillment of the desire. For example, one could desire a new couch without sinning because the old one is worn-out, but any such thought such as, “I would be happy if I could just get a new couch” is not only delusional but is indeed the sin of discontentment.

The warning of Jesus is as timely today as when He said. “No one can serve two masters; for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and wealth” (Matthew 6:24).