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Is Debt a sin?

By Keith Rawlinson

Volunteer Budget Counselor

Is debt a sin?  This is a question that comes up every time I teach a Sunday school lesson about debt.  When I teach finance-related Sunday school classes at church, I refer to the Bible as the instruction manual.  The Bible has at least 2,350 verses dealing with money and wealth.  The Bible has answers and direction for pretty much every major decision in life.  That's why I call the Bible the instruction manual.  To answer the question of whether or not debt is a sin, let's see what the instruction manual says about it.

If debt is a sin, then the Bible should, in some way, indicate that we are to avoid it completely.  That's how the Bible deals with every other sin it addresses.  So, with this in mind, how does the Bible (the instruction manual) address debt?

 Let no debt remain outstanding except the continuing debt to love on another...  Romans 13:8

This verse clearly instructs us to leave no debt outstanding; in other words, to pay off debt as quickly as possible.  Notice that this verse doesn't tell us never to have debt, it simply says that if we have debt, we should strive to get rid of it as quickly as we can.

 Pay everyone what you owe him...  Romans 13:7

This verse tells us that if we owe someone, then we should pay them.  Notice that this verse doesn't say that we should never owe anyone--just that if we do owe someone, we should pay them.

It seems quite obvious, from these two verses, that debt is not a sin.  If it were, then God would have instructed us to avoid it, never have it, and keep it out of our lives.  Complete avoidance is, after all, what God teaches about every sin that He directly addresses in the instruction manual.  These verses tell us that God allows for debt in our lives, but that it should be paid back as soon as we can manage.

If debt is not a sin, then what is it?

The Bible clearly indicates that debt is not a sin.  So if debt is not a sin, then what is it?  To answer this question, let's go back to the instruction manual itself:

The rich rules over the poor, and the borrower is slave to the lender.  Proverbs 22:7

Throughout the Bible, it is made very clear that being a slave is a bad thing.  Many times, the Bible refers to being "a slave to sin."  In fact, Jesus Himself said that He "came to set us free."  Being free is quite the opposite of being a slave.  Obviously, then, the instruction manual tells us that being a slave is a bad thing.  Further, Proverbs 22:7 clearly states that "the borrower is slave to the lender."  Since we have already established that, according to God, being a slave is a bad thing, then being a "borrower," as the verse states, is a bad thing.  That conclusion must be true since the Bible teaches us that being a slave is a bad thing, and this verse clearly equates being a borrower with being a slave.  As already pointed out, the Bible says that God wants us to be free.  This verse says that if we are a borrower, then the rich rule over us.  That is not being free.  

What can we conclude from what the Bible teaches about debt?

Just these three verses, the two from Romans and the one from Proverbs, make it very clear that God thinks debt is a bad idea.  In my financial counseling ministry, and in my financial Sunday school classes, I have had Christians argue with me on this point.  I've even had pastors argue with me.  People making this argument usually say that since debt is not a sin, then God isn't concerned about it either way.  The biggest reason for arguing the point is that these people like the instant gratification that debt allows, and know that they would have to adjust their lifestyles if they admitted that God thinks debt is a bad idea.  But, God does think that debt is a bad idea.  If you don't believe me, just go back and re-read the three verses we just went over.

Actually, I can't find anywhere in the entire Bible where debt is referred to in a positive way.  Every time, that I can find, that the Bible talks about debt, it is always presented as a bad idea.  I also can't find anywhere in the Bible where God has asked anyone to do something that God thinks is a bad idea, even if it does seem to be in service to God.  In other words, God won't direct you to do something that He thinks is a bad idea.  He may allow it, if it isn't a sin, but He will not tell you to do it.  

Far too many times I have seen individual Christians, and entire churches, borrow money in the name of God thinking that they were told by God to do so.  Unless God is not faithful and not trustworthy, this cannot possibly be true.  God simply would not ask one of His followers to do something that God has already said is a bad idea.  If a Christian, or a church for that matter, believes that God told them to borrow money, they need to know that those instructions did not come from God.  Such direction may have come from the person's own desires, the Churches own desires, from Satan, from demons or from some other source; but, the idea of borrowing did not come from God.  If you are one of those people who think God sometimes tells His followers to borrow in order to do His work, and  you want to argue this point with me, then you will have to prove to me that God would ask someone to do something in His service that He feels is a bad idea.  If God already knows that something is a bad idea, how could He possibly ask us to do it?

I remember feeling total dismay, years ago, when I was made aware of a church's plan to have its members borrow against their individual homes in order to fund a building project at the church.  The pastor actually told the congregation that God told him so.  As you can hopefully see now, that could not have been the case.  As I recall, quite a few church members who participated ended up having trouble making the extra payments and ended up in some pretty serious financial difficulty--all because they decided to do something that God already said is a bad idea.  According to Proverbs 22:7, as stated above, the people who did borrow against their homes to fund the church building project became slaves.  If the pastor was right about God telling him to raise money in this manner, then it was God's Will and God's direction that these Christian people become slaves.  Do you see the problem?  

How should this situation have been handled?  Simple, the church should have had fund raisers and taken donations until they had enough money to do the project.  At the very least, the church should never have presented this borrowing idea as being God's Will.  The project may have been God's Will, but the borrowing certainly was not.  From what I see in the instruction manual, not borrowing is the way God would ask that it be done, assuming He even really asked that it be done in the first place.  Many times, Christian people decide to do something, then convince themselves that God told them to.  They do this with little or no prayer, and without sincerely getting counsel or consulting the instruction manual.  I think many times these folks don't bother to pray about it, or look for guidance in the Bible, because they are afraid they will find out that it isn't really God telling them to do it.  That's how it is with debt;  they want something and they want it now, so they ignore the fact that God says debt is a bad idea.

A quick illustration.

Here is an illustration I use when Christian people try to convince me that debt is not a bad idea if it is used correctly, or that debt does not hamper your relationship with God:

There are two people, person A and person B, both of whom have a sincere desire to work in the missions field and are waiting for God to provide the opportunity.
 Person A has spent the past many years buying a nice house, with a correspondingly huge mortgage, a nice car complete with payments, many little things that were put on credit cards over the years which have now resulted in substantial credit card debt, and a second mortgage which was used to pay off some debt in the past.

Person B believes that God teaches that debt is a bad idea, so has spent the past many years getting completely out of debt and building up savings and investments.  He did have debt in the past, but he took Romans 13:7, 13:8 and Proverbs 22:7 to heart and worked hard at getting it all paid off as the Bible instructs.

The church has an opportunity to send a missionary to Africa.  Person A and person B each want to go very badly.  They will be gone for three to five years and will receive very little money.  Actually, just enough money to get by in Africa.  After all, it would be very difficult to minister to the poor population of most of Africa if the missionary is living like a king.

Person A says he will go, but he will first need a few years to get his debt paid off since the missionary assignment won't pay enough for him to make all of his debt payments.  He will also need a little time to build up money for emergencies and to cover any ongoing or unexpected expenses that may pop up while he is away in Africa.

Person B is able to just pick up and go--and does so.  Within a month or two, person B is in Africa living out his dream of serving in the mission field.  Since he's debt free, he doesn't have any payments that have to be made while we is gone, and the money he has saved up will take care of taxes and insurance for the house while he is away.  The money in his investments will continue to grow and supplement his income so that he can pick up where he left off when he returns from Africa.

Here's the question:  Which of the two people were better able to serve God and follow God's leading?

What made the difference?  Debt!

Is debt ever all right for Christians?

Is it ever all right for Christians to be in debt?  Well, since debt is not a sin, it is acceptable to God--but, it is still a bad idea.  Whether or not a Christian should take on debt in any particular situation depends on many factors, not the least of which is prayer and seeking God's Will in the matter.  Let's start with times that taking on debt is never all right for a Christian.

It is never all right for a Christian to take on debt if:

The money is being used to fund something that, according to God, is a sin or is a bad idea.

The money will not be paid back as quickly as possible even if it means sacrificing other lifestyle choices.

The person can't really afford the payments.  (see "What can you really afford" on the Financial Page.)

The payments will stress the person's finances to the point that they may not be able to pay the debt off quickly-- maybe not at all. (The wicked borrows and does not repay...  Psalms 37:21)

The money is being borrowed in God's name to do His work.  (Nowhere in the Bible did God ever ask anyone to do this.)

The purchase being made will harm the person's relationship with God.

Borrowing the money will hamper the person's witness for Christ.

When might it be all right for a Christian to borrow money?  

As long as none of the above reasons not to borrow apply.

Much prayer, seeking God's Will and reading the instruction manual (the Bible) has taken place first.

If married, both spouses agree and have a peace about the decision.

So, there you have it.

Debt is not a sin.
Debt is a bad idea.
Debt should be avoided as much as possible.
Nowhere in the Bible has God asked anyone to borrow to do God's work.
Debt makes it more difficult for Christians to serve God.

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This article copyright 2009 by Keith C. Rawlinson (  All rights reserved.
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