The Spiritual Danger of Chasing the Debt-Free Idol

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We are a people who are always pursuing.

The pursuit of happiness is an American right.

As a result, we are chasers.

We live under the assumption that once we get or obtain something else we will finally catch the happiness that seems to allude us.  The problem is that once we get that illusive thing that was supposed to make us happy, we just start to pursue something else assuming that once we have that item we will be happy.  That’s why happiness evades us.  Dan Gilbert illustrates this concept in his TED talk.

Debt-free living can be one such idol.  It can be one such thing that we believe will solve all our problems and ills.

What is an Idol?

The best resource on modern day idolatry is Counterfeit Gods.  That’s the best place to go to get a full definition of idolatry.

For now, let’s just say that an idol is anything we allow to get closer to our hearts than God.  It is anything we think will give us a bigger payoff than our relationship with God.  Yes, this can include something good.

Signs of Debt-Free Idolatry

  • The belief that everything will be better when you are debt-free
  • A passion to be debt-free that is greater than any other level of passion you feel
  • Assuming the emotional payoff associated with debt-free living is greater than any other emotion you can feel
Isn’t it normal to expect for debt-free living to be amazing?

We often think our lives will have a higher quality when we achieve or accomplish something.  If we think this way, it means we feel like something is lacking in our lives right now.  Yes, there may be things that we need to change and improve, but have we not already been filled with Christ?

I think we need to temper our thoughts regarding debt-free living with these words by Paul:

Philippians 4:11-12

 I am not saying this because I am in need, for I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want.

Contentment does not meant that we ought not have any dissatisfactions in life.  However, Christian contentment calls us to realize that we already have what can give the greatest hope, joy, satisfaction, and meaning.  Debt free or in debt, I can enjoy the peace of Christ.  I can enjoy hope, satisfaction, and meaning.

Just as we shouldn’t seek out another purchase to make us happy, nor should we assume that getting debt-free will remove all the ills in our lives.

As a society, I wonder if we don’t expect too much from debt-free living.  I have a controversial post called six false assumptions about debt free living.  I’m a proponent of debt-free living.  I practice it and teach it.  However, our expectations of debt-free living can be too high.  I’ve said this to secular people, and this truth is even more poignant for Christians.

To become debt-free is great.  But it pales in comparison to having the hope of Christ.

Is Financial Peace an Economic State or a Spiritual Promise?

  1. Do we get financial peace when every debt is paid off and every bill collector has settled?
  2. Do we get financial peace when we recognize that God has control over our whole lives including our finances?

In other words, does financial peace come when we submit to Christ and his will for us or when we’ve completed all our financial goals?

I believe when we submit to Christ, we submit our finances.  We begin to share in the grace of giving.  We recognize any unhealthy motivations for debt like lack of self-control, and we submit to him.  We lay out a plan for change, but throughout the process we have financial peace because we’ve submitted our will to His.

Will the peace we experience be delayed, or is it offered at the point of our submission to Christ?

But Craig, I thought debt-free living is a good thing!

It is.

Even good things can become idols.

We can convince ourselves that once we become debt-free we will have the happiness, peace, and fulfillment we’ve always sought.  Joy, peace, hope, and contentment have not been reserved only for those who have paid off their debts.

Comments

  1. Brad S. says

    I was a little disappointed in this post. Not sure how many people this affects compared to the number of people whose lives are in turmoil over debt.
    Hope this doesn’t cause those in the long and lonely process of eliminating debt to give up because this article seems to say “being debt free is not all it’s cracked up to be”. Is there any human being alive that has not abandoned a worthy effort toward a goal because of a comment or an event that raised doubt at a time when encouragement was needed?
    I question how many people actually believe that being debt free will make their life “perfect” but I’m very confident many people suffer mentally (lack of control and lack of choices) and physically (stress) due to debt. This article seems to challenge the notion that being debt free is anything but wonderful which disappoints me.
    Being debt free not only provides financial stability but forces us to establish good habits completely unrelated. Habits like self- control, time and asset management, due diligence, and delayed gratification.

    • says

      Brad,
      Thanks for the feedback. I appreciate your concern.
      Is there any shortage of Christians talking about, discussing, promoting debt free living? I don’t think so. This post is a ‘voice in the wilderness’. One of the goals of this blog is to challenge Christians to think about finances from a perspective they might not otherwise consider.
      There is a spiritual danger about chasing after debt free living that I don’t hear many others talking about. Still, I believe a serious warning is due. Pursuing debt free living can become an idol – just like a spouse, a child, a job, a hobby … can become an idol.
      Perhaps I should have better emphasized the call is not for a change in action (stop working towards being debt free), but a call for a change in heart and attitude (make sure our desire and expectations for being debt free is not greater than our desires and expectations to glorify God).
      I share your hope that people won’t give up trying to become debt free. But, being debt free (I know from experience) doesn’t solve every ill in our lives. I do think people think debt free living will bring more happiness than it does. When I paid off my student loans I don’t think I felt ‘happier’. When I paid off my house it didn’t make me ‘happier’. It does remove stress and burdens and I wouldn’t trade debt free living to go into debt again. It’s all about appropriate expectations.

  2. PO says

    In the scriptures lender is the master and the borrower the slave, it was never permitted to charge interest on loans to believers( even the catholic church as corrupt as it was forbid the practice up till I want to say yr 1500 or so)and the scriptures required all debts to be forgiven after 7 years for a reason: to avoid perpetual servitude. You cant mix traditions of man with HIS without constantly contradicting yourself and ending up trying to serve 2 masters . There is one bible and yet we have like 5000 different denominations running around using King James, New Revised , American etc. As yourself which version did HIS followers use? King James? New Revised? Which constitution did they follow? Certainly not Romes which at its head had a divine emperor. His followers did not need to seek out or write or follow any man made constitution cause they already had one. They did not serve 2 masters.

    But I d0 admire this sites efforts to help people deal with their debt issues

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