Deliverance from Debt

By Pastor Doug Batchelor

An Amazing Fact: In 1995, Oseola McCarty surprised the University of Southern Mississippi and received national renown when she donated $150,000 from her life savings to the university to help struggling students. The community was stunned when they realized McCarty had never attended the school and had acquired all that money by carefully saving from her earnings made washing and ironing clothes over the span of five decades.

You are probably aware that, as a nation, America is deeply in debt—to the tune of 21 trillion dollars. But many other nations are in just as much trouble. China has the second highest national debt, followed by Japan and Germany. The debt that countries around the world are carrying is staggering, but before we point fingers and condemn these governments, we need to look closely at ourselves. Governments are not the only ones with financial difficulties!

Here are a few amazing facts about personal debt. According to the Federal Reserve’s latest numbers (November 2017), the average American household carries $137,000 in debt. Yet the U.S. Census Bureau shows that the median household income is just $59,000. It’s a simple fact that many of us, even Christians, are living far beyond our means.

Indeed, total credit card debt in America right now is close to $900 billion—and close to a cool trillion by some calculations. Debt on auto loans, $1.2 trillion, climbed $48 billion in one year. Total mortgage debt is $9 trillion, up $380 billion from a year ago. And the one that’s growing the fastest, student loan debt, ballooned to $1.41 trillion, up $61 billion from a year ago.

Living in Bondage

Why does any of this matter in the last days?

Well, for one thing, debt enslaves a person. You may know from experience exactly what I’m talking about.

A story in 2 Kings chapter 4 illustrates this truth. A woman went to Elijah the prophet with a terrible problem. Her husband, one of the sons of the prophets, had taken out a loan but died before he could pay it back. In those days, if you couldn’t pay your debts, your creditor could do more than just repossess your property. He could take you and your family members as slaves.

So this poor woman told Elijah, “Your servant my husband is dead, and you know that your servant feared the LORD. And the creditor is coming to take my two sons to be his slaves” (2 Kings 4:1). Because of the debt, her children were going to be enslaved.

Debt remains a type of bondage for many today. Not long ago after a church service, I spoke with a lady who suddenly burst into tears and said, “I’m a church member, but have a gambling problem. Nobody knows except my husband. I am so deeply in debt—$500,000. And I’m afraid that if I die in debt, I’m going to die lost. Will Jesus forgive me?”

Of course, I attempted to comfort her with the knowledge that God does not save us based on how much we still owe the credit card companies when we die. All the same, that kind of debt affected her family’s future and made them slaves to her past mistakes. I told her, “You need to get out of debt. And you’ve got to stop gambling now.”

She said, “But they’re having a lottery”—I’m serious, she actually said this—“and if I win, I could pay it all off at once.” It broke my heart! Her relationship with her husband was in tatters; she had even stolen from him to gamble—and here she was, looking to gamble some more.

I explained, “You have a better chance of being bitten by a shark in Arizona than winning the lottery. You need to stop buying tickets. Don’t lose any more money gambling it away, especially when you could be using it to pay off debt.” According to Proverbs 22:7, “The rich rules over the poor, and the borrower is servant to the lender.”

Of course, some people are in debt through no fault of their own. Look at the story of Job. He was an upright man who was slammed by circumstances outside his control. But do you know how the book ends? God performed a miracle and Job was twice as prosperous as he was at the beginning of the story. Likewise, you might think you’re so far into medical debt, or credit card debt, that you’ll never get out. But by the end of the story, you also might be double-blessed like Job.

And whether or not you are at fault, don’t forget the “God factor,” especially if your circumstances seem hopeless. God is merciful. I told the gambler, “You can be free if you start following the steps of obedience. The first step is to repent of your sin, turn away from it—and then give God permission to work miracles to rescue you from bondage.”

The Root of Debt

Of course, nobody wants to be under the burden of debt. However, it often starts when you desire things you should not desire.

There’s never been a time in history quite like today—where you have so many things you can buy so easily. I look at my computer screen, click my mouse a couple of times, and the next thing I know my doorbell rings to announce the arrival of a package. That was so easy! It’s so simple, in fact, it actually seems to encourage us to spend. But we tend to forget the part where PayPal or Amazon charges our credit cards. A debt has been incurred.

The Bible is clear that we should avoid accruing debt. Romans 13:8 tells us, “Owe no one anything except to love one another, for he who loves another has fulfilled the law.” If you try to live in advance of money that you do not now possess, you’re going to struggle loving others. Why? We become enslaved because we don’t want to wait for the mansion Jesus says He’s preparing for us. We want our mansion here. We want it now.

The living standard of the poor in America is much higher than most other places in the world. I often see people getting government assistance who have $500 smartphones and a pricey car. We just figure that these things are necessities along with food, water, and shelter.

But the simple matter is that we in America are spoiled. Let’s admit it! Get the car “you deserve,” we’re told, and we are always looking for ways to live outside our means.

We want instant gratification. We want to click and get it; we want fast food; we want drive-through wealth. Because we want everything right now, we get ourselves into bondage with debt. But we’re counseled that in order to have prosperity in the future, we need to experience self-denial today.

In the book Christian Stewardship, page 272, we’re counseled, “Shun the incurring of debt as you would shun leprosy.” In another place, the same writer says, “Owe no man anything and you’ll not have so much perplexity. Live within your means. Shun debts as you would a great evil.”

To be clear, the author does say there are appropriate times to take out manageable debt.

But let’s be honest with ourselves: Reckless financial irresponsibility is a sin.

We will all give an account to God for every idle word that we speak. Have you ever considered we may be giving an account for the money we idly spend? “God will bring every work into judgment, including every secret thing, whether good or evil” (Ecclesiastes 12:14).

There are more than 500 verses in the Bible that address finances and property. Of the 38 parables that Jesus tells, 16 of them have to do with money and the faithful management of property.

I don’t want to be legalistic, but Christians need to think ahead and be conscientious with their blessings. About faithful stewardship, Jesus said, “He who is faithful in what is least is faithful also in much; and he who is unjust in what is least is unjust also in much. Therefore if you have not been faithful in the unrighteous mammon, who will commit to your trust the true riches? And if you have not been faithful in what is another man’s, who will give you what is your own?” (Luke 16:10–12).

As Christians, we should want to work hard and save as much as we can so that we can give as much as we can. Millions of more souls could be reached with the message of the gospel, but there are not enough missionaries and pastors sent to them. Why? Often because the funds of God’s people are bound up in debt due to the abundance of things we don’t even need. In this way, the devil has hijacked a lot of souls who would otherwise have heard the gospel by now.

Avoiding Debt 101

I want to share with you some basic principles in managing money and avoiding debt. These are not all original with me. Some of the information is from Dave Ramsey, Larry Burkett, and others; I’ve tried to simplify them here …

1. Open a savings account. You might be thinking, “Uh. Pastor Doug, I have no money to save!” You can open an account with $10. Open it in a different bank too, so you won’t be tempted to treat it like a checking account. That bank is only for depositing funds. Why? As soon as you start putting money away, something happens to your psyche. You start realizing you are now building instead of continually diminishing.

2. Create a budget. Most people go into debt because their out-go is more than their income. Many of us have no idea what we’re spending. If you ask someone to make a list of how much he spends in a week, he’ll give you a rough estimate. But does that include his daily $15 lunch? Does that include his stopping at the store and buying trinkets—or going through the drive-through for that unhealthy $5 beverage? Study your receipts to figure out where it’s all going. Be honest with yourself. Create a budget and a strategy to live within that budget. If you have debts, allocate how much you can pay on those debts to end your slavery sooner rather than later.

3. Rethink your grocery basket. Some people walk down the aisle with their shopping cart and simply grab things and throw them in. No list, no thinking. I’ve seen kids going down the aisle grabbing Fruit Loops and tossing them in the cart, with nothing more than a shoulder shrug from a parent. But some of that stuff is expensive. There are things you can buy that are healthier and more economical.

4. Be faithful in your tithes and offerings. Oh no! That’s going to blow my budget. No. Have you read the Bible? It says that if you want your money to go further, be faithful to give God what is His. If you want God to bless the remaining 90 percent, be faithful with at least that ten percent. If you’re faithful in tithes and offerings, God says He will open the windows of heaven for you. Some of His blessings won’t even make sense mathematically!

5. Purge the house. There are a lot of mysterious items we’ve got hidden away in our attics. Some aren’t even open, things that others might want and we’re not using. Sell them on eBay or Facebook or some other website. Just snap a picture and put it online. You may have treasures in your house you don’t even know about. Eliminate the things you can live without. You might have memberships you’re not using and magazines you’re not reading. You’d be surprised how much you can save just by whittling a few things down.

Learn new ways to earn. Proverbs 13:4 tells us, “The soul of a lazy man desires, and has nothing; but the soul of the diligent shall be made rich.” There are things you can do to earn more money. There’s a commandment I read somewhere—something about six days you shall labor. Not only does it say you should rest the seventh, but it also says you should work on the other six. Now, some people are retired or are physically unable, but there are many things you can do to earn some extra income. However, beware of get-rich-quick schemes, such as multilevel marketing scams that make big promises but can lead you deeper into debt.

The Greatest Mathematician

Whatever happened to that woman who came to Elijah with insurmountable debt—the woman whose sons were about to be taken as slaves? Elijah asked her, “What do you have?”

She replied, “All we have left is a little jar of oil on the mantle.”

Elijah counseled, “Consecrate to God whatever you have left and watch what happens.”

Following his instructions, the woman filled her house with borrowed vessels and poured out the oil until every vessel was filled. God worked a miracle because she obeyed what might have seemed ridiculous to unbelievers. She sold the oil, paid the debt, and there was even a surplus that sustained her and her sons.

When we bring our financial burdens to Jesus and say, “Lord, I am determined to obey you. I don’t have much, but I’m going to consecrate myself and all I have to You,” we give God permission to activate heavenly agencies that can help turn things around.

Even when we can’t see any way through our financial problems, God has a thousand ways to answer our prayers. Believe and be obedient!

Canceled Debt

While I’ve kept everything so far in the context of money, freedom from debt encompasses more than that. Money is not the biggest problem in your life. We have a debt that is deadly: “The wages of sin is death” (Romans 6:23).

Have you ever tried to add up all your sins? How much would that cost, even if you had to pay just 50 cents per sin? Friend, we’d all be bankrupt. It’s a huge debt, but God is willing to forgive us that debt because Jesus paid for it with His blood. “You, being dead in your trespasses … He has made alive together with Him, having forgiven you all trespasses. … And He has taken it out of the way, having nailed it to the cross” (Colossians 2:13, 14).

Christ canceled your debt through His death. Think about the cross, about what Jesus did for you, and about how much He suffered because He loves you. He’s offering you a way to be free from the debt of sin. Why would you not want to accept something like that? You can’t say, “Lord, I’ll pay the debt myself.” Why? You can’t afford it. But He’s offering it, so what will you do? “What shall I render to the LORD for all His benefits toward me?” David asks in Psalm 116:12. The next verse shares his response: “I will take up the cup of salvation.” You simply take it up—grasp it tightly—and thank Him for it. And then you walk in newness of life out of gratitude for Him.

God longs to help us find relief, both from material debt and the debt of sin. If we put our trust in Him, He will help us to not only find a way out of our material debt, but also find freedom from the greatest debt we owe—the debt of sin. What Jesus offers us today is the fullest possible deliverance from debt, one that will bring tremendous relief and joy that will last for all eternity. Don’t waste that spiritual freedom by falling into material debt.


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