The Myth of Financial Freedom

Why our purchases are never really our own.

Commonly, we think we have “made it into adulthood” as soon as we are able to purchase things—whether a cup of coffee, a few extra decorations for the house or a big ticket electronics item—without having to wonder whether we have enough money in our account to do so. Becoming a Christian, however, makes this mindset obsolete.

Jesus Christ does not give us the freedom to make purchases (of any kind) without taking time to seriously evaluate them in the scheme of what He wants to do through us for His kingdom. As Jesus’ teaching on “words vs. deeds” suggests, a person’s outlook on finances is not decided by the books they read about money, or the sermon links they share online, but by the thought process which is (or is not) triggered every single time they face a decision to purchase something. My wife and I have read the books you’re thinking of right now, and we can quote the inspiring sermons, but our experience has been that it takes dozens of moments-of-pause every day to let the kingdom invade our wallets.

After we got married last year, we began doing monthly evaluations of our spending. We both dreaded it because it reminded us of all the times we had made haphazard, spur-of-the-moment purchases. Over and over we had swiped a card without taking time to consider whether that purchase could be made in good conscience before God. Many of those incidents constituted not simply a potential waste of money but a wasted opportunity to live intentionally.

It is possible to treat yourself to coffee, go out on dates with your spouse and take great vacations with your family without letting money slip through your fingers. In fact, we spend money on our relationship and on leisure all the time. But our goal is that every single one of those purchases would be something we take time to reflect on and evaluate specifically.

We don’t usually make such evaluations, and this has long-term consequences. While visiting friends last week, one of them noted: “Most of our friends have been earning beyond what they need for subsistence for so long that they have truly forgotten the sensation, and emotion, of needing something to survive. When they say, ‘We have no money,’ they mean, ‘I don’t have all I could possibly want.’ But their standard of living and constant, thoughtless spending show they have lost touch with reality.”

Whether because we can do it without worrying about our accounts, or because we can’t bear to think about our accounts, most of us make $5 to $50 purchases every day without contemplating them seriously. We consider this a freedom and we relish in it.

Just to be clear: This is not a freedom that God actually gives to Christians.

So how might one actually do something to change this? First, the vertical (you and God) steps:

Repent. I know this is very uncouth to say, but your thoughtless spending offends God, and that makes it a sin. It wasn’t simply an accident, a reactionary mistake or a strategic misstep. We do in fact need forgiveness, and that starts with repentance.

Receive grace. Jesus probably had our reckless spending in mind when He thought of Judas’ deal to hand Him over for a few gold coins. As a group, we have given God more than enough reason to call the “human project” a failure, but while we were still failing He died for us. Take the grace, and don’t try to earn it.

Finally, the horizontal (you and others) steps:

Print out your bank statement or credit card record from last month. Go through, mark all the disposable income expenses, and try to remember the circumstances surrounding that purchase. Did it make sense to you at the time, and does it still upon reflection? Also, consider calculating “unnecessary purchases” both as a percentage of your total income and in comparison to your Christian giving to put it all in perspective.

Find someone you know who is struggling to make ends meet and offer to buy them coffee (a good investment in this case) to hear about the struggle. Note: if you don’t know anyone who is struggling to make ends meet, consider changing your lifestyle.

Learn about a church initiative, parachurch ministry or missionary who is doing work close to your heart. Let your desire to contribute to their work become a tension that will help you consider carefully every purchase you make.

This practice undoubtedly adds frustration and a good deal more self-analysis into day-to-day activities. Honestly, we chafe at being so constantly under the microscope—until we remember who looks through that microscope and why. As we give ourselves over to His desire for us, we find that our purchases are fewer and that we enjoy them more. That, not the ability to spend mindlessly, is a freedom worth having.

Ben Stevens (M.Div., Trinity Evangelical Divinity School) works for Greater Europe Mission in Berlin, Germany. He blogs at Haunted by Paradise.

30 Comments

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Shanon Ludden commented…

This is completely true, as Christians we are called to make Gospel based decisions, not just for the big things, but the little as well. An example is that morning coffee that can cost $2-3+, but making it is a lot cheaper and the money can go elsewhere. I really enjoyed this article, in the sense that it helped me to set in the path closer to God, but I did have one problem with one part, where it is said that telling people to repent is "uncouth".It seems like apologizing for doing so, like its nagging or overdone. The problem here is that we are all serial sinners and need to be constantly reminded of that, but also of the gift of forgiveness. I know for a fact my pastor never apologizes for a sermon that reveals our sin to us or lets us know that we are in constant need of repentance, that is in fact his job. Actually that is all of our jobs as Christians.The ability to discern sin is a gift from the Holy Spirit, and Paul urges us to exhort each other, to push each other back to Christ. When it is done out of love and not self-justification, it is for the glory of God.

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Anonymous commented…

Great article. I think the important thing about money is attitude. We should really take more time as you mentioned in this post to reflect upon the great wealth we have available to us in the country. An attitude of thankfulness should increase our interest in financial responsibility and our willingness to give more back to the Lord.

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Liz commented…

Yes. He DOES care if we are frivolously spending money on a Starbucks coffee.....if we don't have all our spending in check and are not giving to Him first. Some of us have LITTLE money to start with....and are not careful with it. This article is a reminder to keep a check on our spending because it all belongs to Him. It even goes so far as to educate us in the ways to discern if our spending is in line with His will. Remember Jerod, that the Holy Spirit will use this article to speak to those of us that have a willing heart to listen. If it doesn't speak to you, go on to someone else. Because it is helping some of us.

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smsf Adelaide commented…

Hi, your article stirs quite a lot of opinions. But I can see that you do have some reasonable points that were raised and are actually true.
In my opinion, it's better for us to properly account our spending and allocate the money well in such a way that our families' needs and the needs of missions are not left out.

Josiah Sprague

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Josiah Sprague commented…

A lot of strong opinions in this article with very little biblical support.

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