Jesus wouldn’t have a mortgage, so why do you? – by Nathanael Gillett

Jesus“And Jesus said to them, “Take care, and be on your guard against greed, for one’s life does not consist in the abundance of one’s possessions.” (Luke 12:15)

I’ll be up front with you – I don’t agree with owning a house.

I’m not sure you’ll agree with me but here are my 3 reasons why…

1. It’s a massive possession
A house is probably the most expensive thing you’re ever going to own. It’s also the thing you’re probably going to continually invest in, think about, want to improve, make bigger, make better and protect.

Therefore for many people a house is their greatest possession.  It represents a massive investment.

And yet Jesus says your life does not consist in the abundance of possessions. I think the word ‘abundance’ means not only ‘many’, but also the quantity of the money involved. Therefore I am very uncomfortable with owning such a massive/abundant possession such as a house.

As a side note, it’s interesting to see the context in which Jesus makes this statement. He is asked to intervene in a dispute about inheritance and in giving his response he equates inheritance (i.e. money/land/housing) with ‘greed’ and ‘possessions’.  Why does he make this link?

I think it’s because inheritances often involve large amounts of money.  Today, what people inherit from their parents is often vast sums often bound up in property and houses.  And large sums of money tend to alter us.  Money deceives and corrupts us.  We tend to think of houses as things we possess, but often its more accurate to say we are possessed by our houses.

Following Jesus means therefore we should be wary of large sums and massive possessions such as house-owning.

2. Associating with the poor
For those of you who own your own home, how does that make you feel?

Secure? Happy? Like you’re doing well in life? I’m sure your parents are pleased too?

How would it feel if you knew you were never going to own your own home?  Would that make you feel insecure? Sad? Like you were not doing well in life?

The truth is, for millions of people in our country this is their fate.

You may say I should do something to help them get on the property ladder? Perhaps I should (please tell me what), but maybe one thing I can do is associate with them in their situation and by not owning a home.  It means that when I speak with my neighbours I know a little of how they might feel, and they know I’m not ‘better than them’ because I own and they don’t.

If we are really following Jesus (and his example of becoming one of us) we cannot just make statements from a safe distance.  Sometimes, we need to intentionally choose to associate with those who have less.  In doing so, we can discover new riches.

3. Eternal perspectives
I’ve chatted to a few people over the years about this idea, and it’s no surprise that almost everyone thinks I’m absolutely bonkers! Crackers! Foolish!… “Why pay someone else’s mortgage” they cry!, “You’re throwing your money away each month – such a waste!”

Some even play the spiritual card “You aren’t stewarding the resources God gave you wisely.” Ouch!

However, “I say unto you, if anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn him the other cheek also… If anyone forces you to go one mile, go with him two… Love your enemies… If anyone is to follow me he must deny himself and take up his cross…” Was Jesus bonkers to say these things?

It only makes sense if you remember that following Jesus means living for a different kingdom. One which isn’t built on power and aggression, where ‘might isn’t right’, and the ‘survival of the fittest’ is a nonsense!

When money and possessions are not the most important things anymore because there is an age to come. One day it’s all going to be renewed, and the comfortable, risk averse, secure life is going to look ridiculous in light of the renewed earth and the presence of the risen one.

If this stuff is true, why do you live as you do?

Our treasure is not of this world. We should look after the world, but let us not cling to it too heavily.

Trusting God
So where does this leave us? What if we come into a large sum of money and can afford to buy a house? Should we? What will happen when we’re 75 and can’t work to earn money to pay rent? I honestly don’t know. Truth is, that thought is a little scary. But, without sounding glib, surely we can trust God?

Maybe not every Christian should live like this, but surely in light of the way Jesus lived and spoke, a good proportion of his followers should?

Nathanael Gillett lives in Sutton and works as a graphic designer.  He helps lead a Christian community called The Well.  Follow him on twitter @natgillett

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15 Responses to Jesus wouldn’t have a mortgage, so why do you? – by Nathanael Gillett

  1. AJ says:

    I think this is a rather black and white view that is being suggested and I would suggest he’s missed the point of the meta-narrative slightly.

    The over arching theme to the NT is that it is our attitude towards possessions that counts. Holding things lightly and being prepared to part with them if or when needed. Not hankering after wealth but being happy with our lot etc.

    Jesus treated people as individuals. He told one rich man he had less chance of heaven than a camel going through the eye of a needle (because that was that persons personal issue). He told tax collectors to pay back double the money they had taken. But he didn’t tell everyone that stuff.

    He did tell everyone to share what they have – to look after the widows, the poor and the oppressed!

    It’s dangerous to make rules or dogma this stuff. I know of people who have given away houses (or monies from there sale) to the poor or to charities. If we don’t own these things, via purchase or inheritance then we can’t give them away.

    The early church sold possessions and gave the proceeds to each ‘according to their need’. What we have to define is what are our real needs – as God would define them. And what is important.

    I have friends with a large house in London – they use that house very generously. Always having people come to stay who need a bed for a few night, or months even. I know of numerous people who have lived with them at some point. They have fostered children in that house too.

    Someone else I know has given away 2 cars. Not great cars admittedly but other people needed the car more than he did. People in his community with kids, needing to travel to work at unsociable hours etc so – he gave them the car. No questions asked.

    Surely that is what it’s all about. Holding lightly what we have. Viewing everything as belonging to God, not to us, and treating it / sharing it accordingly.

    While we are on the subject: Anyone need an old Apple laptop – I have one doing spare? ; )

  2. Doug Bacon says:

    There is so much wrong with this theologically, socially and economically, I wouldn’t know where to start. Needless to say hundreds of millions of people globally have both been brought out of poverty through property rights, and enriched by renting homes from Christians who look after them (as opposed to the blight of government housing and slumlords). And I agree with the blanket statement comment below: these days anytime I see a sentence start with “Should Christians…..” I get the jitters.

    • Andy in Germany says:

      “Should Christians…?” worries me, but less than “Christians should…”

      I’m also very sceptical when people tell me that something is “wrong economically”: From what I’ve seen “economics” has become a sort of religion which uses the phrase “bad ecomomics” rather like some churches use “Christians should”: as a way to stifle argument and imply the other point of view is somehow invalid. This ght god of ‘economics’ reigned for the last thirty years, and now, when it has excused the creation of an underclass, a massively violent and injust society, and terrifying environmental destruction, it stands like the emperor with no clothes.

      Personally I think it is time to ignore the economically ‘correct’ way of doing things for a while and look at a few different theological viewpoints as well. It may prove to be a way out of the mess caused by our current way of thinking.

  3. Greg Smith says:

    tricky one… If you go completely homeless you end up depending on the charity of others… If you rent… seeing as our society doesn’t have common ownership of all real estate .. and precious little municipal housing now you end up putting your money in the hands of capitaliist landlords many of whom are pretty awful…

    Yet you are correct that Jesus would not want us to be seduced by possessions including bricks and mortar.. The significant temptation for Christians in our culture is to climb the property ladder with a smart home in a desirable postcode..Even some vicars and ministers do it and persuade the church to buy a vicarage or manse outside their UPA parish, or in the catchment area of abetter school..

    Our solution was to buy a modest home in a poor area as a base for service and hospitality, a safe place to bring up our kids and welcome others… So I think you are right to pose the question.. but not to assume your own answer is for everyone… And while we go on holiday next week there will be 3 people and a dog living in our house rent free…

  4. What a funny idea. Another very practical issue is that often to buy is cheaper than to rent! How wise then is the rent direction? I think the Jesus story of the servant who buried his talent comes to mind.

  5. Kevin says:

    I think you know that you’ll get a lot of negative responses. Maybe they could be written off as the knee-jerk reactions of home-owning middle-class Christians avoiding the hard truth. Maybe.

    As someone said above, we need to be so careful about drawing out formulas from what Jesus said. He had a house, of course. Did he own it? The roof was broken when the paralysed man was lowered through it. Was he insured? Cornelius was a wealthy man, his household were baptised, did he sell his house?

    Those of us who rent, who do we rent from? Presumably people who own the houses, probably with a mortgage. So… your argument is fundamentally flawed in so many ways, as a means of making a rule for everyone.

    However, I think what you are really up to is helping us to think about our priorities. We need to hold our possessions loosely, if we hold them at all. We must be prepared to give them up. We must be prepared to move house, even if we’ve bought it. We must be prepared to share our home, possessions, money. We mustn’t overstretch ourselves into unmanageable debt either.

    Food for thought. But not a formula for kingdom-living.

  6. James T says:

    Who needs Christianity if all it ever does is endorse secular society?

    Some forceful defenses to justify why it is acceptable for Christians to capitulate with societies view of this issue, many of the arguments being on of economic and social grounds, rather than being based in morality and theology.

    Loving our neighbors, storing up treasure in heaven not earth, turning the other cheek; these are some of the counter-cultural messages of the gospel. This article highlights what a counter-cultural view on the issue of housing looks like and deserves some respectful consideration, not reactionary defenses of the status quo.

    The Christian community in Acts weren’t looking for reasons to acquire property that could be used to serve, rather they looked at what they had to sell in order to ensure people’s needs were met.

    I have a mortgage and profoundly regret the decision to buy a property. It has been argued that a house gives me security, but I say it has robbed me of my freedom & flexibility. My job, friends, church and life are dictated by the size of my mortgage and location of my house. I am a prisoner in my own home.

    How many people have missed God’s calling because they own a house and haven’t had the flexibility to respond?

    How many people prioratise an inheritance for their children in the future over the needs of God’s children now?

    How much inequality in society is the result of private property rights being leveraged by those who have capital generation after generation?

    • Kevin says:

      James, I wonder what makes you think that people who have disagreed with Nat’s theological point, which he himself backs away from at the end anyway, have just made “reactionary defenses of the status quo” instead of “respectful consideration”?!

      There are of course reasons why we should not just assume that property is the way to go. But Jesus was after the spirit of the law not the letter of the law, which is why he didn’t lay down specific rules, but instead opened the way for generosity. Maybe owning a home and living in it in community is an even better theological lifestyle than renting. I know what is important though, and that is settled, embedded people committed to their community. To be honest I don’t know – or care – if they are homeowners, renters, council tenants or living with their mum.

      • James T says:

        Opps – seems like I didn’t leave enough space between the first paragraph referring to comments to date, and the second paragraph talking about how I thought the article should be discussed more widely. Sorry if you felt these were too closely linked.

        I take your point about living as embedded parts of communities, but if there is nothing distinctive about Christians doing that the point is sort of lost. Home ownership is a very British fetish, with much lower rates of owner-occupiers in continental Europe. It therefore seems appropriate to care about the question of whether this cultural attitude has subverted, undermined or stiflled God’s work and call to be distinctive – living in the world but not of the world.

        The economic arguements always strike me as odd – why stop at houses? Why not buy a farm so we don’t have to buy food, or a textile mill to avoid paying for clothes, or a telecom company so we never have to have another 24 month mobile phone contract? Each of these is an example of why property rights are the basis of capitalism, which whilst good for wealth creation is not so good for social cohesion and equality.

        This seems like quite an important question for Christians living in this country to address, where home-ownership is so bound up in our cultural context with class and status. I’m not saying anymore than Nat’s article is that no-one should own a house, but when the majority of Christian’s do or are aspiring too, then hasn’t a specific rule already been laid down and are we so sure the spirit of the law is actually being observed?

  7. Andy in Germany says:

    This is an issue I’ve thought about a lot, and I’m with Nathanael for the most part, although my response may be a little different. I personally think you could say the same about Christians and a lot of things we regard as essential: cars, for example.

    We are renting an apartment at the moment, like a lot of people in Germany, but it is less than ideal. For example we have an oil based heating system, which means we are on one end of a system of violence to keep us and our water warm. We can’t change this, so we pay into that system and support it.

    We have the same concerns about owning a house as Nathanael though, so we’re looking at other alternatives, like the Tiny House Movement or an eco village like Lammas in Wales. The tiny house movement is specifically about getting off mortgages and reducing posessions -because a tiny house isn’t expensive and you can’t fit much in it- and also getting people off rent. Lammas is about giving people back their access to the land, not to hoard wealth, but to live more ecologically and be more independent from the worlds systems as be part of a community. Not having a mortgage or a high rent would mean I can work shorter hours and concentrate on other things, run a smallholding, or work in a way that I think is right without worrying about the overheads as much, or work in a normal company doing normal hours and give more to others who need it instead of an already wealthy landlord or bank.

    I guess the conclusion I’ve come to on this journey is that it isn’t right for me to own a ‘normal’ (big, expensive, energy hogging) building that is a palace by most of the world’s standards, any more than is is right for me to use a (big, expensive, energy hogging) car that pollutes and damages whenever I would drive it, but that just renting leaves me still a part of the system I want nothing to do with, and still leaves me in the position of oppressor, so I’m looking for other ways forward that allow me to live in a way that I think matches with how I understand the bible and what Jesus said.

    Oh, and most Christians I try and talk with about this think I’m potty as well. Thanks for the encouragement to keep going.

  8. I have a problem with this whole discussion in that what seems to be being emphasized is the personal side of things, me to rent or buy, me to not be part of the system, me not to drive a big car, me to live in a nice Eco friendly minimal community. What seems to be missing, or am I missing something, is the what we should be doing, i.e. caring for widows, orphans. Seeking the Kingdom of God, i.e seeking righteousness, Justice, wholeness, forgiveness etc., for others never mind my preferences. Am I getting it wrong?

    • Andy in Germany says:

      I can see the point. Speaking personally this is a part of a bigger picture. Caring for widows and orphans is part of what we do, but if my own way of life is broken, dependent on others being opressed, then something is wrong.

      Finding a way to live out of the rent/mortgage way of life is part of me looking at what Jesus said, recognising, as you say, that we need to be caring for widows, orphans. Seeking the Kingdom of God, i.e seeking righteousness, Justice, wholeness, forgiveness etc., and trying to figure out how I’m going to do that. I’m just aware this has to affect my whole life rather than being something I do or give the odd donation to, and trying to see what that means.

  9. Emma Tomlinson says:

    I think we have a very specific house owning issue in the UK at the moment that is somewhat unique in time and place. If we think more globally it might be helpful. It is good to have a home, all people in all places at all times have had homes, however different they look (think igloos, to nomadic tents to mud and thatch!). When people don’t have a home they are known as homeless or refugees and most would agree these are situations that we should help to change. In many places home is where you live with your extended family and the idea of individual ownership doesn’t make sense, in other places when you come of age you build you own home. Jesus probably had his own home, but yes of course probably not a mortgage. The fact that home ownership is such a financial burden right now in the UK and other countries seems to be a combination of greed (wanting too much space, too many things), an increasingly isolated population (split families, elderly people living alone) and this weird and messy mortgage system. I think we should be careful though not to demonise owning or having a home in itself, but we should work to make the system better and more accessible. Perhaps to do that we could start being creative and re-imagining what our homes should look like, who we share them with and how much they should cost.

  10. Jon Kuhrt says:

    What I like about articles like this is that they challenge us to think in specific ways about what following Jesus does really mean for our real day to day choices. Jesus spoke so much about the dangers of wealth and riches so it is entirely appropriate for Nat to raise a challenge about the single thing which most of us more wealth and riches tied up in than anything else.

    I own a house due to the fact that I bought a cheap flat years ago in Kings Cross when it was a lot cheaper to buy than to rent. The consequences of this, rather blessed/lucky decision has been profound. It is the main factor which has allowed me to move to jobs which pay less rather than more and also meant my wife has not had to go straight back to work after having kids. But that’s just my story and many others will have very different tales to tell.

    So whilst I don’t actually don’t agree with Nat’s specific point, I would far rather be challenged by articles like this than comforted by any of the million and one bland, fluffy articles which only talk about faith as a feeling inside your heart. Jesus was deeply challenging to those who heard him, people were amazed, astonished, shocked and deeply offended by his teaching. It provoked debate and controversy – especially when he spoke about money.

    I believe the size of your mortgage is the most spiritually significant decision that most people make. Will you tether yourself to something which gives you no choices apart from having to continually increase your income to feel secure? So I believe Nat is right to raise concerns – this is the kind of debate we need more of.

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