Can a Christian Buy a Lottery Ticket?

Dear Roger,

Is it a sin for a Christian to purchase a lottery ticket?

Sincerely, T,

Dear T,

Once upon a time I played the lottery—just once, just one ticket. Our family was playing Yahtzee, which is a lot like poker, only you play with dice instead of with cards. The goal is to roll more good poker hands than anyone else. Rolling five dice with the same number at the same time is called a “Yahtzee” and is worth fifty points.

The odds of rolling five dice with the same number at the same time are 3,125 to 1. In the first game I rolled a Yahtzee. We all cheered with delight.

In the second game I rolled another Yahtzee! 3,125 to 1 again! We couldn’t believe it. In the third game I rolled another Yahtzee. No one said a word. We were all dumbfounded. I grabbed my dad and said, “This is a sign from God. We have just enough time to get to the “7-11” and buy a lottery ticket before the lottery ends at 10:00 p.m.” As I recall, it was one of those power ball lotteries worth at least half a billion dollars. Well, not that much. But it certainly felt like that.

I bought one ticket. One was all I needed to win. The check was already in the mail! Dad and I raced home to watch the drawing on TV. I compared the numbers on my ticket with the ones drawn on TV. By the second number I was out of the game. My mother asked my dad if he’d bought any tickets and he pulled twenty losing tickets out of his pocket. She yelled at him for the next fifteen minutes for wasting twenty of their hard-earned dollars.

It is no wonder, T, that you’ve asked this question because gambling and buying lottery tickets are never expressly approved or condemned in the Scriptures.

We must be careful in deciding what to do with issues that aren’t expressly forbidden or approved in the Bible. Considering the issue of gambling and lottery tickets, we must not turn our personal convictions into what we consider to be Biblical truths for ourselves and for everyone else (Romans 141 Corinthians 8:1-121 Corinthians 10:13-33Romans 11:1).

Whether or not a buying a lottery ticket is a sin depends on our personal convictions. Personal convictions are the expressions of our inner conscience. If we think it’s a sin to buy a ticket and proceed to buy one, then we’ve committed a sin because we’ve violated our consciences. Violating our consciences is expressly forbidden in the Bible because a violated conscience impairs our ability to hear God speak. (Romans 14:23: “Whatever is not of faith is sin.”)

This is why the same behavior can be a sin for one person and not a sin for another. If you can buy a lottery ticket without breaking your conscience then buy the lottery ticket. You have not sinned. Understanding the relationship between sin and the conscience is the key to handling the “gray areas” of the Bible which are not expressly forbidden or approved—or not even mentioned.

By the way, always beware of Christians who try to make their personal convictions into biblical truth. They harm Christians. My personal conviction is to not gamble. I used to pitch nickels and shoot marbles for keeps when I was a kid. I once played poker for pennies with the older boys down the street. Once I put a quarter in a slot machine in Las Vegas. I once bought a lottery ticket. I felt guilty for both last two because I was now old enough to know that I was breaking my conscience.

My personal conviction is that I do not buy lottery tickets. I’ve thought this through and have a number of reasons for refusing to buy one. Buying a lottery ticket may be all right for you; but it is not right for me. I don’t waste money on the lottery because of the Biblical teachings about stewardship and management (1 Corinthians 6:19). Not a single dollar that comes into our hands is ours. It all belongs to God. We are to manage it well. I perceive that the Lord Jesus is not particularly excited to watch us throw money away. We have such slim odds of winning that we might as well drive by the “7-11” and throw money out the car window.

Here are the odds of winning some recent lotteries:

The Pennsylvania Match 6:  1 in 4,661,272.3
The New Jersey Pick 6:        1 in 13,983,816
The Ohio Mega Millions:       1 in 175,711,536

You can purchase a ticket if you want to. After all, Paul wrote: “Everything is permissible—but not everything is beneficial. Everything is permissible—but not everything is constructive” (1 Corinthians 10:23).

God says that there are better things to do with our money than throw it away. Excess money should be saved for future needs or given to the Lord’s work, not gambled away (1 Corinthians 4:2).


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