Editor's Note: Pastor Roger Barrier's "Ask Roger" column regularly appears at Preach It, Teach It. Every week at Crosswalk, Dr. Barrier puts nearly 40 years of experience in the pastorate to work answering questions of doctrine or practice for laypeople, or giving advice on church leadership issues. Email him your questions at roger@preachitteachit.org.

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 10:13-33-Romans 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.