Sanctify them by the truth; your word is truth. – John 17:17
When my boys were in Cub Scouts (back before the gender and sexuality warriors made such innocent places ground zero in their war on manhood) we learned how to make a fire. We explained to the boys that fire requires three things: oxygen, heat and fuel. If one of those things is missing you will never start a fire.
As I read Jesus’ words in John 17:17, I had similar thoughts about our growth as Christians. As with fire, certain things must be present or it won’t happen.
The first is prayer. Jesus is praying here for the sanctification of his disciples. We too must pray for the sanctification of ourselves and others. God has ordained prayer as one of the ways He works out his will for His people.
Second is truth. Christ says we are sanctified by truth. But he doesn’t stop there. He goes on to tell us what truth is. Truth is the word of God. Again, one of the means God uses to grow His people in the faith is His word. We must be continually in the scriptures if we are to grow.
Finally, while not directly mentioned in this verse but taught directly in scripture as a whole (Hebrews 3:13, Colossians 3:16), is other people. We’re not called to practice our faith in isolation. That is one of the reasons Christ created the church – to be a place where believers are taught the faith, loved and equipped to do the same for others.
Prayer, truth and people. If any one is missing, I won’t grow in the faith as I should.
As the Powerball jackpot reaches new highs, so does discussion in Christian circles about whether it’s something believers can / should participate in. I’ve seen a few posts similar to Seven Reasons Not to Play the Lottery by John Piper. Here Piper all but says “no Christian should buy a lottery ticket” and is adamant that he wants no contributions to his church from lottery winnings. But the underlying question is not “should Christians play the lottery?” but “Is gambling a sin?” If it is a sin then the lottery issue is settled. If it’s not, then rather than call it “spiritual suicide” a more nuanced approach is called for.
If something is sinful in and of itself then it is forbidden to all Christians, at all times in all circumstances. To think this through, let’s use something no one would disagree is sinful: use of pornography.
This is not a “wisdom issue.” There is no circumstance under which pornography can be used legitimately by Christians. It is wrong for all people, at all times, in all circumstances. So far so good. But, there’s more to it than that. If pornography use is a sin, then not only can Christians not use it, neither can they facilitate it. So, for example, a Christian accountant cannot keep the books for a studio that produces pornographic movies. Nor can a Christian makeup artist work on the set preparing the actors for the camera – even if he or she never watches what the company produces. The same can be said for abortion. While working for a company that provides abortion as part of its health care plan is an issue of individual conscience, working for Planned Parenthood in any capacity is a sin and should not be done by anyone who claims the name of Christ.
Now let’s apply this to gambling. If gambling is sinful for all people, at all times, in all circumstances then a Christian in Las Vegas cannot work as an accountant at Caesar’s Palace or as a maid or waiter at a casino – even if they never gamble themselves. If a Christian has such a job, they should quit and find something else, just like the accountant at the porn studio should. If someone is willing to apply the same standards to gambling that they would to something like pornography then I’m willing to entertain their argument that it is sinful in and of itself. If not, we must say, while it may not be wise in many circumstances, it is not an area where we can bind the consciences of all Christians. Can gambling be sinful? Sure. Is it always so? I don’t believe so.
On another note, the government sponsored lottery is certainly no less evil than the government sponsored social programs which, unlike the lottery, forcefully separate people from their money to give it to those who did not earn it – also undermining the virtues of work and personal responsibility democratic societies require. More people would be helped financially by being allowed to keep a higher percentage of their paycheck than by stopping them from spending a few dollars a week on lottery tickets.