Once upon a time, Groucho Marx hosted the popular game show, “You Bet Your Life.” At the start of the show, a “secret word” was revealed to the studio audience. If a contestant said the word during the course of the show, a reward would descend from the rafters (a one hundred dollar bill).
Whether we know it or not, we are all, Christians and non-Christians alike, contestants in the spiritual equivalent of “You Bet Your Life.” If we bet wisely, our reward is eternal life. But if we bet foolishly, we condemn ourselves to eternal damnation.
That brings to mind Pascal’s Wager, credited to the seventeenth-century French philosopher, mathematician and physicist Blaise Pascal. He famously posited that every human being bets his or her life on whether or not God exists.
“Let us,” he wrote, “weigh the gain and the loss in wagering that God is. Let us estimate these two chances. If you gain, you gain all; if you lose, you lose nothing. Wager, then, without hesitation that He is.”
To put this in terms to which most of us can relate, even if the odds of God’s existence are, say, 1 in 175 million – the odds of winning Powerball on a single ticket – it is worth the wager.
Because, if we have bet on God, and God does not exist, we lose nothing. That is, save for indulging in certain behavior proscribed by God, including sexual promiscuity, idol worship, adultery, homosexuality (and other sexual perversions), thievery, greed, substance abuse, slander and robbery.
But if we bet against the Almighty, and indeed He does exist, we shall be cast into the lake of fire, eternally separated from God. We shall be condemned to place where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth. Where we will be burned with unquenchable fire. Where we will be tormented day and night forever and forever.
Most of us are rational. So we heed Pascal’s advice.
Even if we are uncertain there is a God, we hedge our bet. We respond to an altar call at some point in our lives. We say we accept Jesus as our personal Savior. We get baptized.
In so doing, we believe we have ensured our eternal security. We believe that, because we went through the ritual of being “saved,” we have a lifetime “Get Out of Hell Free” card. And that we can live our lives as it pleases us – not God – with impunity.
But what if we are wrong? What if this doctrine of “Once Saved, Always Saved,” espoused by many Godly pastors, preached in many purpose-driven churches, is errant? What if it actually is possible for us to forfeit our eternal salvation, to condemn ourselves to hell, by living brazenly and unrepentantly in defiance of God’s law?
That presents a corollary to Pascal’s wager, one that has not been considered by those who profess themselves Christ followers, but who are not truly leading a Christian life.
Let us call this corollary the Salvation wager, in which we weigh the gain and loss in betting on “Once Saved, Always Saved.”
Those who reject the doctrine, who believe those of us whom the Son sets free, must go and sin no more, must faithfully strive to live in obedience to God, have everything to gain if the doctrine is wrong and nothing to lose if the doctrine is right.
But those who subscribe to the doctrine, who believe that, having been saved, they can commit any and all manner of sin and it doesn’t matter in the eternal scheme of things, have hell to pay if they are wrong.
So what might Pascal advise?
That even if it’s more likely that once a person is saved, there is absolutely nothing they can do to lose their salvation, and that even if the odds are, say, 175 million to 1 that the widely-accepted doctrine of “Once Saved, Always Saved” is right rather than wrong, it still is wise to bet against the doctrine.
Because there are many who claim themselves Christians, who think their names have been written in the book of life, who will appear before the great white throne of judgment, who will find themselves sinners in the hands of an angry God.
They will look to Jesus and say, “Lord, Lord,” hoping He will spare them from punishment. But He will declare to them, “I never knew you, depart from me, you who practice wickedness.”
That’s a warning to those abiding unabashedly and unrepentantly in sin. They have bet their lives on “Once Saved, Always Saved.” And if they are wrong, eternal torment awaits.