I’ve heard widely varying opinions on the Christians and alcohol debate. Some Christians consider all alcohol taboo, some Christians shamelessly drink socially. Before proceeding with my two cents, let’s consider what scripture says on the matter by reviewing a few crucial passages.
Wine is a mocker, strong drink a brawler, and whoever is led astray by it is not wise. (Proverbs 20:1 ESV)
Look carefully then how you walk, not as unwise but as wise, making the best use of the time, because the days are evil. Therefore do not be foolish, but understand what the will of the Lord is. And do not get drunk with wine, for that is debauchery, but be filled with the Spirit (Ephesians 5:15-18 ESV)
Let us walk properly as in the daytime, not in orgies and drunkenness, not in sexual immorality and sensuality, not in quarreling and jealousy. But put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh, to gratify its desires. (Romans 13:13-14 ESV)
Now the works of the flesh are evident: sexual immorality, impurity, sensuality, idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, rivalries, dissensions, divisions, envy, drunkenness, orgies, and things like these. I warn you, as I warned you before, that those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God. (Galatians 5:19-21 ESV)
For the time that is past suffices for doing what the Gentiles want to do, living in sensuality, passions, drunkenness, orgies, drinking parties, and lawless idolatry. With respect to this they are surprised when you do not join them in the same flood of debauchery, and they malign you; but they will give account to him who is ready to judge the living and the dead. (1 Peter 4:3-5 ESV)
You cause the grass to grow for the livestock and plants for man to cultivate, that he may bring forth food from the earth and wine to gladden the heart of man, oil to make his face shine and bread to strengthen man’s heart. (Psalm 104:14-15 ESV)
I will restore the fortunes of my people Israel, and they shall rebuild the ruined cities and inhabit them; they shall plant vineyards and drink their wine, and they shall make gardens and eat their fruit. (Amos 9:14 ESV)
And we all know about Jesus turning water into wine at the wedding in Cana in John 2:1-11.
(Please note: This is not an exhaustive list of all passages in the Bible that mention drinking, wine, or strong drink.)
I don’t have a degree in theology, but I can deduce from the first set of the above passages that drunkenness and addiction to alcohol is absolutely and undeniably a sin. However if you look the second set of verses, it’s clear that the Bible doesn’t necessarily condemn or forbid Christians from drinking substances with alcohol. So if the main issue is getting drunk and drinking isn’t necessarily a sin, what’s the big deal about drinking casually? Why should Christians refrain from drinking socially? Well, here are some reasons I find compelling.
Alcohol impairs judgment.
This is an obvious fact, I know. But this is a crucial reason for anyone, but particularly Christians, not to drink. According to this study, even as little as one drink can impair your ability to make rational decisions and increase your opportunity to make mistakes.
Throughout the Bible, Christians are exhorted to be sober-minded and watchful in order to guard our bodies and souls against opportunities for sin (1 Peter 4:7, 2 John 1:8, 1 Thes. 5:6). Quite simply, alcohol inhibits our abilities to make good decisions. If we are incapable of making good decisions, it will become difficult for us to honor God and abide by His spirit and His will. And the moment we seek to satisfy our fleshly desires over God’s will is the moment the floodgates open to sin.
But Jesus drank wine and so did other people in the Bible! That’s true, which is why I can’t say alcohol is inherently bad. But I understand that the wine we drink today has greater alcohol content than the wine typically consumed in Jesus’ day. Back then grape juice could ferment quickly; today alcohol is typically added artificially. But let’s set aside that issue of historical differences and consider the issue with drinking in today’s culture. Our culture promotes excessive drinking and the alcohol is designed to be addictive. Anyone who has had more than a single serving of alcohol knows how difficult it is to not drink in excess and to not be affected by the consumption of alcohol (I think getting tipsy counts as being affected). Once you cross that fine line of sobriety, your faculties are impaired. The words of the apostle Paul come to mind: “All things are lawful for me,” but not all things are helpful. “All things are lawful for me,” but I will not be dominated by anything (1 Corinthians 6:12, ESV).
I’d like to return to the 1 Peter passage referenced above, as it perfectly captures the kind of attitude we should have about ALL fleshly pleasures:
Since therefore Christ suffered in the flesh, arm yourselves with the same way of thinking, for whoever has suffered in the flesh has ceased from sin, so as to live for the rest of the time in the flesh no longer for human passions but for the will of God. For the time that is past suffices for doing what the Gentiles want to do, living in sensuality, passions, drunkenness, orgies, drinking parties, and lawless idolatry. With respect to this they are surprised when you do not join them in the same flood of debauchery, and they malign you; but they will give account to him who is ready to judge the living and the dead. (1 Peter 4:1-5 ESV)
It’s easy to forget in this time of great comfort — where our more difficult decisions include deciding whether to drink or not drink — that we have duties as Christians to constantly seek to do the will of God. Peter reminds us that sometimes this means it is BEST for us suffer by refraining from our fleshly desires, which includes the desire to drink. But that suffering is light in comparison to the suffering of Christ on the Cross, who died to destroy sin’s hold over us. And our suffering is worthwhile in light of the promises of eternal life set before us.
We might encourage others to drink against their consciences.
How many times have you, in moments of weakness, contemplated doing something you doubted was good, but then you reasoned with yourself saying, “well so and so did it, so it must OK for me to do it too”? Yea, we’ve all been there. Perhaps this faulty logic is what Paul is getting at in this verse:
But take care that this right of yours does not somehow become a stumbling block to the weak. For if anyone sees you who have knowledge eating in an idol’s temple, will he not be encouraged, if his conscience is weak, to eat food offered to idols? (1 Corinthians 8:9, 10 ESV)
First let’s acknowledge that if you think drinking is a sin but you do it anyways, that’s a sin (Romans 14:23). Even if you don’t think drinking is a sin but you encourage someone to drink against his or her conscience, that puts BOTH of you in danger of sin. Relatedly if other Christians regard drinking as a sin, you shouldn’t willfully drink in their presence against their wishes. As Christians, we should seek unity and the building up of the body over pursuit of our personal liberties. If our actions might cause our brothers to stumble, we should refrain from doing those actions.
Drinking can set poor examples for non-Christians.
My third and last point is similar to my second, but this specifically applies to Christians’ behaviors affecting those who aren’t Christian. This is the primary reason I try to avoid gatherings at bars, clubs or any setting that promotes excessive consumption of alcohol.
Christians are supposed to be set apart from the world for God (that is the meaning of “holy” after all) so that our lifestyles clearly reflect a decision to follow Christ and not the world.
It’s harder to be set apart when we constantly seek to blur the boundaries between godly activities and worldly activities in an effort to fit in. Consequently it’s harder for Christians encourage non-Christians to take us and our beliefs seriously when we partake in questionable activities that can easily lead to sin. Let’s keep this in mind when we consider drinking socially, especially with and around people who don’t share our convictions.
In addition to being convicted by the Bible to avoid alcohol, I have MANY personal reasons for abstaining from alcohol. If you read my blog regularly, you know my history. I was not a faithful Christian for most of my life, and I spent most of my college drinking excessively. I depended on alcohol because I was so painfully shy and introverted. I thought I *needed* alcohol to make friends and fully enjoy my youth. As a post-college adult, I realize now that alcohol didn’t fulfill many of its promises; it only pretended to.
Alcohol didn’t help me make friends. It was the trust built through late night talks and moments of vulnerability that strengthened good friendships. And the friendships built primarily on alcohol and partying didn’t last.
I won’t lie: alcohol indeed made many lame parties in dull bars and frat houses more exciting. But the post-drinking aftermath of careless words and actions often rendered that fun worthless.
I’ve experienced first hand that drinking does so little good and causes such great damage. So instead of asking what’s the big deal about drinking, I find it more productive to ask the following: If it can hinder my ability to glorify God, be a stumbling block to Christians and non-Christians alike, and wreak havoc on my personal life — why do it?
Alright, enough talking from me — I want to hear from you, dear reader. Do you agree or disagree with my position on alcohol? Maybe you agree and feel convicted to stop drinking, but you have difficulties giving up alcohol. If so I’d love to pray for you and offer some advice that helped me. Whatever is on your mind, please share via the comments below or email.