According to Google, among the most frequently asked bible questions have to do with what it says about drinking alcohol, smoking cigarettes, and getting tattoos. Today I’d like to focus on the first one: Alcohol.
Let’s say I drank a couple fingers of 18 year old Macallan scotch. Have I sinned? Answers from pastors around the world are as plentiful and varied as the shoes in Nick Cannon’s closet. But we can’t settle for fallible people’s opinions. As believers we want to know what God has to say, and so we look to the bible under the Spirit’s guidance for answers. After all, God is the one we want to please.
If you wonder how God feels about you drinking, I strongly suggest you take a moment right now. Pause from reading this post, and pray—ask God for discernment and clarity on this issue once and for all. And then continue reading. My own prayers before, and while preparing this post, consumed much time, and I fervently sought the Holy Spirit’s counsel. The optimal means of gaining absolute certainty on this, as with any issue is to prayerfully excavate truths from the bible under the Spirit’s direction. I’ve provided several passages from which I hope to offer perspective. But you may want to buckle up; it’s going to be a bumpy ride with a few switchbacks along the way.
Is alcohol evil and sinful? No. But what we do with alcohol can be sinful. So, is drinking alcohol sinful? Yes and No. Clear as mud, right? Stay with us.
It’s a no-brainer that ALCOHOLISM IS SIN. Just about anything done in excess is sin, e.g. gluttony. A myriad of passages condemn being a drunken sot, or a glutton.
“…nor thieves nor the greedy nor drunkards nor slanderers nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God.” 1st Cor. 6:10
For you have spent enough time in the past doing what pagans choose to do—living in debauchery, lust, drunkenness, orgies, carousing and detestable idolatry. 1 Peter 4:3
These are but two out of a plethora of passages that unequivocally identify drunkenness as sin. So if we habitually get drunk…then yes, it’s sin.
I’ve included bible quotations that cover both the pros and cons of this most ancient of beverages. As with all spiritual issues, we must also look to passages that do not mention alcohol specifically, and yet, they set a spiritual precedent.
The following verse mentions wine, and we must apply it correctly, viewing it through the lens of the bible in its entirety. Scripture interprets scripture.
He makes grass grow for the cattle, and plants for people to cultivate— bringing forth food from the earth: wine that gladdens human hearts, oil to make their faces shine, and bread that sustains their hearts. Psalm 104:14-15 (emphasis mine)
God created the earth primarily as a habitation for mankind. He told us to subdue it, to manage and utilize it. God wants us to enjoy what He has blessed us with—it’s all for our benefit and enjoyment. Other verses, however, give strong warnings that expose the dangers of drinking too much wine. Anything, when combined with human weakness can become sinful.
In this last passage, the Holy Spirit indicates that alcohol, specifically wine, gladdens our hearts. It has the ability to make us glad or happy. But we can’t simply drive in a peg right there, or wave that verse around as validation for drinking any time we get the urge. There are other considerations—it doesn’t always make us glad, in fact, sometimes it can make us sad. The devil is in the details. Here’s another positive verse.
Go, eat your food with gladness, and drink your wine with a joyful heart, for God has already approved what you do. Eccl. 9:7
Honestly, I don’t yet feel qualified to exegete that verse—I never fake it when it comes to passages I’m not real solid on. I included it only because I was led to do so.
Jesus & Wine
We’re all familiar with Jesus’ miracle of changing water into wine at a wedding celebration in Cana of Galilee. (See John 2:1-11) Throughout the bible we see wine used in joyous celebrations. Can you imagine how good the wine Jesus made would taste?
Many well-meaning, but woefully misguided people of God have assayed to perform a little miracle of their own. They attempt transforming the wine of this passage to mean unfermented juice. Come on now, let’s stop trying to change what the bible says. It says wine—it means wine. Jesus drank wine, but this in no way makes it right for everyone to do so in every circumstance.
I remember my strict grandmother who attended church every time the doors were open. She was a very devout Christian woman, for which I am deeply thankful. But I was surprised when I learned she took a glass of Mogan David wine before bedtime to help her sleep.
In Paul’s first letter to his protégé, Timothy, he advises him to “Stop drinking only water and use a little wine because of your stomach and your frequent illnesses.” 1 Tim. 5:23
Here, we see that alcohol has medicinal uses that God approves of. It’s also good for use as an antiseptic, killing most every germ and bacteria known to man. But alcohol also kills skin cells in your; mouth, throat, stomach and digestive tract, and we know that habitual use damages internal organs. As the redeemed, we are now the temple of God, so we want to respect our bodies and take good care of them. We’ve already established that God has given us many things from the good earth to utilize, but we must do so wisely. Remember, alcohol can be a slippery slope, and that’s why we get so many differing answers. There are several spiritual precepts we should consider before we opt for a bottle of Bordeaux, or whatever kind of scamper juice you happen to choose.
In Christ we have freedom—liberty. Under grace we are freed from the written code, and now obey God out of love for Him. The Spirit of Christ resides within believers, affording them the power of God—to give them power over sin, so they have the capacity to live godly, pleasing Him while conforming to Christ.
“I have the right to do anything,” you say—but not everything is beneficial. “I have the right to do anything”—but not everything is constructive. No one should seek their own good, but the good of others. 1st Corinthians 10:23-24
Enter the Law of Love!
During my spiritual infancy I heard a great sermon on the Christian’s freedoms by Chuck Swindoll, and then another by Charles Stanley. Subsequently, I read books by both men about it. “Liberty on a Tightrope.” The title itself is revealing—sometimes it’s a real balancing act to know when it’s okay to exercise our freedoms. It requires wisdom and discernment that can be procured only through a close relationship with Jesus. Yet our sin detection is based upon love, and I’ve learned that love has many faces.
It is better not to eat meat or drink wine or to do anything else that will cause your brother or sister to fall. Romans 14:21
Therefore, if what I eat causes my brother or sister to fall into sin, I will never eat meat again, so that I will not cause them to fall. 1st Corinthians 8:13
I’m simply going to say, “That’s love,” and allow those two verses to speak for themselves. They are commands that we are to take literally and very seriously.
Here’s a PDF for an excellent article on this subject of our freedoms, and those who would deny us our freedoms. It’s by an astute Doctor of Theology: “Tyranny of the Weaker Brother.”
Caution: speed bump ahead! Do you have your seatbelt buckled?
Sinning Against Conscience
When our consciences question whether or not what we’re doing is sin, we should take heed. Whatever you believe to be sinful, for you, it actualy becomes sin, no matter what it is. If I think it’s a sin but I do it anyway, it is sin. Even if some misguided person believes using musical instruments is sinful, for them it’s a sin to use musical instruments. To do so would go against their God-given and God-governed conscience. They believe it is wrong and yet choose to do it anyway. That’s called willful sin against the conscience. Personally, I know God approves of musical instruments, so for me, I can use them with a clear conscience. For me it is not sin, and the same goes for alcohol. But out of love, I will not do so in the presence of a weaker brother or sister in Christ who thinks otherwise, or else I could cause them to violate their conscience, and sin.
Live as free people, but do not use your freedom as a cover-up for evil; live as God’s slaves. 1 Peter 2:16
God knows our hearts and our consciences. When we’re saved, the Holy Spirit directs our consciences, but we must remain attuned to Christ for this to be so. We can be deceived by false doctrines. We can be lured into participating in something that could tarnish our testimony for Christ. Or, we can have our freedoms chained up by wolves among the flock. And… Heaven forbid that by my drinking, I should embolden a brother or sister in Christ to drink, who has been enslaved to the old loony-juice in the past.
Consider this. Though slight, just one ounce of alcohol impairs our judgment, enervating our decision making prowess. We are commanded to be self-controlled. How can we be certain we’ll know when to stop drinking? If you’re going to indulge, you may want to determine the amount before you drink. If you’re at home, pour your set amount, and then put the bottle away.
Grandma used to say, “All things in moderation.” We shouldn’t be given over to anything, or to anyone, except to God. It’s easy to deceive ourselves into thinking we’re controlling our drinking when it could be the other way around. Again, we are to exercise self-control. It’s difficult enough to control our fleshly urges without having our commitment weakened by alcohol. We’re talikng about a fruit of the Spirit here, meaning, that God’s Spirit helps us maintain control so we can follow Him. “Walk in the Spirit and you will not fulfill the lusts of the flesh.” (Galatians 5:16) The Spirit provides for us the genuine article, not the false relief alcohol provides.
I cannot tell you whether or not using alcohol is okay for you, unless you are an alcoholic, and then it IS sin. This is something that’s between you and the Lord. He will give you the answer that’s right for you, as an individual. You will need wisdom and spiritual discernment. And you must consider all the variables, of which, I’d like to add one more.
When I turn to other things instead of to God when He has all we need (peace, joy, comfort, etc.) it is a form of idolatry. If I turn to alcohol to help alleviate my hurt feelings or depression, anxiety, or because I’m angry, instead of seeking God’s provision for relief from these, then I’m turning to an idol. Anything we put in the place of God is idolatry. He provides peace and joy, security and wisdom and guidance and anything else we could ever possibly need. Every so often, that may include a tall glass of wine. Always seek God’s counsel on all decisions in life, and at all times. The following verse illustrates the truth of these things.
“Do not get drunk on wine, which leads to debauchery. Instead, be filled with the Spirit…”(Ephesians 5:18).
Noteworthy in this verse is the fact that our beloved comforter, Holy Spirit, provides for us the supernatural gifts of joy, contentment and inner peace. It is, however, often that believers have not yet learned how to call upon these helps, and will instead reach for an artificial means of feeling better, like drinking alcohol.
The following is straight from the bible’s book of wisdom.
Give strong drink unto him that is ready to perish, and wine unto those that be of heavy hearts. Proverbs 31:6
When experiencing deep grief, the loss of a loved one, you’re dying, or when enduring tremendous pain, God has provided a little additional relief in alcohol. This verse appears to indicate we can use (but not abuse) alcohol for these purposes.
We’ve disclosed how wisdom, discernment and self-control, coupled with personally seeking God’s counsel make all the difference in discovering what’s right for each individual. Sometimes drinking alcohol is sinful, and other times it’s not. Alcohol is sin for some, but not for certain others who may lose their self-control by drinking. There are benefits of drinking and there are many hazrds of the same. So I pray I’ve left you with some pertinent truths to ponder. As you take this issue to the Lord, ask Him for enlightenment concerning each of the variables we talked about.
Wine is a mocker and beer a brawler; whoever is led astray by them is not wise. Proverbs 20:1
God Bless You!