If you’re just joining us…
The last few weeks we’ve been talking about alcohol. First, we looked at the three most popular Christian beliefs about alcohol in America today. I explained why I think all those views ultimately fail to be biblically faithful. Then, we looked at the 4 types of Bible verses that any biblical theology of alcohol has to satisfy (aka “the gauntlet”). Finally, we made the distinction between “getting drunk” and “being drunken.” It’s been really fun for me to finally express these thoughts and I hope they’ve challenged you to rethink your beliefs about alcoholic consumption.
My 4th View
Without further ado, and in light of all that, I’d like to propose a 4th view: “wisely exercise your liberty in faith for God’s glory.”
I’ll break that down into chunks. First, wisdom determines when, where, and how much you drink. When I said that drinking is acceptable under certain conditions I meant exactly that. I think, especially in our American culture, Christians need to be extremely careful how we treat alcohol because we have created a self-imposed standard of sobriety. Like it or not, we need to play by the rules of our culture in the same way a missionary would respect the rules of his culture. Therefore, if having too many drinks negatively affects our witness to the world around us, then we need to abstain for God’s glory. Wisdom is tricky, because sometimes we’re faced with decisions where there isn’t a clear-cut right or wrong. For example, is it sinful to eat at McDonald’s every day? Maybe, but maybe not. However, is it wise to eat at McDonald’s everyday? Similarly, is it wise to have a drink in your specific situation?
Second, faith is essential to how you engage alcohol. In Romans 14:23, Paul is addressing the issue of eating food sacrificed to idols and he says “whoever has doubts is condemned if he eats, because the eating is not from faith. For whatever does not proceed from faith is sin.” I think it’s pretty easy to carry this same standard over to alcohol. Whoever has doubts is condemned if he drinks, because the drinking is not from faith. For whatever does not proceed from faith is sin. In 1 Timothy 4, Paul is addressing the same issue of food and he’s warning Timothy that some people will “forbid marriage and require abstinence from foods that God created to be received with thanksgiving by those who believe and know the truth” (1 Tim. 4:3). Marriage is good; the problem is in the heart of the recipient. Food is good; the problem is in the heart of the recipient. Paul continues by saying that “everything created by God is good, and nothing is to be rejected if it is received with thanksgiving” (1 Tim 4:4). Can you have a drink with a clear conscience, or do you feel as though you would be stepping over limits that God has established for you?
Finally, our entire lives should be devoted to God’s glory. For example, we’re instructed to be “alert and self-controlled” (1 Thess. 5:8) and over-exercising our ‘freedoms’ can quickly interfere with that calling. Titus 3:1 tells us to “be ready for every good work” and an idolatrous preoccupation with alcohol will prevent you from honoring that call. There are dozens of other verses (many of which have nothing to do specifically with alcohol) that call us to be wise, intentional, live quiet lives, etc. As Paul stated, “Though I am free and belong to no man, I make myself a slave to everyone, to win as many as possible. (1 Cor. 9:19)” What deliberate, intentional limits have you set upon yourself (if any?) in order to glorify God?
The focus of our lives shouldn’t be using our freedom to the maximum extent possible. That mentality leads to the question “How close can I get to sin?” For example, that would lead me to ask “How much can I drink?” That’s kinda like asking “How fast can I drive South but still be headed North?” It doesn’t make sense! Either you’re seeking to honor God, or you’re not. The focus of our lives should be honoring God and reaching out to those around us. That mentality leads to the question “How can I wisely use my freedoms to glorify God?”
The friend who sent me the message that sparked this blog series is a very godly man and a dear friend. We met in 2010 while we were deployed and became very close friends almost overnight. During our deployment he abstained from all alcohol for the sake of his testimony. His co-workers knew the pre-Christian, drunkard that he used to be, so he showed them the difference that God had made in his life. He wisely used his freedom for God’s glory. I urge you, if alcohol abuse is part of your past, then sobriety should be part of your present; not out of a sense of legalism, but because of the power and credibility it gives your testimony. Not because getting drunk is a sin, but because being sober is a chance to witness to those around you.
I’ll also add that underage drinking is a sin. Providing alcohol to a minor is a sin. Why? Because it is a violation of the law of the land and Christians are commanded to obey the law. Romans 13:1-2 is abundantly clear on this issue:
1 Everyone must submit himself to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established. The authorities that exist have been established by God. 2 Consequently, he who rebels against the authority is rebelling against what God has instituted, and those who do so will bring judgment on themselves.
So, can a Christian drink alcohol? Yes. Should a Christian drink alcohol? It depends; how can you best honor God in any given situation? Would having a drink be a wise decision? Can you have a drink with a clear conscience? Does a beer make your witness less credible or does it make you more approachable? In Portland, I anticipate there may be times when having a beer might make plenty of sense because it makes me more relatable; it gives me a chance to get to know people in the hopes of sharing the Gospel with them. In East Tennessee (where I grew up), I don’t think it would be as wise, because so many people assume that Christians shouldn’t drink ever under any circumstances.
One possible objection to this stance could be something along the lines of this: “You can’t possibly believe or teach other people that getting drunk is permissible.” I would simply reply that perhaps we should start treating people like adults and point you to Colossians 2:16. Perhaps it’s time to start pushing people towards making wise decisions and living according to a set of values, instead of trying to force rules upon them that don’t always work in every situation. Instead of forcing man-made rules upon people, point them towards the beauty and joy of honoring God with their lives. Christ has set us free (John 8:36, Galatians 5:1). But we should be sobered by the realization that our freedom is meant to glorify God, not satisfy the flesh.
Another possible response to this would be something along the lines of “heck yeah, I’m going to celebrate with a kegger!” If that’s you, then you’ve missed the entire point. Remember, the point of our freedom is to honor God, not serve ourselves.
So what do you think? Am I totally off base or does this make more sense than some of the other ‘rules’ floating around? I feel like this works in all situations; which is part of the beauty of Biblical wisdom. I hope that this view has challenged you to rethink your take on alcohol and, ultimately, increases your freedom to serve, honor, and glorify God.