How We Stop Short in the Debate on Christians and Alcohol

I came across this article on Facebook a few years back “Can a Christian drink alcohol?” It did an excellent job of warning people of the very real dangers of alcohol. It’s important. People need to hear those dangers loud and clear. Alcohol, when abused, causes much pain. My grandfather was an alcoholic and was apart of AA his whole life. I understand.

The problem with the debate of alcohol is every person I have heard preach against it has stopped short of the real problem alcohol represents. In stopping short, they make alcohol out to be evil when there is nothing in scripture or in 2000 years of church writing that would show alcohol as evil. Alcohol is not evil; the abuse of it is. The excessive reliance on it is. Alcohol does not ruin marriages as the author of the above link purports. It’s something far more sinister that ruins marriages. Just talking about the adverse side effects of alcohol as he does isn’t even intellectually honest.

I grew up in a church culture that, through proof-texting and liberal interpretation of the scripture taught that Jesus never drank wine, he only drank grape juice. I have also been in situations where I have been teased by Christians because I was not drinking alcohol. Both are wrong. We stop short in the debate over the consumption of alcohol when we fail to communicate and that the problem is not fermented grapes; the problem is you and me. We hammer on the symptom but fail to address the cancer far below.

Love how Tim Keller, in his commentary on Romans, addresses the Idols of our hearts.

In the book of Romans, Paul develops a profound anatomy of sin. He shows us that sin goes much deeper than mere behavioral violations; it begins at the motivational level. This is why, as he will go on to explain in Romans 8, sin cannot be resisted through mere willpower. The only cure to sin through the application of gospel truth by the Holy Spirit, at the motivational level.

1. Our root problem is our unwillingness to glorify Godto give him the centrality that is his due

2. Therefore, we choose to create things to be our “gods.” In order to deny God control of our lives, each of us chooses a created thing (or things) to live for and worship instead.

3. Therefore, each life is distorted by a life lie. At the base of all our life choices, our emotional structure, and our personality is a false belief system centered on an idol—the belief that something besides God can give us the life and joy that only God can give. We have “exchanged the truth of God for a lie” (1:25). We look to something besides Jesus to be our “savior,” our “righteousness,” the thing that makes us good and acceptable.

4. But each life is a kind of bondage. No one is actually “free,” for we must serve whatever it is we have decided to live for—so people have “worshiped and served created things” (1:25). Since every human being must have an ultimate “good” by which all other choices are made, and values are judged, we all “offer [our]selves” to something (6:16). Therefore, every human being is in “covenant service” to a “lord” that works out its will through our bodies (6:16-19).

5. Even after conversion, our old, false saviors/lords and their attendant false belief systems still distort our lives—unless the power of the Holy Spirit continually renews our minds and hearts (7:14-25).

6. The key to freedom is the application of the gospel of grace. “Sin shall not be your master, because you are not under law, but under grace” (6:14).

The debate we rarely have in Christian circles is what we are clinging to more than Jesus. Why, when we feel scared or lonely, do we turn to the abuse of alcohol to numb our pain. The cancer below the symptom of alcohol abuse is sin. Pure and simple. I have counseled many many marriages, and you know what destroys far more marriages than alcohol? iPhones, iPads, and computers. I don’t see people tearing up Facebook to ban and demonize those. Lets bring the debate back to what the whole of scriptures are trying to get at and that is the idols we have lodged in our hearts, enthroned were Christ alone should be. When we understand what Christ has done for us, we are free not to drink because having a beer doesn’t make you godly, cool,or relevant, and we are free to drink because Christ is our treasure.

32 comments On How We Stop Short in the Debate on Christians and Alcohol

  • Great post… I’ll drink to that. Wait, never mind! 🙂

  • Well put Sam.

  • SO good Sam and so appreciated. Thank you. Keep speaking truth!

  • Pastor Sam,
    Great thoughts. In like thought – guns don’t kill people, people do. But if alcohol is a problem for you – stay the heck away from it. As a child of an alcoholic father (not biologic) and a person whose extended family members (some are biologic) like to drink (alot), I know how alcohol can destroy lives if it’s overused.

    • Karen fully agree. Like I said alcohol can do much damage but the bigger issue is where does my trust lie. I have seen the devastation the abuse of alcohol has produced. What I was trying to get at was that the debate around alcohol most often stays around is alcohol good or evil. I say it’s neither. It’s our hearts that are inclined toward evil. Appreciate you Karen thanks for taking time to reply.

  • Such truth. Good words, Sam!

  • Not a word about setting a Holy example, before the children around us, looking for a role model. Nothing about being a stumbling block to the lost person who visited your Church Sunday but saw you picking up a bottle of alcohol in the store. Who is going to stand before a Holy God some day and answer for a child who becomes an alcoholic because of a shallow Christian example from family or Church Staff. As a youth minister for many years, I taught the young Christians to flee from anything that would, in any way, be used by satin to control or destroy their lives. No free choice, only Christ choice. Walk in Holiness, celebrating the presence of the Holy Spirit.

    • I hope you didn’t misunderstand. The first paragraph I talked about how alcohol can be used in a way this is both sinful and hurtful to others. But like many things alcohol is not evil. The problem is you and me Terry. We take something that is not wrong in and of it’s self because we are sinners. Anything we turn to other than Christ becomes our functional savior. The deepest example and legacy we can leave for our kids is not what did we abstain from but what did we cling to. When Christ is your treasure nothing else is as precious.

  • Sam this is where the discussion should begin and I really appreciate your comments.

    • John so appreciate your comments. I could not agree more like so many arguments we get caught up in the externals of the debate and miss the essence. We can so easily castigate something from our pulpits only to helplessly watch our people over rely on something else. Once we understand what Robert Robinson so beautifully describes as our proneness to wander and proneness to leave the God we love, it allows us in humility to leave worthless things and cling to the rock of ages.

  • Agreed. We said Bro.

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  • Great observation!

    I have a similar story to you! Grew up in a strict church in England
    where alcohol was made to be a sin. I still don’t drink alcohol but I
    know its not evil.

    Good post!

    • John,
      Thanks. Anytime we force the scriptures to support our view point rather than inform our way of life we become liberal in our theology and are guilty of the very thing we deride homosexual theologians for. When we twist the scriptures to meet our needs rather than approach them as an open handed beggar we will alway end in conceit, and duplicity.

      • Beer is a mocker. No twisting of Scripture is needed. Seeing how alcohol destroyed my families lives kinda colors my perspective and makes me a little nervous around the apologists for drinking it. To say they twist scripture is pretty simplistic and not intellectually honest either. I have to admit I don’t hear too many people calling alcohol evil. Although it can release the inhibitions of evil in someone’s heart. All things may be lawful but is it keeping with the command of Christmas to not put a stumbling block in the lives of others. Yes we are the problem. When we can proclaim our right to engage in an activity that we know wrecks families and individuals lives and proclaim our freedom to mock those who know it’s devistation. Yes sin is the problem. Just this week we watched with painful sorrow as another individual proclaiming his freedom to drink had his ministry removed from him. Obviously I hope this pastor finds freedom from alcohol not the freedom to drink. From the sounds of it his family suffered as well. I hope they find true freedom from the pain alcohol has caused their family. It was a stumbling block for them. Stumbling blocks are not necessarily sin but we remove them from our lives because they may cause others to sin. So if alcohol is a stumbling block there is a scriptural admonition to remove it from our life. The stumbling block is individual consuming alcohol not the sinfull person themselves. Sorry we don’t remove ourselves we remove the stumbling block. We remove our actions. In two sentences there is the accusation of twisting scripture to meet someone’s needs. To call someone conceited and living in duplicity because they think drinking alcohol is wrong is not very understanding of their lives either. Living life with a whole lineage alcoholism and then trying to find freedom yourself, it is easy to see the evil in alcohol. It is also easy to see that scripture has a strong condemnation for being a drunkard. Guard your heart and guard your life. I didn’t go to a strict church. When I grew up the spiritual leaders of my church were severe alcoholics as well. There was never a church function where alcohol wasn’t a part of the festivities. Be thankful you didn’t have to live through that mess. I praise God my dad has given up alcohol and has been sober for nearly 30 years. However the first 20 years of my life I was afraid. Alcohol was an ever present evil in our house. I will never use my freedom to be a stilumbling block to my father who battled this addiction for more than half his life. Can a Christian drink? Yeah I suppose if they don’t care that it might ruin their lives and those around them

  • Very interesting perspective. I was also raised to believe that Christ drank grape juice that was unfermented.

    I was married to an alcoholic and it was incredibly painful and lonely. I wouldn’t wish that experience on anyone. But for the grace of God go I. I suppose I am lucky that wine gives me a headache and I don’t want anything more than one beer usually.

    I like that Tim Keller says it goes beyond the behavioral and lies more in the motivational. What is it that we are clinging to more than Jesus?

    Thank you for the good words and thought provoking article.

    • Caroline thank you for your comment. I agree alcohol is not evil in itself but when abused can produce much evil. I am so sorry for the pain you experienced as a result of its excessive use. Grace to you. Sam

  • I personally believe what the Bible says is true. All through the Bible it talks about God’s people drinking AND getting drunk. I also believe that when Jesus turned water into wine it was WINE.. same alcohol content, etc.. believing anything less would mean Jesus didn’t know what He was doing. On that same note, I believe Jesus drank the wine He made, its what you did at parties, etc…. so I say all that to say.. I do NOT believe drinking is a sin. Period.. I do however believe gluttony, over indulgence IS a sin… and this does not just apply to alcohol.. I believe a person who has diabetes but still craves and eats a lot of reeses cups is committing the same sin as those who are alcoholics and keep drinking alcohol. A sin is a sin as a sin… as a society we have created “norms” and now we judge sins based on our norms. In other countries kids and adults often drink wine, beer and other beverages because it is their countries “norm”…. American religious groups have adopted over the years socially acceptable norms and declared many others sin. Today’s society, especially todays churches and todays preachers, prioritize sin based on their personal interpretations and feelings, forgetting that all sin is sin.. My point being… lying, drunkenness, pedophilia, murder, gossiping, etc.. are ALL sins… but.. face it… don’t most people look at it these and say “yeah, but…”… well God doesn’t… .. it is easy to teach kids this philosophy and let kids know how many things are sins, but then as adults we begin to “justify” ourselves based on what “we learn”.. so anyway, bottom line, i pretty much agree with this article… alcohol is not a sin… guns are not sinful.. money is not sinful.. women are not sinful… its what you do with them that can make it a sin… keep yourself holy, in all things…in everything you do be an example for others…. just fyi… my dad was an alcoholic and my brother is, I don’t drink because I don’t want to become like them… BUT… on that same note, I could drink an adult beverage with friends and hopefully they’d see that its still Christ who rules my life.. the drink I have in my hand.. for those that talk about examples.. again, I refer you back to my previous comment.. are your prioritizing sin? sure, you think seeing someone buy a beer could be a stumbling block for others, but you gossiping about them doing it at church isn’t….

  • Sins of the father are visited upon the 2nd and 3rd generations. If our forefathers were alcoholics, there is a good genetic chance we would be also. So many bible verses tell of those who drink alcohol will not see the kingdom of Heaven. I think God did not want us to destroy our brains with alcohol or drugs. If Christians are the light of the World; how come they look just like the Sinners of the World – behavior and sins are similar. Just because we are under Grace does NOT give us the green light to sin. After we have asked God for forgiveness we are expected to love him and honor his commandments – not as a salvation issue but with love because of what he has done for us. Christians are looking for OK we can sin and it is OK – GOD NEVER SAID THAT!! Jesus said if you love me; KEEP MY COMMANDMENTS!

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  • I almost never comment on topics like this because it can be a dividing topic in the church… When people walk into the church I pastor and ask me what the Bible says about alcohol I’m very clear:

    Consuming alcohol will NOT send you to hell
    BUT Getting DRUNK will

    And then I follow with my advice if they want it… The Bible say’s nothing about smoking cigerettes, but most pastors will discourage it… Why we know what it does to the body… The toxins in it…

    Many people i know that consume alcohol do not do it simply because they like the taste of wine or beer… They do it because of how they know it will make them feel- to get “loose…” to be happy… to escape reality…” Alchohol many times changes the way people think/act/react… But as you wrote- we need to get that from Jesus- not from a glass or bottle…

    I’ve never consumed alcohol in the 30 years of my life… I have no desire to try it- I hope I do not come across self-rightousy at all. Just adding my two cents to the topic

  • The author does a nice job here of shining a light on sin… the actual cause of excess and immorality and how that sin originates in our own hearts (desires). This view is consistent with what Jesus taught (Matt 15:17-20) and I wish it was more consistent with what churches teach.

  • I appreciated Mark’s statement and would love to see a response Sam. I too find it hard to say it is ok. Knowing 10% of the people that drink become addicted makes it hard for me to say I wouldn’t be a stumbling block when the proof says I will. John MacArthur teaches very well on this subject. One of his biggest point is alcohol is not the same as bible times. All the surrounding first century cultures validate that point. At a minimum wine was mixed at a 3:1 ratio. Anything less was considered barbaric. Therefore, it didn’t have the same ability to intoxicate and took away the addictive nature of it. That safeguard isn’t even talked about today . It is sad to see so many young pastors falling prey to this in the name of liberty. It seems more like the Israelites complaining time and time again that they wanted to return back to Egypt after God led them out of bondage.

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