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The Gray Areas: How should Christians navigate alcohol and drunkenness?

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You don’t need me to tell you that alcohol is a huge part of our increasingly secular culture, especially among young people. For millions of university students, regularly drinking alcohol and getting drunk while socialising has become the norm.

From experience, it can be tricky to navigate this issue – especially given that there is a variation of opinions among Christians on the topic. In the past I have sinned in this area, so please read this piece in the context of knowing that I am exploring the topic alongside you, rather than preaching down at you.

In this short piece, I want to make a few simple points based on scripture, to help us think about how we should handle alcohol in a drinking culture.

Drinking alcohol is not sinful.

“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

Firstly, I think it’s helpful to make it clear that alcohol per se is not a bad thing. In several places throughout scripture, wine is portrayed as a good gift from God, to be enjoyed responsibly. The verses above are taken from a wonderful Psalm in which the writer is joyfully exalting God, and listing many of the ways in which he has shown his kindness to us. He lists wine as one of these good gifts.

Think also about one of Jesus’ most well-known miracles, which you can read about in John 2. At the wedding at Cana, he turned water into wine, twenty to thirty gallons we’re told. There are numerous other references to wine throughout scripture, and examples of it being considered a gift, a good thing (Ecclesiastes 9:7, Luke 7:33-35, 1 Timothy 5:23 are a few), however for the sake of keeping this piece short I won’t go into them all.

But with a clear conscience, it is safe to conclude that alcohol is not sinful, however the problem is that sinful people abuse what is not inherently sinful.

Drunkenness is sinful.

“And do not get drunk with wine, for that is debauchery, but be filled with the Spirit.”

Ephesians 5:18

Scripture makes it explicitly clear, that getting drunk is sinful. This is a case of black and white, there is no Biblical justification for being drunk.

Along with the above verse in his letter to the church at Ephesus, the Apostle Paul also writes in Romans 13:13 “Let us behave decently, as in the daytime, not in carousing and drunkenness, not in sexual immorality and debauchery, not in dissension and jealousy.”

The question may arise in your mind, what about being a little “tipsy” but not out of control? That seems to be a gray area in this discussion. Let me direct your attention to 1 Peter, where in verse 13 Peter writes “Therefore, preparing your minds for action, and being sober-minded, set your hope fully on the grace that will be brought to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ.”

Now to be clear, Peter isn’t using “sober-minded” in this verse the same way we use it when referring to alcohol. In scripture, “sober” means calm and collected, to have good sense and good judgement. So let me ask, does being tipsy (which is still allowing alcohol to impair your feelings and judgement) align with this command to be sober-minded, to show good sense and judgement as we set our hope on Christ? I believe that the answer is a clear “no”.

Satisfaction in something else.

“In your presence there is fullness of joy; at your right hand are pleasures forevermore.”

Psalm 16:11

Getting drunk may provide you with temporary happiness, an exciting sensation, an “escape from reality” – but like any sin, it is deceiving, and the pleasure is momentary. Reality will hit you again like a tonne of bricks.

We are offered something which is the opposite of this. It is joyful, genuine and permanent. As David writes in Psalm 16, quoted above, in the Lord are pleasures forevermore. When you see the momentary thrill of being intoxicated, in comparison with the glorious, lasting satisfaction of being in Christ, it makes you realise how worthless, cheap and dirty the experience of drunkenness is.

I’ll conclude with a quote that sums up my final point, by one of my favourite writers, C. S. Lewis.

“We are half-hearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea. We are far too easily pleased.”

(C. S. Lewis, The Weight of Glory, 1949)

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D. W. Brown
Dan is from Northern Ireland, and currently works as a Network Analyst. His job involves travelling all over Europe to inspect internet installations in hotels. He spent a large part of his childhood in West Africa as a missionary kid. He is passionate about theology, and is currently exploring what he feels to be a calling into full-time ministry in the future.