Filled with the Spirit, or filled with spirits?

The headline for a recent article published by Bloomberg News read “America’s Drinking Problem is Much Worse This Century.” In it, the article claimed that “Americans are drinking more than they used to, a troubling trend with potentially dire implications for the country’s future health care cost.” JAMA Psychiatry published a study the previous week which stated: “ The number of adults who binge drink at least once a week could be as high as 30 million; greater than the population of every state, save California.” David Jernigan (director of the Center on Alcohol Marketing and Youth at John Hopkins School of Public Health) was quoted as saying: “This should be a wake-up call, Alcohol is our number one drug problem and it’s not just a problem among kids.” While some of this study has come under scrutiny, many of us can easily look around and see increased alcohol usage and its sad results in our communities.

Alcohol consumption isn’t a popular topic in Christianity today; it’s a subject that has become increasingly more divisive than previous years. Culture plays a part in this no doubt. I live in an area where there is a nationally renowned Vodka distillery. Wine tours and tastings are a part of the norm. Being a minister that teaches abstinence for a church that has taken an anti-alcohol stance in our community in the past, I understand the controversy that surrounds the topic. But, the distillation, proliferation, and accessibility of alcohol has made this an even more pressing issue for the church. This means that more people have access to greater quantities of harder alcohol than ever before; that isn’t something we can shrug off.

Interestingly, some Christians are surprised to hear that scripture has anything to say about alcohol. Yet, from the early pages of the Bible we discover the dangers of alcohol’s abuse (Genesis 9:20-ff). The Proverbs writer wrote about the dangers of alcohol and warned his son to not even look at it (Prov. 23:31). Alcohol is often linked to immorality within Israel (Hos. 4:11; Isa. 28:7). As we come to the New Testament we see that scripture consistently condemns drunkenness (Luke 21:34; Gal. 5:21; Rom. 13:13; 1 Thess. 5:5-7) and drinking parties (1 Pet. 4:3-4).

An important passage discussing this topic is found in Ephesians 5:18-19:

And do not get drunk with wine, for that is debauchery, but be filled with the Spirit, addressing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody to the Lord with your heart.

Don’t get filled with spirits, but be filled with the Spirit. Don’t follow the life that results from drunkenness, but follow the life that comes from the Spirit. Don’t possess a life filled with drunken bar tunes, but surround yourself with the joyful company of singing saints. This separation between drunkenness and sobriety is one we witness throughout scripture. Yet, some still feel that abstinence goes too far and prefer to live in the “grey area” between drunkenness and sobriety; I’d like to convince those Christians otherwise. Here are a few reasons I abstain from alcohol.

It doesn’t help my sobriety
Scripture constantly commands Christians to be sober (1 Pet. 5:8; 1 Thess. 5:6, 8; 1 Pet. 1:13). A good definition of sobriety is given in 1 Peter 1:13:

Therefore, gird up the loins of your mind, be sober, and rest your hope fully upon the grace that is to be brought to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ.

Sobriety means that we “prepare our mind for action” (ESV) as we think clearly and rationally; to be temperate. This is military language: we are soldiers for the Lord and we are always “on duty” (2 Tim. 2:1-3). There is a reason that law enforcement officers and soldiers aren’t allowed to have alcohol while on duty: alcohol, in any amount, has an inherently un-sobering effect. When someone  who is fighting alcohol addiction says “I’ve been sober for _____ years” we know what they mean: they haven’t had any alcohol in that amount of time. The entire purpose of alcohol is to become less sober than we were before. It’s the reason people drink after a hard day of work; the reason they take a shot to “calm their nerves”; the reason college students binge before they participate in some stupid stunt. Recently there were billboards with the slogan “Buzzed driving is drunk driving”; the purveyors of these advertisements, although not religious, understand the influence of alcohol starts long before the traditional line of “drunkenness.” If we are honest, we will recognize that alcohol doesn’t help us in our battle for sobriety.

It doesn’t help my holiness 
Christians are called to be holy (1 Pet. 1:16; Heb. 12:14); that is, we are to be separated for godly, pure, and righteous living for the glory of God—alcohol doesn’t help me in this pursuit. When God wanted the priest to draw near to Him, he required abstinence (Lev. 10:8-10); when someone wanted to take a vow of holiness, abstinence was required (Num. 6). As a Christian I want to be “complete in Christ” (Col. 1:28) and be full of “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control” (Gal. 5:23-24). Alcohol doesn’t help grow these spiritual fruits in my life—in fact, it does quite the opposite.

Alcohol lets down our inhibitions and encourages us to participate in activity we normally wouldn’t; it makes it more difficult to differentiate between the clean and unclean (Lev. 10:8). There is a reason alcohol is tied to so much sinful and destructive behavior in the world. While the alcohol industry wants us to believe the good life is lived under alcohol’s corrosive influence, CDC statistics would say otherwise:

“Alcohol is associated with most crime; it is involved in 70% of all murders, 41% of assaults, 50% of rapes, 60% of sex crimes against children, 56% of fights and assaults in homes, 37% of suicides and 55% of all arrests. Further, alcohol is a safety hazard; it is involved in 66% of fatal accidents, 53% of fire deaths, 36% of pedestrian accidents, 22% of home accidents, 45% of drowning…50% of all traffic accidents (killing 25,000 and seriously injuring 1,000,000 annually), and is the #1 killer of people 25 and under (the #3 killer in America for all ages)”

While this only comes from personal experience, I’ve never known a person serious about holiness who is committed to drinking alcohol. Purity of thought and action are difficult to reconcile with the “debauchery” that comes from drunkenness. We are called to “give no provision for the flesh to fulfill its desires” (Rom. 13:14); that is, don’t give sin an opportunity in your life–not one inch.

It doesn’t help me love
I have several friends who struggled with alcohol in the past. When they decided to dedicate their lives more fully to Jesus they quit drinking; for them, it was a natural response. Don’t try and convince them that alcohol will help them be more like Jesus—they know better. It is because of my love for these brethren and their struggle that I abstain from alcohol. I wouldn’t want to do anything that would hinder their growth in Jesus (Rom. 14:20-21).

As a Christian I am commanded to love my neighbor with all my “heart, soul, and mind” (Matt. 22:37-39); does alcohol help us fulfill this command? I am called to think about the influence my actions have on others—my family, my neighbor, and my brethren (Phil. 2:3-4). In the end, alcohol or any other drug, doesn’t help me love my community or neighbors more; therefore, I abstain.

As a society, we’ve taken strong stances against drugs and tobacco because we recognize the damaging effects they have on society. The data is undeniable: alcohol’s destructive influence on the home and the nation is systemic. More and more studies are confirming the link between alcohol consumption and cancer. A recent WHO study revealed that “”No amount of alcohol is safe when it comes to cancer risk.” There’s a reason it’s called “intoxication.”

I realize some reading this article will take issue with some of my points. I understand this is an issue many are passionate about; I also hope those who disagree realize this isn’t a topic I take lightly. Those who know me will attest to the thought and study I’ve given this subject. I pray all will study with an open, honest heart. If you do, I believe you will find that alcohol doesn’t help Christians be more sober, holy, or loving in our present world.

References

  1. https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2017-08-09/america-s-drinking-problem-is-much-worse-this-century
  2. https://www.cancer.org/cancer/cancer-causes/diet-physical-activity/alcohol-use-and-cancer.html

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