By Frank Powell
Why write a blog post on alcohol? What does this have to do with the gospel?
The answer is nothing…and everything.
I remember growing up in a small town in Mississippi. I sat in a pew most every Sunday. And I heard the same inflammatory message over and over. “Don’t be like those sinners in the world. Those who drink alcohol. They will be eternally punished for their actions.” And sadly, I would often fire back a responsive, “Amen!”
But as I write this and reminisce, I am saddened. How many people have been pushed away from Jesus because of my judgmental attitude toward alcohol? An issue with no gospel bearing. No transformative power. An issue that I now see is more Pharisaical than biblical. I wish I could take back those amens. I wish I would not have been taught to take a draw a hard line in the sand, one that has increased the cloud of false stigmas over Christianity.
My hope is that addressing this topic will defuse Satan’s attempt to shroud the gospel in topics and issues that prevent the gospel from changing lives. For the glory of the cross to shine in its fullness, all man-made attachments and ideologies must be thrown aside. I want the cross to shine. I want the fullness of God to reach into the hearts of every man and woman.
Here are six important truths about alcohol.
1.) Drunkenness is a sin.
This is not up for debate. Drunkenness is a sin. Period. This is very clearly stated on several different occasions throughout the Bible (Deuteronomy 21:20; Ecclesiastes 10:17; Matthew 24:29; Luke 12:45; Luke 21:34; Romans 13:13; 1 Corinthians 5:11; Ephesians 5:18; and I Peter 4:3).
Drunkenness is sin. Period.
2.) There are not two different types of alcohol in the Bible.
This was the typical response I heard growing up. “Well, it is not alcohol or wine like we have today. The wine in the Bible is actually just grape juice.” Now, if any person were going to formulate an argument against drinking alcohol, this would probably be the best route to take. The problem is the Bible does not substantiate this argument. Yes, there are different types of wine in the Bible. In the New Testament and the Septuagint (Greek translation of the Old Testament), the most common is oinos. There are also two different Hebrew words, yayin and tirosh that appear in the Old Testament.
While the latter two words do refer to “comparatively fresh grape juice,” Hosea 4:11 says it “takes away the understanding.” In the Bible, this type of wine is referred to as “new wine.” Less alcoholic by volume. Still alcoholic, though.
Back to the word, oinos. Paul uses this in Ephesians 5:18. “Do not get drunk with wine, which is debauchery, but be filled with the Spirit.” Substituting wine for non-alcoholic grape juice does not fit well. Or take a verse like 1 Timothy 5:21. “Stop drinking only water, and use a little wine because of your stomach and your frequent illnesses.” Again, non-alcoholic grape juice doesn’t fit in the context. Rabbis during the time of Paul even had a widely quoted saying, “Wine is the greatest of all medicines; where wine is lacking, drugs are necessary.”
There is one more important word to note, the Hebrew word shakar. It is translated “strong drink” in the Bible. The difference between “strong drink” and “wine” has to do mainly with alcohol content. The wine mentioned above had a lower alcohol content than the “strong drink.”
And the “strong drink,” or shakar, in Hebrew? Even it was commended by God as something the Israelites could acquire and enjoy. Look at Deuteronomy 14:26.
“Spend the money for whatever you desire—oxen or sheep or wine or strong drink, whatever your appetite craves. And you shall eat there before the Lord your God and rejoice, you and your household.”
While wine is nothing more than fermented grape juice, it is very difficult to substantiate the claim that grape juice in the Bible was just a less tasty, non-alcoholic version of the Welch’s we enjoy today.
Wine is even paralleled to the covenantal promises and blessings of God (Genesis 49:11; Deut. 7:13; 11:14; 1 Kings 4:25; Psalm 80:8-11; Ecclesiastes 10:19; Isaiah 55:1-2; Joel 3:18). The use of alcohol is universal throughout the Bible (except in the case of the priest ministering in the sanctuary and the Nazirites).
It is absolutely possible and acceptable to glorify God with a glass of wine or a beer.
3.) Drinking alcohol as a minor is sin.
When a topic on alcohol comes up, this layer is rarely discussed. But I believe it’s important. God commands his people to remain subject to the authorities governing us (Romans 13:1-7; 1 Peter 2:13-16). Here is the application. To rebel against governmental rules and regulations is sin. This assumes, of course, that the rules and regulations do not contradict the commands of God.
Underage drinking does not glorify God. It is breaking the law. It is sin. Young people, this is not an attack against your personal freedom. Change your perspective. Look at this as an opportunity to increase your discipline and strength to resist.
I understand there are many other layers to this (family, denominational, etc.), but you will have to digest those on your own. Just know that, in general, this layer is an applicable one.
4.) Drinking alcohol does not ruin your witness.
I have heard this argument many times. “If you drink alcohol, you will ruin your Christian witness.” In some contexts, maybe this is true. But we live in a culture that largely sees social drinking or drinking in moderation as an acceptable practice.
If you choose to accept a beer from a friend or neighbor, do so without regret. If you choose to reject it based on your own conclusions, do so without regret. But do not put your nose in the air as you reject your neighbor’s request.
Don’t further darken the cloud hanging over Christianity by making something to be gospel that is not.
5.) Drinking requires discipline.
Discipline is so extremely valuable for followers of Jesus. Without it, you will be convinced to go down a road you should not travel. Not just with alcohol. With virtually any issue.
While drinking in moderation will not ruin your witness, drinking in excess will. It is important to exercise and practice discipline.
Discernment is also very important. There were several years in my Christian journey when I did not consume alcohol. The reason? I could not drink without the temptation to get drunk. I needed a personal detox. And it was more important to me to abstain completely than to indulge and risk sinning against God.
And there is a growing movement, especially in the younger generation, to excuse discipline. “Hey, I am helping the poor, reaching the lost and caring for the marginalized. I am doing my best to be Jesus to the world. Stop focusing on the minor details. Focus on all the good we are doing.” But elevating good works above holiness is a gross misunderstanding of the gospel and work of the cross. While God certainly values the marginalized, God also values your sobriety.
6.) Alcohol is more shaped by culture than the Bible.
Alcohol has caused the destruction of many, many lives. I am certainly aware of this. Alcohol has the potential to be very addictive and very destructive.
But the question should not be, “How could God be OK with alcohol if it has the potential to destroy lives?” If this is your filter for what is evil and sinful, then you must consider other issues such as money and sex as evil.
You see, the issue here is that our hearts are wicked and evil. We humans have taken things God has created and perverted them for our own selfish desires. God meant for us to use this gift to celebrate his glory and his name. The same for sex and money.
But we often take God’s good gifts and consume them selfishly and sinfully. Alcohol is another reminder of man’s wickedness, and our desperate need for God’s mercy and grace.
We have allowed our conclusions about alcohol to be shaped more by the history of our country than the word of God.
If you choose to drink, check your motives. If you’re using alcohol to drown stress or even to “take the edge off,” your motives are probably not good. If you’re underage, drinking alcohol is a sin. Period.
If you choose not to drink, check your heart. Don’t look down on those who choose differently. Don’t drink underage.
People need to feel and experience the transformative nature of the cross and the gospel. But this won’t happen when our pulpits and our ideologies are filled with man-made baggage. If you choose to have personal or family convictions about alcohol, praise God for that. But don’t allow those convictions to overlap with the truths of the gospel.
I love you all. To God be the glory forever. Amen!
About the Author: Frank Powell is a devoted follower of Christ, college/young adult minister, husband to
@tiffanipowell, dad to Noah and Micah, avid blogger/writer, sports fan. You can follow him on twitter here and read more blogs here!