Q&A 3: What God's Word Says About Christians, Alcohol & Addictions, Gray Areas, Sin & Sanctification, Liberty & Legalism

As believers, God offers through His Word an entire philosophy of how to please God in the realm of gray areas, questionable things, liberty, and legalism; and all in the context of drinking alcohol and any other substance that takes away our ability to think clearly.

Whenever we seek an answer to what God says about any subject, our attitude must always be like the Bereans of Acts 17:11. They searched the Scriptures to see if what PAUL said was accurate. That is amazing. They did not just figure that if the big guy up front said something it MUST be Biblical.

Alcohol & God's Servants

First off to answer this question I must confess that I do not drink alcohol in any form, by conviction. My convictions based on God's Word are:

  1. First, I don't drink because God always condemns drunkenness in any and every form in His Word, so I want to stay away from participating in or encouraging others to participate in what God condemns.
  2. Second, I don't drink because God commanded that any priest who came before Him in the Tabernacle or Temple was not to drink. Alcohol kept priests from being able to distinguish between holy & unholy, and clean & unclean (Lev. 10:9-10). So I never want to miss what God calls both holy and unholy.
  3. Third, I don't drink because God said that those who lead His people are to not drink so that they aren't under any wrong influence when they make decisions. Alcohol diminishes a leaders ability to lead wisely (Pr. 31:4-5).
  4. Fourth, I don't drink because God led Paul to say that he would limit his freedom, and never eat meat or drink alcohol (Rom. 14:21) if it caused any believer to veer off God's path, and I do not want my choices to make earnest or weak believers veer away from God.
  5. Fifth, I don't drink because God contrasts alcohol with the Spirit in Ephesians 5:18and I want to be known as a man that seeks the influence of the Holy Spirit, not alcohol.
  6. Sixth, I don't drink because God said that elders have a higher standard than deacons or others in the church. Normal believers are to never get drunk; and deacons are not to be drawn or given to wine; but elders are called to not stand near wine in I Timothy 3:3. The way to interpret what Paul meant was seen in his best friend Timothy's life. Paul had to pled with him to use a little wine medicinally inI Timothy 5:23 because Timothy also wanted to obey God and not be near wine.
  7. Finally, I don't drink because of our whole beer drinking, bar hopping, clubbing society that portrays alcohol almost always with things that displease God. I do not want to: walk, stand, or sit with those that mock God (Psalm 1); nor befriend the world's ungodly cultural form of drinking (James 4:4-8); nor get conformed to the world (Rom. 12:2); nor love this tool the world uses (I John 2:15-17) to enslave so many, destroy so many, and lead so many into sin.

So those are my personal convictions as a Citizen of Heaven, living here on Earth.

Alcohol is portrayed in God's Word like many other things: both positively and negatively. Like a river, many things, if: kept within God's boundaries, are wonderful. Outside the boundaries they are destructive and damnable.

Alcohol as described in the Scriptures: God's Word mentions drinking what we would call wine or beer 256 times (199 in a positive way, and 57 in a negative way).

First: Alcohol has positive effects. Proverbs 31:6 "give strong drink to"; I Timothy 5:23 "a little wine for stomach". Also the joy of the harvest, new wine, wedding feast where Jesus made wine and people observed they had "saved the best" (John 2:10).

Second: Alcohol's negative effects can lead to eternal destruction, and anyone who surrenders to alcohol, or any other mind-altering substance (drugs, chemicals) is part of the list of those who have become dominated by sin and not Christ and thus are slaves to sin (and not to Christ) and thus are eternally damned.

Galatians 5:19-21 (NKJV) Now the works of the flesh are evident, which are: adultery, fornication, uncleanness, lewdness, 20 idolatry, sorcery, hatred, contentions, jealousies, outbursts of wrath, selfish ambitions, dissensions, heresies, 21 envy, murders, drunkenness, revelries, and the like; of which I tell you beforehand, just as I also told you in time past, that those who practice such things will not inherit the kingdom of God.

Alcohol as to the strength or concentration in Biblical & Modern times:

Wine was the most intoxicating drink known in ancient times. All the wine was light wine, i.e. not fortified with extra alcohol. Concentrated alcohol was only known in the Middle Ages when the Arabs invented distillation ("alcohol" is an Arabic word) so what is now called liquor or strong drink (i.e. whiskey, gin, vodka, etc.) and the 20% fortified wines were unknown in Bible times. Beer was brewed by various methods, but its alcoholic content was light. [TWOT, (vol. 1, p. 865)].

The strength of natural wines is limited by two factors. The percentage of alcohol will be half of the percentage of the sugar in the juice. And if the alcoholic content is much above 10 or 11 percent, the yeast cells are killed and fermentation ceases. Probably ancient wines were 7-10 per cent. Drunkenness therefore was of course an ancient curse, but alcoholism was not as common or as severe as it is today. And in an agricultural age, its effects were less deadly than now. Still, even then it had its dangers andProverbs 20:1 and 23:29-35 are emphatic in their warnings. (T.W.O.T., p. 376)

How does our alcohol today compare with wine back then? According to the Alcohol Council Information Center:

Beer has 4% alcohol; wine has 9-11% alcohol; brandy has 15-20% alcohol; and liquor has between 40-50% alcohol (80-100 proof). 

"The wine that was consumed in biblical times was not what we know as wine today. It was more of a concentrated grape juice with its intoxicating properties basically removed. You cannot defend wine-drinking today on the basis of wine-drinking in Bible times because the two are totally different." (Living in the Spirit, p. 31, John MacArthur)

The Conclusion of God's Word on Alcohol & God's Servants

#1: God's Word always condemns drunkenness. Drunkenness, and ongoing enslavement to drunkenness called alcoholism, is always condemned in God's Word as a mark of pagans, lost and foolish people, and deserving of eternal destruction.

In God's Word drunkenness is associated with tragedy. Whenever the Bible talks about drunkenness it shows that it is the manifestation of depravity. Every illustration of drunkenness in the Bible meets with disaster:

  • Noah became drunk and in his nakedness acted shamefully (Gen. 9:21);
  • Lot became drunk and his daughters committed incest with him (Gen. 19:30-36);
  • Nabal became drunk and at a crucial time God took his life (1 Sam. 25:36-37);
  • Elah became drunk and he was murdered by Zimri (1 Kings 16:9-10);
  • Ben-hadad and all of his allied kings became drunk, and all were slaughtered except Ben-hadad who escaped (1 Kings 20:16-21);
  • Belshazzar became drunk and had his kingdom ripped right out from under him (Dan. 5); the
  • Corinthians became drunk at the Lord's table and the Lord made some of them sick and some He executed (1 Cor. 11:21-34).

Drunkenness in the Bibles is always associated with terrible things - unrestrained living, immorality, dissolute behavior, and reckless, wild behavior.

#2: God's Word teaches that drunkenness disqualifies a man from spiritual service. Remember that drunkenness is always described as a sin, and any tendencies towards that sin are disqualifiers from spiritual services.

In the Old Testament, priests were not to drink when they were involved in any way with the worship of the Tabernacle or Temple. The lapse and severe judgment that Nadab & Abihu experienced in Leviticus 10 made a statute for priests from then on. They offered the sacrifices "under the influence," did so "strangely," and God struck them dead.

In fact, the standard is so high for NT leaders that Paul goes so far as to note two aspects about an elder.

  • First in 1 Timothy 3:2-3, 8 Now the overseer must be above reproach, the husband of but one wife,temperate[1], self-controlled, respectable, hospitable, able to teach, 3 not given to drunkenness[2], not violent but gentle, not quarrelsome, not a lover of money. 8 Deacons, likewise, are to be men worthy of respect, sincere, not indulging in much wine, and not pursuing dishonest gain.
  • Then in Titus 1:7 Since an overseer is entrusted with God's work, he must be blameless-not overbearing, not quick-tempered, not given to drunkenness[3], not violent, not pursuing dishonest gain.

#3: God's Word teaches that drunkenness is not a part of a citizen of heaven while on earth.

  • First, God says that if someone claims to be a believer and is a drunkard, expel them from the fellowship of the Church. 1 Corinthians 5:9-13 I have written you in my letter not to associate with sexually immoral people-10 not at all meaning the people of this world who are immoral, or the greedy and swindlers, or idolaters. In that case you would have to leave this world. 11 But now I am writing you that you must not associate with anyone who calls himself a brother but is sexually immoral or greedy, an idolater or a slanderer, a drunkard or a swindler. With such a man do not even eat. 12 What business is it of mine to judge those outside the church? Are you not to judge those inside? 13 God will judge those outside. "Expel the wicked man from among you."
  • Second, God says that drunkenness is a sign of lostness and of a life heading to eternal destruction.1 Corinthians 6:9-11 Do you not know that the wicked will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: Neither the sexually immoral nor idolaters nor adulterers nor male prostitutes nor homosexual offenders 10 nor thieves nor the greedy nor drunkards nor slanderers nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God. 11 And that is what some of you were. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God.
  • Thirdly, drunkenness (or alcoholism) is never to be a part of the life of a citizen of Heaven. In fact, inGalatians 5:19-21 we can note the very sobering words: "shall not inherit the Kingdom of God." So is drunkenness (alcoholism) a sickness or disease, or is it a sin? It is a sin that leads to physical deterioration and dependence. But God can save and change. Galatians 5:19-21 (NKJV) Now the works of the flesh are evident, which are: adultery, fornication, uncleanness, lewdness, 20 idolatry, sorcery, hatred, contentions, jealousies, outbursts of wrath, selfish ambitions, dissensions, heresies,21 envy, murders, drunkenness, revelries, and the like; of which I tell you beforehand, just as I also told you in time past, that those who practice such things will not inherit the kingdom of God.
  • Finally, God's Word speaks of drunkenness in a believer's life as being in the past tense. 1 Peter 4:3For you have spent enough time in the past doing what pagans choose to do-living in debauchery, lust, drunkenness, orgies, carousing and detestable idolatry.

Conclusion from these three passages: drunkenness is a disqualifying sin and a damning lifestyle.

#4: Recreational drinking with lost people who drink to drunkenness is not what pleases God in our lives.

  • With 18 million Americans alcoholics or drunkards, as the Scriptures not so softly call them, and with 81% Roman Catholics and 64% Protestants not opposed to drinking, and with the constant need to teach doctrine for us to live by, we are considering the Christian and alcohol - should drinking alcohol have a place in our lives? Here's an inspired snapshot of a drunkard; and God by inspiration describes him.
  • So, God's Word in the Old Testament teaches: drunkenness is sinful, displeasing to God, and not to be a part of His servants lives; social drinking is unhealthy for our spiritual lives (frequenting bars where people go to get intoxicated, since it is a place they go to sin, and because the atmosphere is not encouraging sanctification but discouraging it: Psalm 1 says we who love the Lord are not to walk, stand, or sit in the "way of sinners"; and drinking undiluted wine is not godly as Proverbs 23:31 = straight 7=10% wine. So those are Old Testament principles that governed until the time of Christ.
    • Proverbs 20:1 Wine is a mocker and beer a brawler; whoever is led astray by them is not wise.
    • Proverbs 23:20-21 Do not join those who drink too much wine or gorge themselves on meat, 21 for drunkards and gluttons become poor, and drowsiness clothes them in rags.
    • Proverbs 23:29-35 Who has woe? Who has sorrow? Who has strife? Who has complaints? Who has needless bruises? Who has bloodshot eyes? 30 Those who linger over wine, who go to sample bowls of mixed wine. 31 Do not gaze at wine when it is red, when it sparkles in the cup, when it goes down smoothly! 32 In the end it bites like a snake and poisons like a viper. 33 Your eyes will see strange sights and your mind imagine confusing things. 34 You will be like one sleeping on the high seas, lying on top of the rigging. 35 "They hit me," you will say, "but I'm not hurt! They beat me, but I don't feel it! When will I wake up so I can find another drink?"
    • Proverbs 31:4-7 "It is not for kings, O Lemuel-not for kings to drink wine, not for rulers to crave beer, 5 lest they drink and forget what the law decrees, and deprive all the oppressed of their rights. 6 Give beer to those who are perishing, wine to those who are in anguish; 7 let them drink and forget their poverty and remember their misery no more.


Romans 14 & Questionable Things

In Romans 14 Paul explains how to co-exist with believers who have all different degrees of convictions that extend beyond what the Scriptures plainly say. Here is his explanation:

  • Romans 14:1-13 In Christ we are under the Law of Liberty. Don't Judge the Convictions of Others, instead receive them with Understanding.
    • v. 1: We as brothers & sisters will differ.
    • v. 4: We each will stand before God to answer for ourselves, not others. Therefore, don't judge those whose convictions differ from yours.
    • v. 5: We must each be fully convinced in our own minds of what God has directed us to do.
    • v. 6: We each serve God in what we do.
    • v. 10: We must trust in Christ's judgment, not our own.
  • Romans 14:14-23 In Christ we are under the Law of Love. We are to intentionally build up one another and not intentionally grieve each other.
  • Romans 15:1-7 In Christ we are to Bear Each other's burdens, following Christ's Example.

Questionable things: In deciding about whether or not to participate in any behavior that is doubtful, the following principles make a good checklist to follow.

  1. Expediency: Is this activity one that profits me for eternity or just for a moment? "All things are lawful for me," Paul says, "but not all things are profitable," or expedient (1 Cor. 6:12). Is what I want to do helpful and useful, or only desirable?
  2. Edification: Will this activity strengthen or weaken my spiritual life? Will I be built up and matured in Christ; will I become spiritually stronger? "All things are lawful, but not all things edify" (1 Cor. 10:23).
  3. Exaltation: Is this activity clearly described as a pathway to magnifying God? Will the Lord be lifted up and glorified in what I do? God's glory and exaltation should be the supreme purpose behind everything we do. "Whether, then, you eat or drink or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God" (1 Cor. 10:31).
  4. Evangelism: Will this activity increase my evangelistic ability or decrease it? Is my testimony going to be helped or hindered? Will unbelievers be drawn to Christ or turned away from Him by what I am doing? Will it help me conduct myself "with wisdom toward outsiders, making the most of the opportunity" (Col. 4:5)?
  5. Example: Will others who seek to follow my example be helped or hindered by this activity?Are we setting the right example for others, especially for weaker brothers and sisters? If we emulate Christ, others will be able to emulate us, to follow our example (1 Tim. 4:12).
  6. Excess: Is this activity a weight that can trip me up that needs to be laid aside? Is the activity or habit necessary, or is it merely an extra that is not really important? Is it perhaps only an encumbrance that we should willingly give up (Heb. 12:1)?
  7. Emulation: Is this activity something that Jesus would do or not do? "The one who says he abides in Him ought himself to walk in the same manner as He walked" (1 John 2:6). If we are doing what Christ would do, our action not only is permissible but good and right. [4]


Justification: The Greatest Doctrine In the Bible

The theological term for salvation by grace, through the sacrifice of Christ Jesus on the Cross, is justification by faith. Justification is the "act of God whereby He declares the believing sinner righteous in Christ on the basis of the finished work of Christ on the cross". Each piece of this definition must be considered carefully.

First, justification is an act of God, not a process in our lives. Justification has no degrees; each believer gets the same righteous standing before God.

Next, God alone can justify, we are helpless and can only believe. But, justification does not mean that God makes us righteous, but that He declares us righteous. Justification is the legal recording of Christ's righteousness onto the record of our life, and the record of our sinfulness onto Him. Nothing can change this legal event.

Finally, justification begins sanctification. Sanctification is the life-long process whereby God makes each believer more and more Christ-like. Our sanctification will vary from day to day, but our justification never varies. The moment we trusted Christ, God declares us righteous, and His declaration can never be repealed. Once justified, God forever looks at us as if we had never sinned!

Just before we read what Paul wrote, may I again remind you of the two sides of the coin of salvation. We could call the two sides faith and works as James does. Another way would be to use Paul's words from Romans-justification and sanctification. To best understand what Paul is asking us to do in Colossians let me contrast and explain justification and sanctification.

  • Justification is what Christ did for me on the cross--sanctification is what Christ is doing in me because of the cross.
  • Justification is immediate and was completely finished in me the instant I was saved-sanctification is an ongoing process never completed on earth until I meet Jesus face to face at death or His coming.
  • Justification is activated the moment I trust in the Person of Christ Jesus and His finished sacrifice of the cross-sanctification grows with each obedient choice I make empowered by the Holy Spirit.
  • Justification is my position declared right in God's sight-sanctification is my practice made right by becoming more conformed to His image.

As we were saved only by the accomplishment of Christ's sacrifice on the cross-so we live each day ‘by faith' (the same faith by which we were saved). We are always dependent upon Christ's gracious death upon the cross that saves and keeps us!

"Sanctification is a process-the process of becoming more like Christ, of growing in holiness. This process begins the instant you are converted and will not end until you meet Jesus face-to-face. Through the work of His Spirit, through the power of His word and fellowship with other believers, God peels away our desires for sin, renews our minds, and changes our lives. Sanctification is aboutour own choices and behavior . It involves work. Empowered by God's Spirit, we strive. We fight sin.We study Scripture and prayeven when we don't feel like it. We flee temptation. We press on; werun hard in the pursuit of holiness.[5]

Colossians 3 is built around 14 imperative commands. Remember that God never commands me to do what He hasn't already given me the grace to accomplish by faith through His Spirit!

"Our participation in the process of sanctification comes only after we've been totally accepted and made right before God through faith in Jesus.  So yeswe work hard at obeying God's word. We read our Bibles. We pray. We meditate on Scripture. We memorize ScriptureWe share the gospel. Weserve in our church. We fast. God commands us in His Word to do many things, and our obedience is both pleasing to Him and brings His blessing to our lives. But not one adds to our justification, our standing before God, our eternal life. Only grace sustains lasting change and sanctification . Through the cross we overcome not only the guilt of sin, but the power of sin as well[6].


[1] nephalion - temperate or "unaffected by, not using"; this verb speaks of abstaining from wine or anything else that clouds the senses. The emphasis is upon staying alert. In Classical Greek this word was used for abstinence from alcohol.

[2] 1 Tim. 3:3Titus 1:7: me paroinon - "not drunken" or "not beside wine, staying near".

[3] 1 Tim. 3:3Titus 1:7: me paroinon - "not drunken" or "not beside wine, staying near".

[4] MacArthur, John F., The MacArthur New Testament Commentary, (Chicago: Moody Press) 1983, First Corinthians 8:13.

[5]  C. J. Mahaney, The Cross Centered Life, Sisters, OR: Multnomah Publishers, 2002, p. 31-34.

[6]  C. J. Mahaney, The Cross Centered Life, Sisters, OR: Multnomah Publishers, 2002, p. 31-34.