Several days ago, a friend on Facebook asked me how to deal with a fellow Christian who was proclaiming that any and all drinking of alcoholic beverages was a sin. There are still pockets of Christians who believe alcoholic drinks are sinful and never to be touched by Christians. It may seem harmless, but those who hold to these views and force them on others are more of a danger to the gospel than an aid.
My friend wanted to know how to deal with such people, so I will deal with that first, and then show why such views are so dangerous to the gospel.
The best way to deal with such people is to use Scripture. First, start with Jesus Christ and His first miracle. The teetotaler will say, and some have tried this with me, that what Jesus did was turn water into grape juice. There are two problems with this argument. The first is that the text says that He turned the water into wine. The very text attests to this reality because the host of the wedding makes the statement that they have saved the best for last. It was the custom to bring out the best wine first, then after their senses were dulled from the alcoholic properties in the wine, they would bring out the bad stuff. But with Christ, it was just the opposite.
Secondly, a little bit of history helps on this argument. Grape juice was not a reality until the late 1800s when a man named Welch figured out how to pasteurize wine. Other wise, the grape juice does one of two things: it either ferments into wine, or turns to vinegar. But buying grape juice at the local market was not a reality.
Third, Jesus instituted the use of wine in communion. Some have tried to make the case that it was “new wine” that he used, thinking that new wine is non-alcoholic wine, but this fails as well, for two reasons. The first is that the disciples were accused of drinking too much “new wine” on the Day of Pentecost. If it was non-alcoholic, why accuse them of such? Secondly, the only option those at the Passover have is to use wine, since Passover is always in the spring and the grapes will not come to fruition until late summer. Using grape juice was not an option, then, nor should it be now. Jesus didn’t institute this sacrament with grape juice, but with wine. He ordained it for us for His own glory.
Fourth, we know that Jesus drank wine and His enemies accused Him of being a glutton and a winebibber.
Luke 7:33-35 For John the Baptist came neither eating bread nor drinking wine, and you say, ‘He has a demon.’ The Son of Man has come eating and drinking, and you say, ‘Look, a glutton and a winebibber, a friend of tax collectors and sinners!’ But wisdom is justified by all her children.”
So by Christ’s own admission, He drank. This is where the real danger of saying that drinking alcoholic beverages is a sin comes into play. If drinking wine is a sin because it has alcohol in it, then we have no Savior. Christ drank wine, as was the custom of the day. To declare this a sin means we don’t have someone who is sinless to die on the cross on our behalf, hence, no gospel.
This is why the claim that alcoholic beverages as sinful is so… sinful in and of itself. It declares something sinful that the Bible, nor Jesus, never declare.
Yes, I recognize that in the first 5 chapters of Isaiah, the prophet declares woe’s of condemnation upon those seeking after strong drink. But he does not do so because of the strong drink. He does so because of their idolatry of the strong drink. This is what they live for, instead of living for the LORD. The sin is not the alcoholic beverages, but idolizing those beverages. We can turn anything into idolatry and woe to us when we do.
A further point on Isaiah: in Isaiah 55 he declares that we should come and buy wine without money, buy drink without paying for it, in giving us a description of heaven. So in the earlier part of his book, he was condemning the drunkards who pursue strong drink, and in the latter part, declaring wine to be a part of the blessing of heaven itself.
The reality of wine being a blessing is one of the reasons it was Christ’s first miracle. He was showing His approval of weddings and the blessedness of wine at such occasions.
There are other passages to be used in showing the blessedness of wine, and the fact that it is not a sin to drink it. I hope that I have made that clear.
Yet, we are not done. We cannot be because we must show the teetotaler that his proclamation is more dangerous than if he were to drink down an entire case of wine. Why do I say that? For two reasons.
First, in declaring that drinking alcohol as sinful, we have declared something that is actually doable from a righteousness standard. During my seminary days, I had to sign a statement saying I would not drink alcohol. I managed to go the entire six years with only drinking one beer. Not bad, huh?
The problem is that by not drinking, someone can falsely believe that they have a righteousness of their own. We have no righteousness at all, and we are completely dependent upon Christ for His righteousness!
At my first church, I had a woman tell me that she had never had a drink in her life. I asked her if she was proud of that fact, and she said she was. Does anyone see a problem with this? The absence of alcoholic beverages did not lead her back to Christ with grateful praise, but caused her heart to swell with pride. Pride is something that God hates, because we have no right to be prideful or boastful except in the gospel.
Finally, the real problem with what the teetotaler is doing is that he is distracting Christians from true sin. Sin is any want of conformity or transgression of the Law of God. By declaring something sinful that is not sinful, and focusing on such nonsense, we fail to see what true sin is.
We discover what is truly sinful by looking to the moral Law, known as the Ten Commandments. Here, I will list just the first four along with the ways we break these commandments as given in the Larger Catechism of the Westminster Confession of Faith. This will help us see our true sinfulness, instead of the false sin that some propagate. The purpose is not to point the finger, but to show that we all need to cling to the cross of Christ and quit boasting in refraining from our own picadillos of sin.
1. “You shall have no other gods before Me.”
The sins forbidden in the first commandment are, atheism, in denying or not having a God; idolatry, in having or worshipping more gods than one, or any with or instead of the true God; the not having and avouching him for God, and our God; the omission or neglect of anything due to him, required in this commandment; ignorance, forgetfulness, misapprehensions, false opinions, unworthy and wicked thoughts of him; bold and curious searching into his secrets; all profaneness, hatred of God; self-love, self-seeking, and all other inordinate and immoderate setting of our mind, will, or affections upon other things, and taking them off from him in whole or in part; vain credulity, unbelief,heresy, misbelief, distrust, despair, incorrigibleness, and insensibleness under judgments, hardness of heart, pride, presumption, carnal security, tempting of God; using unlawful means, and trusting in lawful means; carnal delights and joys; corrupt, blind, and indiscreet zeal; lukewarmness, and deadness in the things of God; estranging ourselves, and apostatizing from God; praying, or giving any religious worship, to saints, angels, or any other creatures; all compacts and consulting with the devil, and hearkening to his suggestions; making men the lords of our faith and conscience; slighting and despising God and his commands; resisting and grieving of his Spirit, discontent and impatience at his dispensations, charging him foolishly for the evils he inflicts on us; and ascribing the praise of any good we either are, have or can do, to fortune, idols, ourselves, or any other creature.
2. “You shall not make for yourself a carved image—any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth; you shall not bow down to them nor serve them. For I, the Lord your God, am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children to the third and fourth generations of those who hate Me, 6 but showing mercy to thousands, to those who love Me and keep My commandments.”
The sins forbidden in the second commandment are, all devising, counselling, commanding, using, and anywise approving, any religious worship not instituted by God himself; tolerating a false religion; the making any representation of God, of all or of any of the three persons, either inwardly in our mind, or outwardly in any kind of image or likeness of any creature whatsoever; all worshipping of it, or God in it or by it; the making of any representation of feigned deities, and all worship of them, or service belonging to them, all superstitious devices, corrupting the worship of God, adding to it, or taking from it, whether invented and taken up of ourselves, or received by tradition from others, though under the title of antiquity, custom, devotion, good intent, or any other pretence whatsoever; simony; sacrilege; all neglect, contempt, hindering, and opposing the worship and ordinances which God hath appointed.
3. “You shall not take the name of the Lord your God in vain, for the Lord will not hold him guiltless who takes His name in vain.”
The sins forbidden in the third commandment are, the not using of God’s name as is required; and the abuse of it in an ignorant, vain, irreverent, profane, superstitious or wicked mentioning or otherwise using his titles, attributes,ordinances, or works, by blasphemy, perjury; all sinful cursings, oaths, vows, and lots; violating of our oaths and vows, if lawful; and fulfilling them, if of things unlawful; murmuring and quarrelling at,curious prying into, and misapplying of God’s decrees and providences; misinterpreting, misapplying, or any way perverting the Word, or any part of it; to profane jests, curious or unprofitable questions, vain janglings, or the maintaining of false doctrines; abusing it, the creatures, or anything contained under the name of God, to charms, or sinful lusts and practices; the maligning, scorning, reviling, or any wise opposing of God’s truth, grace, and ways; making profession of religion in hypocrisy, or for sinister ends; being ashamed of it, or a shame to it, by unconformable, unwise, unfruitful, and offensive walking, or backsliding from it.
4. “Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy. 9 Six days you shall labor and do all your work, 10 but the seventh day is the Sabbath of the Lord your God. In it you shall do no work: you, nor your son, nor your daughter, nor your male servant, nor your female servant, nor your cattle, nor your stranger who is within your gates. 11 For in six days the Lord made the heavens and the earth, the sea, and all that is in them, and rested the seventh day. Therefore the Lord blessed the Sabbath day and hallowed it.”
The sins forbidden in the fourth commandment are, all omissions of the duties required, all careless, negligent, and unprofitable performing of them, and being weary of them; all profaning the day by idleness, and doing that which is in itself sinful;and by all needless works, words, and thoughts, about our worldly employments and recreations.