Some Thoughts on Christian Liberty: Specifically in Regard to Drinking Alcohol
Lead singer / songwriter Mark Hall said well last week at the Casting Crowns concert that Christian liberty often becomes a question of how far we can push the envelope. In other words, “what can I (me, me, me) do or not do in this (fill in the blank) situation.” In more words, the issue of Christian liberty often muddles the fact that Law-keeping is intimately entwined in love which is the essence of self-denial / self-sacrifice. “God so loved the world, that He GAVE His only Son.” When it comes to justification, we don’t have to keep any of the Law and couldn’t even if we wanted to. In fact, any attempt to be justified by keeping the Law (or thinking you are “good” enough to enter heaven) is a rejection of God’s gift. Sanctification is another story; in sanctification (setting apart for a specific purpose), we keep the Law to love God and others.
This is what Paul said about Christian liberty: “Everything is permissible—but not everything is beneficial. Everything is permissible—but not everything is constructive. Nobody should seek his own good, but the good of others”(1Corinthians 10:23,24).
Because the primary goal of Law-keeping is love, and the essence of love is self-denial / self-sacrifice, we are commanded in Scripture to forfeit our right to partake in what is lawful if it would offend another believer or cause a new believer to violate their conscience which may not be biblically trained.
This brings me to an issue that God has dealt with in my own life recently. Moderate drinking, though lawful, is not beneficial for those in my life, but this is not the trite matter we make it in today’s super-grace mentality. However, to say that moderate drinking is against the Law of God or a biblical principle is patently untrue, and what is true matters. Look, forget all of that stuff about the disciples drinking alcohol because the water was bad in the Middle East during the first century. You don’t even need a course in Bible History to refute that; just read the historical account of Jesus talking to the woman at the well. Besides that, one of the biblical qualifications of an elder (which are very high) is that they are “not a drunkard” (or drinking alcohol in excess. I Tim. 3:3, Titus 1:7). Why wouldn’t the Holy Spirit plainly say “drinker of wine” rather than specifying drunkenness? In fact, Paul goes on to say: “Deacons, likewise, are to be men worthy of respect, sincere, not indulging in *much* wine….”[emphasis mine]. I’m sorry, but that alone ends the argument though many more biblical arguments could be introduced.
Not acknowledging a true perspective on any given biblical principle always leads to a slippery slope resulting in extremes. I once visited a widow who was confronted by her pastor for working at a restaurant that served alcohol. Does that same pastor shop at Krogers? Does he fly United?The situation led to an unnecessary offense that resulted in her leaving that particular church. Also, while some Christians will not eat at Applebees because they serve liquor, they will go to Bob Evans instead, and rip the waitress from top to bottom for not serving them to their expectations. I even know of Christians who will leave the waitress fifteen-cents to add insult to injury. But Law-forbid that we would eat at a restaurant where drunks know more about mercy than we do. Actually, I leave bigger tips when I get lousy service; it’s called “undeserved merit,” sound familiar? Here is my point: our goal as Christians is not Law-keeping, it’s keeping the Law for the purpose of love. Law-keeping without love in mind always leads to hypocrisy and legalism.
But in contrast, clinging to what is lawful for our own selfish satisfaction, and to the detriment of others is breaking the greatest of all the commandments. In fact, the breaking of the greatest commandment (which by the way is God’s Law with love, not a nebulous definition of love that replaces the Law) often carries with it the greatest threat of punishment. Jesus said that it would be better to tie a millstone around your neck and cast yourself into the sea than to cause a young believer to stumble. Paul even said that leading other believers in violating their conscience (perhaps they would see you drinking, but it would be a violation of their own conscience) could actually destroy their faith (Romans 14:13-15). Therefore, the issue of Christian liberty in the Bible is not an endeavor to learn how far we can push the envelope for our own satisfaction, but rather a solemn / weighty consideration with fearful ramifications.
Hopefully, the following examples will be helpful in making additional points on this subject. In a Sunday School class I attended some time ago, a wife shared an objection her lost husband presented in regard to her persistence that he go to church with her. He said that if he didn’t quit drinking before he went to church, he was being a hypocrite. How she should answer this objection was the question. I asked a few questions. Was his drinking a source of tension in their marriage? She answered yes. What was her goal in getting him to come to church? Was it for the purpose of him being saved? Again, the answer was yes to both. My suggestion: stop inviting him to church and start modeling the sacrificial love of Christ he doesn’t have. First, he cares more about the satisfaction that beer gives him rather than having a stronger marriage. Ie., he loves beer more than her. Secondly, he cares more about what other people think of him than what his own wife thinks of him. Her opinion is expendable. Neither of these are sacrificial love. Unfortunately, it is clear that his view of the gospel is works salvation rather than coming to grips with the fact that he’s so wretched, that he actually loves beer more than his wife. Seeing the sacrificial love of Christ in her, and thereby realizing that he does not have that kind of love is her best shot at getting him saved.
Lastly, the example from my own life. My girlfriend, Susan, has had a horrible life experience with alcohol at the hands of another. She has seen what alcohol can do to peoples lives and the power it can have over individuals. With a variety of other beverages available for enjoyment and her knowledge of the destructive power that alcohol can have, it is understandably, and wisely, banished from her immediate realm of life, a life I want to be a part of. Hence, my decision to totally abstain from any form of alcohol use. But not because the Bible prohibits its use altogether for that is not the truth, and only the truth sets us free. But rather for the most important Biblical command of all, to love God and others the way we want to be loved, and with the same intensity as we love ourselves, “for no one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it….” (Ephesians 5:29).