As Reformed Christians, we get a lot right. We have rightly rejected the false theology of the Methodists that led to prohibition. We rightly affirm that all things are given to us by God and are clean if they are sanctified by the word and thanksgiving. And we are right whenever we include beer, wine and spirits in the list of good things given to us by God.
But in our zeal for the correction of self-righteousness I fear that we often overcorrect. Moses warned us not to stray to the right hand or to the left. We must stay on the path of God’s revelation. Far too often, we look at one’s beverage of choice as a test of Reformed Orthodoxy. I happen to prefer iced water with my meals, and I cannot tell you how often I receive sideways glances or even intense questioning of my orthodoxy when I turn down wine or a beer.
Don’t get me wrong. I am not a teetotaler. I also robustly affirm that God created all things good and that they should be received with thanksgiving, alcoholic beverages included. I guess that I am actually more indifferent than anything else. If it sounds good when it is offered I might accept a beer or a glass of wine. But what usually sounds the best to me is iced water or perhaps a lemonade or iced tea. I would generally rather have a fresh-squeezed lemonade than a merlot or a micro-brew. But this is a question of taste, not an ethical or theological statement.
That being said, there is a danger that I see creeping up in Reformed circles that seems to me to be a far greater danger than even the dangers of teetotalism. We don’t take the sin of drunkenness as seriously as we ought. God told us quite plainly that a drunkard will not inherit the kingdom of God.
9 Know ye not that the unrighteous shall not inherit the kingdom of God? Be not deceived: neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor effeminate, nor abusers of themselves with mankind, 10 Nor thieves, nor covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor extortioners, shall inherit the kingdom of God (1Co 6:9-10).
Think about what Paul wrote here. Christians inherit the kingdom of God. Drunkards do not. The unavoidable conclusion is this. You can be a drunkard, or you can be a Christian. But you can’t be both.
I will even use the modern term since what I have to say might be more readily heard. You can be an alcoholic, or you can be a Christian. But you can’t be both.
The next statement will be extremely controversial. Most of God’s word is. There is no such thing as a Christian alcoholic. They do not co-exist. They are contrary. According to the passage above, a Christian alcoholic is as meaningless as a Christian adulterer, a Christian sodomite, a Christian thief, or a Christian extortioner.
To continue on with the same thought: when it comes to all sin, you don’t taper off. We would never allow an adulterer to “repent” and at the same time keep his adulteress relationship. A repentant thief doesn’t continue to rob banks. A repentant homosexual doesn’t keep his old buddies around. There really is only one way to deal with sin: radical mortification. As John Owen said, “Be killing sin, or it will be killing you.”
I am fully aware of addictions. All sin is addicting. Jesus raised quite a few eyebrows when he said, “If you continue in my word, then are you my disciples indeed. And you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free” (John 8:32).
The Pharisees responded, “We are Abraham’s seed and have never been in bondage to anyone.”
The response echoes today. “I’m not an alcoholic. I can quit anytime.” “I’ve been raised a Christian and have been catechized by the best in Reformed Tradition. I’ve never been in bondage!”
And Jesus’s response is the same, “He who commits sin is the slave of sin.”
The lie of the Pharisees is the same lie that Jesus is calling us to forsake: the lie that we can continue unrepentant in sin and have it all under control. We can quit any time; that God cares more about pedigree and correct doctrine than he does about holiness. That we can be repentant and at the same time continue to love our sins.
Please do not be deceived. Drunkenness is an abomination against God; it is perverse and hateful rebellion. It is an idolatry and bondage to wickedness.
I do not say this to be spiteful and mean to those who are caught in this sin. I say this because only by acknowledging this truth can you be set free from it.
We know that Jesus actually does set us free from sin – even the sin of drunkenness.
Ezekiel foretold it:
25 Then will I sprinkle clean water upon you, and ye shall be clean: from all your filthiness, and from all your idols, will I cleanse you. (Eze 36:25 KJV)
And again here:
23 Neither shall they defile themselves any more with their idols, nor with their detestable things, nor with any of their transgressions: but I will save them out of all their dwellingplaces, wherein they have sinned, and will cleanse them: so shall they be my people, and I will be their God.
And Paul acknowledged that this had indeed been fulfilled. After strongly rejecting the sin of the unbeliever in the passage quoted above, he writes:
11 And such were some of you: but ye are washed, but ye are sanctified, but ye are justified in the name of the Lord Jesus, and by the Spirit of our God (1 Cor. 6:11).
But do not allow the grace of God to distort the Bible’s teaching on the horrors of sin. God’s grace is for those who acknowledge the filthiness of sin, not for those who continue to live in sin that “grace may abound”.
Do not let false views of Christian liberty distort the damnable sin of drunkenness. Christian liberty sets us free from bondage; it never places us back into it.
And do not ever think that words are the same as repentance. God does not desire our words of sorrow; our further lies and self-pity. He desires to save us from our misery by acknowledging the truth. Turn from your ungodly ways and live, says the Lord God. Repentance is not saying “I’m sorry”. Repentance is a hatred of sin, turning from it more and more as hateful to God, and at the same time, turning to the living God, seeking to please Him in all things.
It is better to renounce all creatures than to do the least thing against the will of our Father in Heaven.
Young people, as you head off to college, please remember this. Drunkenness is now expected behavior. But you are treading on very dangerous ground. Do not be partakers with them, for because of this the wrath of God is coming on the children of disobedience. It isn’t a game; it isn’t fun; it isn’t something to trifle with.
Sin should fill the hearts of God’s people with abhorrence and horror.
If you are caught in this sin, there is only one way to freedom, and it is offered to you freely by God. Repent. Turn from it with confession and abhorrence and turn to Christ, your only savior. Medical help might be helpful in getting you through the physical effects, but it can never take the place of repentance. It is not enough to clean the outside of the cup; repentance must go to the heart.
Repentance is always a recognition of the truth of scripture. Therefore true repentance always acknowledges this hard fact: if you are in bondage to alcohol, you are not a Christian. It does no good to fool yourself on this count, for God is not fooled. The only solid ground on which to place our assurance is in the word of God, not in our feelings, our upbringing, or our assent to certain orthodox doctrines. The word of God says that a drunkard will not inherit the kingdom of God.
Before we can know the comfort of our redemption, we must first know the how great our sin and misery is (Heidelberg 2). My duty as a shepherd of God’s people is to declare what God has said. It is both unloving and untrue for me to say otherwise. I cannot stand on the tower and refuse to sound a warning. There can be no hope of the gospel without a true recognition of the enormity of sin.