Someone said to me a while ago:
“You’re a good Christian, aren’t you? I only found out recently we’re not supposed to get drunk.”
I wish I was quick-thinking enough to respond by saying that I don’t think there is really such a thing as a good Christian.
In Luke 18:19, Jesus said to someone who called him a good teacher “Why do you call me good? No one is good except God alone.”
And in Romans 3:10, the apostle Paul said “None is righteous, no, not one”.
Homer Simpson was absolutely right when he said “take a look at this Bible… everybody’s a sinner, except this guy.” (“this guy” being Jesus)
The whole point of Christianity is that we’re not good. We’re sinners. We’re a mess.
God made us in his image (Genesis 1:27), and God is love (1 John 4:8). We’re designed to love; God’s law is summarised as: “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind, and your neighbour as yourself.” (Luke 10:27)
Our failure to live up to this design and obey God’s law of love is what the Bible calls sin.
In our culture, the idea of “sin” has become a joke, but it’s really no laughing matter.
To briefly try to illustrate why offending God is not at all funny: If I were to swat a fly, most people wouldn’t care in the slightest. If I were to dropkick a puppy, many people would get very upset. How about if I were to hit a small child round the head with a baseball bat? Why are the reactions different? It depends on the value of the offended party. The puppy is considered more valuable than the fly, and the child more valuable than the puppy. The more valuable the being on the receiving end of the violence, the more serious it is. If we think about taking it up to a much higher level, to offences against the infinitely valuable God who created the universe, we start to get a little bit of an idea of how much of a problem it is that we offend him and disobey Him.
You may be a much better person than I am, but I know for certain that you are a sinner too. “If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us” (1 John 1:8). And since God is just (Romans 2:5-6), he needs to deal with our sin justly, which means us being cut off from him, i.e. death (Romans 6:23). Not a good situation to be in.
But there’s good news…
God wants to “show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness towards us in Christ Jesus.” (Ephesians 2:7), so he “shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us… while we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son” (Romans 5:8-10). Jesus died so that we could be restored to the loving relationship with God that we were designed for.
Importantly, the point of Christianity is not that we do certain things (or avoid doing certain things) to show God how good we are to try to make up for our sin (“by works of the law no human being will be justified in his sight” – Romans 3:20). The whole point is that God shows the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness towards us. It’s not about what we do; it’s what God’s already done for us.
Regarding getting drunk, I think it’s worth considering what Jesus said in Mark 7: “There is nothing outside a person that by going into him can defile him, but the things that come out of a person are what defile him… For from within, out of the heart of man, come evil thoughts…”
I’ve always found it a bit odd that people talk about alcohol as if it’s some kind of magic potion that causes people to do stupid things and makes life more fun.
As this article points out (and I think it should be required reading for everyone in the UK),
“In high doses, alcohol impairs our reaction times, muscle control, co-ordination, short-term memory, perceptual field, cognitive abilities and ability to speak clearly. But it does not cause us selectively to break specific social rules. It does not cause us to say, “Oi, what you lookin’ at?” and start punching each other. Nor does it cause us to say, “Hey babe, fancy a shag?” and start groping each other.
The effects of alcohol on behaviour are determined by cultural rules and norms, not by the chemical actions of ethanol.”
If you act like an idiot when drunk, it’s not the alcohol; it’s you. (No offence.) Similarly, if you enjoy yourself while drunk, it’s not the alcohol; it’s you.
Personally, I’ve never thought “I really want to get drunk, but I really shouldn’t because I’m a Christian.” I’ve never had the desire to get drunk. But that’s not because I’m a good Christian. It probably has more to do with the fact that I’m worried about my reputation; if I got drunk I might say or do something embarrassing that I later wished I hadn’t (actually, if that happened, it wouldn’t be the alcohol that caused it, but I guess I’ve been influenced by our culture’s expectations of the effects of alcohol too). It’s certainly more down to my own pride than me being concerned that if I had too much to drink it might lead to some sort of debauchery. So when you consider that God hates pride (1 Peter 5:5), actually my motivations for not drinking (the evil thoughts that come from within me) may be more offensive to God than someone who does have a few too many. If there is such a thing as a good Christian, the fact that I don’t get drunk doesn’t make me one.
In Psalm 104, God is praised for providing “wine to gladden the heart of man”, and Jesus’ first miracle was to produce more wine when the guests at a wedding had already drunk all that had originally been provided (John 2).
So I don’t think alcohol is in itself evil, or even the effect it has on our minds necessarily bad, but that’s not to say that getting hammered is a good idea…
In Ephesians 5:18, Paul said “do not get drunk on wine, which leads to debauchery.” So I think the reason Christians shouldn’t get drunk is that, although alcohol isn’t inherently sinful and doesn’t inevitably cause sinful behaviour, it seems fair to say that if we’re inebriated, we’re more likely to give in to temptation to act in ways that are inherently sinful. So for that reason I wouldn’t encourage getting drunk, but the point of this post is not to guilt-trip anyone into trying to live like a better Christian.
If it does motivate you to try to live in a way that pleases God more then great, but the main point, as suggested by the title, is that there’s no such thing as a good Christian. We’re all sinners, we’ve all turned away from God and lived in a way that’s offensive to Him, but if we turn back to Him and ask for forgiveness, He delights to show mercy to us (Micah 7:18).