Saturday, September 27, 2014

The Bible and Alcohol: Why I Don’t Drink

Before I was saved, I drank more than I should have. Too often, I yielded to the temptation to indulge in Happy Hour with dinner out, or to drink at a social gathering when I felt ill at ease, or to have a nightcap when work had been particularly stressful.

When I was saved by trusting in the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus Christ (1 Corinthians 15:4) as the only Way to Heaven (John 14:6), I did not yet belong to a church that provided solid Bible teaching or that helped a babe in Christ on their Christian walk. 

Nonetheless, I began reading through the Bible starting at the beginning. There was much that I didn’t understand, but it struck me that people whom God had appointed for His service were warned not to drink any alcohol (Daniel 1:8;15-17; Judges 13: 4,5, 7.14 Luke 1:15).

So, hoping that God would also use me to serve Him, I stopped drinking altogether – until I came to the New Testament and read about the wedding at Cana, where Jesus changed water into wine (John 2: 9-11). Surely, I reasoned, if Jesus did this, He must have thought drinking alcohol, or at least wine, was a good thing.

All the passages I had read thus far made it clear that drunkenness was wrong, but where was the harm in celebrating a joyous occasion, or even a nice dinner, with a single glass of wine? So I started drinking again, small amounts of wine at first, but then I found that I wanted to return to my old habits.

Thankfully, I continued my Bible reading and reached Paul’s warning not to be filled with wine, but with the Holy Spirit (Ephesians 5:15-19). I wanted to be a new creature in Christ (2 Corinthians 5:17), which I learned was possible only by dying to self (1 Corinthians 15:31), to fleshly desires and to the old man or sin nature (Romans 8:1-13). I wanted to yield to the Holy Spirit now living within me (2 Corinthians 1:22; Ephesians 1:13; 4:30);, and I had the clear sense that I could not be under the influence of alcohol or mind-altering substances and following Holy Spirit guidance at the same time.

So once again, I stopped drinking, and I have not had an alcoholic beverage since, nor has my husband, who was saved a few months after I was. We had a confirmation of our decision for abstaining completely from alcohol when we attended a dinner party with several of our unsaved friends. 

As their first glass of wine led to a steady stream of drinking, we were shocked to watch the progressive deterioration in their powers of reason, memory, language, awareness, and social interaction. We wondered if we were equally impaired when we drank in the past, and concluded that we were, but that our progressive intoxication prevented us from realizing it.

Yet many who say they are born-again Christians do drink, believing that it is justified by their Christian liberty (2 Corinthians 3:17). They claim that they can have one or two drinks without it affecting their mind or their Christian testimony, and they cite several Bible verses that appear to approve of drinking alcohol in moderation.

As we move into the season of tailgate parties, Thanksgiving and Christmas celebrations, where we are likely to encounter social drinking by unsaved friends as well as by some Christians, I believe it is important for us to think through our position on this subject, and to have it firmly rooted in Scripture.

To summarize my main reasons for not drinking:

--I can’t be Spirit-filled and filled with spirits at the same time (Ephesians 5: 15-19).

--Alcohol-drinking could damage my testimony, both with unsaved people who closely watch Christians to see if they are hypocrites and really no different from the world, and with fellow Christians who believe that drinking alcohol is wrong for the born-again believer. Christian liberty is freedom from legalism, but it is not an excuse to sin (Romans 6:15; 1 Corinthians 10:23).

--Alcohol-drinking could be a stumbling block (Romans 14:13-16), or provocation to sin, for a babe in Christ (Habakkuk 2:15-16), if they were to see me have a drink and were to assume that they could drink in excess.

--Alcohol-drinking could be a stumbling block to anyone with a genetic vulnerability to alcoholism, if they were to see me have a drink and were to assume that they could have one too without fear of the consequences.

--I am a daughter of the King (Romans 8:16), i.e., royalty, and the Bible warns royalty not to drink at all, for it could cloud their judgment (Proverbs 31:4-5).

--Those set apart for special service to God were warned not to drink at all, and I too want to be consecrated for such service (Daniel 1:8;15-17; Judges 13: 4,5, 7.14 Luke 1:15).

--Alcohol is a nerve toxin that kills brain and nerve cells in a dose-dependent fashion. My body, and especially my brain, is the temple of the Holy Spirit, and I don’t want to damage or pollute it in any way (I Corinthians 3:16-17; 6:19-20; Romans 12:1; 1 Thessalonians 4:1-8

---Because alcohol clouds the judgment, having the first drink would prevent me from realizing that a second or third drink would make me drunk.

--Drunkenness is a sin (I Corinthians 6: 9-10; Galatians 5:16- 25) that has severe consequences (Proverbs 23::20-21) and that leads to other sins (Genesis 9: 20-25; 19: 32- 33; Proverbs 20:1-2; 23: 29-35). If I never drink, I will never be drunk.

--Christ could return at any moment, and I need to be sober to be aware of the signs of the times and to avoid falling into Satan’s traps (Luke 12:42-48; 1 Thessalonians 5:5-8; John 10:10, 1 Peter 5:8)

--When I was a medical intern and resident, which was a long time before I was saved, I never drank when I was on call, because I realized that even a single drink could diminish my reasoning and increase the likelihood of a mistake that might harm a patient.  As a born-again Christian, I am always “on call” for God, because I never know when He might open the door to a witness or ministry opportunity. If I have had even a single drink, I cannot fully yield to the Spirit, and that opportunity would be lost or bungled because I would be under the influence of alcohol instead.

Next week, I’ll begin looking in more depth at various arguments Christians use for and against “social” drinking. 

In the meantime, let’s consider a quote from Billy Sunday, early 20th century evangelist:

"The saloon is a liar. It promises good cheer and sends sorrow. It promises prosperity and sends adversity. It promises happiness and sends misery.... It is God's worst enemy and the devil's best friend."  

© 2014 Laurie Collett
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Saturday, September 20, 2014

Did God Choose Who Would Be Saved?

As we saw last week, God created us not to be like dolls, but to have free will so that we could choose to be His friends. Because God has perfect knowledge of all things, past, present and future (Psalm 139:1-6), the topic of man’s free will always brings up the question of how God can know who will be saved, and who will reject His freely given offer of salvation, without interfering with that choice. That is a mystery we will not fully understand until we reach glory (1 Corinthians 2:7; Ephesians 1:9; Colossians 1:27).

Nonetheless, let me offer an imperfect example by way of illustration. After 25 years of marriage, I know at least some of my husband Richard’s preferences rather well. I can therefore reasonably accurately predict that if he had an uninterrupted evening of television programming to watch by himself, he would choose a live airing of a Tampa Bay Lightning hockey game over a rerun of a “chick flick.” If he were to make that choice, it would not be due to my influencing his decision in any way, even though I had correctly foretold the outcome.

My knowledge of my husband is incomplete, for only God knows the hearts (Deuteronomy 8:2; 13:3; 1 Chronicles 28:9; Psalm 44:21; 139:23, etc.). Yet in His perfect knowledge, He has known from the beginning of time who would be saved by placing their faith in the death, burial and resurrection of His Son (1 Corinthians 15:1-4) as the only Way to Heaven (John 14:6), and who would be lost and doomed to hell by not believing in Him (John 3:18), instead trusting in their own good works or worldly “wisdom” (Luke 16:15).

Did God choose who is to be saved and who will be doomed? Some believe that is the case, citing Ephesians 1, which says “he hath chosen us in Him before the foundation of the world,” and “He predestinated us unto the adoption of children by Jesus Christ to Himself (v. 4,5). A similar verse is 2 Thessalonians 2:13, which says that “God hath from the beginning chosen you to salvation through sanctification of the Spirit and belief of the truth.”

Yet if God chose some to be saved and others to be damned, that would contradict Peter’s assertion that God is “not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance” (2 Peter 3:9). It also would be out of character for God, Who is love (1 John 4:8), to decide to send some of His creatures to hell before they even come on the earthly scene and have the opportunity to choose salvation. Paul, also writing under Holy Spirit inspiration, also states that God wants “all men to be saved, and to come unto the knowledge of the truth” (1 Timothy 2:4).

Considering the bulk of Scripture in context (2 Timothy 3:16), and rightly dividing the Word of truth (2 Timothy 2:15), I believe we should therefore conclude that God created us with free will in His image (Genesis 1:26-27), and that He has known eternally who would trust Christ and who would reject Him, without interfering with that choice. Paul always addresses believers rather than the unsaved, so when he refers to “us,” or “you” he speaks of the church, or believers in Jesus Christ as their Lord and Savior (1 Corinthians 1:2). 

In 2 Thessalonians 2:13, which says that “God hath from the beginning chosen you to salvation through sanctification of the Spirit and belief of the truth,” I believe that the choice made by God was not who would be saved, but the means of salvation. Namely, it is the work of the Holy Spirit to indwell us and make us holy with Christ’s righteousness at the moment we realize the truth that we are sinners (Romans 3:23) and that Jesus died and rose again to save us (1 Corinthians 15:1-4).

I believe that the “predestination” Paul describes in Ephesians 1 refers not to whom will be saved, but to what is the predetermined destiny for those who will be saved. God the Father has blessed us (believers) with all spiritual blessings (v. 3) “according as he hath chosen us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and without blame before him in love” (v. 4). In other words, God chose from the beginning of time that those who placed their faith in His Son would be sanctified, or made holy, (1 Corinthians 1:2,30; 6:11; Hebrews 10:29; 13:12) and justified (Acts 13:39; Romans 3:24-30), or freed from sin, by His shed blood (Ephesians 1:7; Romans 5:9)) and His righteousness.

It was for God’s pleasure that He “predestinated believers unto the adoption of children by Jesus Christ to himself” (Ephesians 1: 5). In other words, He determined ahead of time that believers in Jesus Christ would become children of God and joint heirs with Christ (v. 11), sealed by His Spirit (v. 13) until He redeems us completely by giving us a glorified body like that of Christ to enjoy throughout eternity (v. 14;  Romans 8:29).

God knew from the beginning of time who would trust His Son, and He predetermined their destiny, which is to be like Christ, to rise from death to eternal life, to be called by the Holy Spirit, to be justified by the imputed righteousness of Jesus Christ, and to live in His glory (Romans 8:29-30).

Because God knew in advance who would be saved, He also predetermined a unique plan and purpose for every believer. He “saved us, and called us with an holy calling, not according to our works, but according to his own purpose and grace, which was given us in Christ Jesus before the world began” (2 Timothy 1:9).

Does this unique, perfect plan for each of us negate our free will? No, because at every step along the way, we have the choice to accept or reject what He would have us do. Sadly, therefore, we are unlikely to completely realize His preordained purpose, but we will come closer if we consistently yield to the Spirit Who guides us, rather than to our sin nature leading us astray (1 Corinthians 15:31; Romans 7:14-25; Ephesians 4:22-32).

Abraham would not have become the father of the great Hebrew nation giving rise to Jesus Christ had he not taken that first step of faith toward the Promised Land (Genesis 12:1-4) or had he not been willing to sacrifice Isaac when God commanded it (Genesis 22). Yet there is hope for each of us, for even Abraham stumbled many times, making wrong choices along the way (Genesis 12:11-13; 16:2; 20:2-3). Through it all, Abraham trusted God, and he was saved because his faith was accounted to him for righteousness (Romans 4:9-16; Galatians 3:7-14; Hebrews 11:8,17).

I believe that when we face Christ at the judgment seat of believers, we will not have to account for our sins, which are paid for in full by His shed blood (Romans 3:25; 1 John 2:2). Rather, we will be confronted with every idle word we have spoken (Matthew 12:36), every missed opportunity He offered us, and every door He opened that we declined to walk through (2 Corinthians 5:10).

Adam’s rebellion (Genesis 3) came as no surprise to God, Who has complete foreknowledge of all things. From the beginning of time, He also knew that His solution to Adam’s sin was His plan of salvation through His Son Jesus Christ, God taking on human flesh (John 1:14) to be the perfect, sinless sacrifice Whose suffering could reconcile sinful man to Holy God (Colossians 1:20).

Praise God that when He sees believers, He no longer sees our sin, but only the perfect righteousness of His Son, with which we are clothed (Isaiah 61:10) once we place our faith in Him! May we use the God-given blessing of our free will to make the right choices, in accordance with His perfect plan (Jeremiah 29:11) for our lives!

© 2014 Laurie Collett
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