Wine and The Principles of Grace
God did not outright forbid wine in the Scriptures, and there were good reasons for that. In the days in which the Scriptures were written, wine was needed. It was needed as a disinfectant, a painkiller, and a water purifier. Besides, grape juice naturally fermented and there was no simple way of preventing it from happening. Thus, God did not forbid wine, but He DID give many warnings and regulations, as seen in the previous section. Even in the days when it was necessary to use wine, Solomon warned of its danger and states that it bites like a poisonous snake (Prov.23:32). Evidently Solomon believed that great caution needed to be employed when considering the subject of wine.
The Scriptures also give many principles of grace that serve as TESTS to discern if a practice is holy or unholy for all future generations of believers. The Bible writers had no way of knowing (apart from Divine revelation) that the process of distillation would be invented and would greatly increase the alcoholic content in drinks. Nor could they have known what a huge problem alcoholism would become in modern society. They could never have predicted such massive loss of life on our highways due to alcohol related auto accidents. They did not realize how it affected the liver and how addicting it would become to millions. Drugs and alcohol were not nearly the menaces in their society that they are in ours. Nevertheless, they knew enough to give Bible readers in future generations plenty of food for thought. Many principles were recorded for us in the New Testament designed to help believers in future generations make wise and holy decisions on issues wholly unknown and unknowable to the Bible writers. What they recorded is “all we need for life and godliness” (II Pet. 1:3). Ultimately, each believer must come to his/her own conclusions and convictions with respect to drinking strong drink based upon whether or not they pass the test of the principles of grace. It is the view of this author that strong drink does NOT pass the test.
Consider the following questions and Scripture passages. PROVE for yourself (put to the test) whether drinking alcohol is acceptable to the Lord or not (Eph. 5:10). Be honest.
- Can I do this in genuine faith?
Let every man be fully persuaded in his own mind. (Rom.14:5)
And he that doubteth is damned if he eat, because he eateth not of faith: for whatsoever is not of faith is sin. (Rom.14:23)
Can the informed believer partake of alcohol in good conscience and in good faith – in spite of all the warnings and woes which God Himself has placed upon it? It is faith to drink a beverage that weakens moral resolve, helps remove healthy inhibitions, and causes the one drinking to “behold strange women” and “utter perverse things” (Prov.23:33)? Is that faith or is it presumption to say (in spite of God’s warnings), “I can handle it” (I Cor. 10:12).
Are you fully persuaded that it is pleasing to the Lord to drink a beverage that God has warned us about so often in His Word? God requires that the heart be FULLY persuaded. Have not the warnings from Scripture raised at least a shadow of doubt? If there is a shadow of doubt, the case is over, for whatsoever is not of faith is sin.
- Is this going to help or hinder me in the Christian life?
All things are lawful for me, but all things are not expedient: all things are lawful for me, but all things edify not. (I Cor.10:23)
Know ye not that they which run in a race run all, but one receiveth the prize? So run, that ye may obtain. And every man that striveth for the mastery is temperate in all things. (I Cor.9:24-25)
Drinking alcohol is “lawful” in the sense that there is no specific law prohibiting it. Therefore, it must be judged according to the principles of grace in order to determine if it falls into the category of holy or unholy. If it does not help us “run the race”, then it is a hindrance… a weight to be rejected. The question is, does it edify? Will it help me run the race (live the Christian life)?
Briefly review the following Scriptures which speak of the effects of alcohol:
- Prov. 23:33 – Thine eyes shall behold strange women, and thine heart shall utter perverse things.
- Isa. 28:7 – But they also have erred through wine, and through strong drink are out of the way…
- Prov. 31:5 – Lest they drink, and forget the law, and pervert the judgment of any of the afflicted.
- Hos.4:11 – Whoredom and wine and new wine take away the heart.
- Luke 21:34 – And take heed to yourselves, lest at any time your hearts be overcharged with surfeiting, and drunkenness, and cares of this life, and so that day come upon you unawares.
Can we honestly say that a beverage that causes us to forget God’s Word will HELP us live the Christian life? Knowing the evil effect of alcohol on our heart, our mind, and our will, can we honestly affirm it as good for our spiritual life?
- Will it bring me under its power?
All things are lawful unto me, but all things are not expedient: all things are lawful for me, but I will not be brought under the power of any. (I Cor.6:12)
But I keep under my body, and bring it into subjection: lest that by any means, when I have preached to others, I myself should be a castaway. (I Cor.9:27)
Wherefore let him that thinketh he standeth take heed lest he fall. (I Cor.10:12)
According to an Encarta encyclopedia article, nearly 15 million people in in the United States are problem drinkers. Statistically, men are three times more likely to than women to become alcoholics. And things are not improving. Over the past thirty years, alcohol consumption has nearly doubled in Japan. In Russia, 40 % of men and 17% of women are alcoholics!
The problem of alcohol addiction is FAR worse in modern societies than it ever was in Bible times. Can you say for sure that YOU will not become an alcoholic? Can you say for sure that alcohol will never take control of your life? You can if you choose not to take the first drink. Total abstinence is the very safest policy. It is the only guarantee that you will not become one of the millions whose lives are presently being ruined by alcohol. It is the only guarantee that you will have that your family will not be dragged through the horrors of living with an alcoholic. Since statistics tell us that one in ten drinkers becomes a problem drinker, your chances of becoming a problem drinker are quite high. The chance is ZERO if you choose not to drink.
Think of the choice in terms of John Bunyun’s wonderful allegory, Pilgrim’s Progress. Imagine young Christian coming to a fork in the road. The signpost to the left (Drinker’s Lane) promises all who enter lots of fun for the first few miles, but a one in ten chance of ending up captured and tortured by the Beast of Alcohol. The signpost on the right (Teetotaler’s Way) offers joy and freedom with no chance of being captured by the beast. Which way would Lady Wisdom suggest he take? (Read Proverbs 8)
Alcohol DOES bring men under its power. God has told us this clearly in His Word. Consider the words of Proverbs 23:35b. After describing how alcohol makes a man sick, causes contentions, sorrow, and wounds, causes him to sin with his eyes and his heart, the author then states the response of one who is under its control: “I will seek it yet again.” No matter how much grief and misery it causes for the one overpowered by it, the one under its grip will seek it again. He has no choice. He has been bitten by the serpent (captured by the beast) and is under its power. One who is under the influence of alcohol is NOT under the influence of the Holy Spirit (Eph. 5:18).
Will alcohol bring YOU under its power if you choose to drink? No one knows for sure, but your chances are not good of escaping this beast. Are you willing to take a one in ten chance of ruining your walk with the Lord? Would you pull the trigger on a loaded pistol pointed at your head if there were nine blanks and one real bullet? Would you play Russian Roulette with your Christian life?
- Are my motives pure?
For, brethren, ye have been called unto liberty; only use not liberty for an occasion to the flesh, but by love serve one another. (Gal.5:13)
As free, and not using your liberty for a cloke of maliciousness, but as the servants of God. (I Pet.2:16)
One of the most poignant questions to ask ourselves is “WHY do we want to drink?” Are we afraid of being different from the world? If so, our motives are wrong (Rom. 12:2; James 4:4). Is our love for the sensual pleasure (the taste and the euphoric feeling) more important to us than holiness? Are we willing to sacrifice personal holiness on the altar of personal pleasure? If so, our motives are wrong (II Tim.3:4-5). Do we drink so as not to offend our host, who offers us a drink? It is good to seek not to offend (I Cor. 10:32), but how would you respond if he offered you a cigarette? What would you do if he offered you a joint of marijuana? What do you do if your host starts telling off colored jokes? We should do all we can to avoid offending the unbeliever, but there are times when offence it is unavoidable. When a cigarette or a drink is offered, it is not necessary to make a scene over the issue or to be obnoxious about it. A simple, “No thank you” should suffice. When that occurs, most hosts will be extremely understanding and will not be offended. More often than not the concern about “offending the host” is but a smokescreen used by carnal believers to cover the fact that (deep down inside) they really WANT to drink and to be like everybody else. This is the essence of worldliness: “that we also may be like all the nations” (I Sam.8:20). The Lord knows our hearts.
Could it be that our real motive is that we are afraid to stand out in a crowd? Do we cave in to peer pressure? Is it the sensual delight and warm feeling alcohol brings that is our real motivator? Do we secretly love that loose feeling of being uninhibited and free from restraint? Is it a secret escape from the straight and narrow way?
Alcohol is a drug. It comes in liquid form and many love its taste. If it came in the form of a pill, or something to smoke, would we still choose to partake of this drug? If alcohol were a pill and God’s Word warned about the dangers of this pill repeatedly, (it makes you sick; it causes you to utter perverse things; it takes away the heart; etc.) would we still choose to take it? Why would a believer choose to drink? Ask yourself that question. Is my motive genuinely PURE before the Lord?
“For the word of God is quick, and powerful, and sharper than any twoedged sword, piercing even to the dividing asunder of soul and spirit, and of the joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart. Neither is there any creature that is not manifest in his sight: but all things are naked and opened unto the eyes of him with whom we have to do” (Heb. 4:12-13).
- Will this be a stumblingblock to my brother?
Let us not therefore judge one another any more: but judge this rather, that no man put a stumblingblock or an occasion to fall in his brother’s way. (Rom.14:13)
For meat destroy not the work of God. All things indeed are pure; but it is evil for that man who eateth with offence. It is good neither to eat flesh, nor to drink wine, nor any thing whereby thy brother stumbleth, or is offended, or is made weak. (Rom.14:20-21)
But take heed lest by any means this liberty of yours become a stumblingblock to them that are weak. (I Cor.8:9)
Wherefore, if meat make my brother to offend, I will eat no flesh while the world standeth, lest I make my brother to offend. (I Cor.8:13)
Give none offence, neither to the Jews, nor to the Gentiles, nor to the church of God: (I Cor.10:32)
OK – so you can drink socially and not become addicted. You say it does not adversely affect your life or your walk with the Lord. Of the one in ten drinkers who become problem drinkers, you escaped the bullet. What about the other nine? One of them will be hit by the bullet. It may be a young believer who sees you drink and hears how it has not adversely affected you – so he tries it. Can you guarantee that he will not be hit by the bullet? People are watching us as believers. Young believers are looking up to older believers for guidance and examples of “how to live the life” – and they will follow your lead. Your testimony as a believer has an effect on more people than you might think.
Alcohol (perhaps more than any other issue under the sun) has the effect of being a stumblingblock. Just suppose that you are able to drink wine as Jesus did (mixed with between 3-10 parts water – strong drink or unmixed wine was forbidden!) without adverse affects. If another believer who is not able to handle alcohol follows your lead and sins as a result, God holds YOU responsible in part for wounding their conscience (I Cor. 8:11-12). Liberty is a wonderful gift, but when the exercise of that liberty harms a brother in the Lord, it should laid aside (I Cor. 8:13).
Alcohol DOES cause countless men to stumble (literally and spiritually). It is the view of this author that alcohol does NOT pass this test. Even if you think you can handle it (II Cor. 10:12), it is a stumblingblock to countless others. We do not have the liberty to be a stumblingblock to our brothers (Rom. 14:13). Demanding one’s “rights” (knowing that it will be a stumblingblock to others) is immoral, selfish, arrogant, cruel, defiant, unloving, ungracious, and WRONG.
- Will this affect my testimony for Christ? What will others think of Christ by my action?
Let not then your good be evil spoken of. (Rom.14:16)
Provide things honest in the sight of all men. (Rom.12:17)
Providing for honest things, not only in the sight of the Lord, but also in the sight of men. (II Cor.8:21)
Abstain from all appearance of evil. (I Thess.5:22)
It is not just the conservative Christian who is a teetotaler. Not everyone in the world is a drinker. Many unbelievers have thoughtfully pondered the subject. While they have not viewed the subject from a spiritual perspective, many of the preceding questions have been asked by unsaved men from a moral perspective. (Can I drink in good conscience? Will my actions hurt others? Is it good for me to drink? Will it bring me under its power?) They have weighed the benefits against the risks. They have seen the damage that it has done. They have seen the car accidents on the highways. They are aware of how young people follow the examples of older folks. They know people whose lives were ruined. They are not willing to take the chance of becoming another “statistic.” Many of these unsaved folks have seen first hand the awful tragedy that follows in the wake of an alcoholic because they have a close family member who is “hooked”, or perhaps because one of their own children was killed by a drunk driver. The statistics of alcohol abuse only cover the tip of the iceberg. For every one statistic there are dozens of other friends, co-workers, family members, classmates, and spouses who have had to live with the ugly consequences of alcohol abuse. Many of these unsaved folks have learned to hate alcohol and have concluded that it is foolish to drink at all. Sometimes the “the children of this world are in their generation wiser than the children of light” (Luke 16:8).
There are many unsaved people who EXPECT that the one who claims the name of Christ will have the wisdom to draw the same conclusion. Many are shocked to see a Christian take a drink. Millions of unsaved folks expect the believer to abstain from strong drink.
Christians drinking strong drink (in an age when it is no longer necessary) blurs the line of demarcation between light and darkness, holy and unholy. At best it sends a confusing message; at worst it offends many gentiles (I Cor. 10:32). The world deserves a clearer witness than that. The believer’s testimony should be “blameless and harmless, the sons of God, without rebuke, in the midst of a crooked and perverse nation, among whom ye shine as lights in the world” (Phil. 2:15).
- Is this thing being done for God’s glory?
Whether therefore ye eat, or drink, or whatsoever ye do, do all to the glory of God. (I Cor.10:31)
Ultimately, this is what matters most. This gets down to motive once again. (See question #5) The overriding purpose in all we do as believers ought to be to bring glory and honor to the Lord Jesus Christ. This goal should have preeminence over all choices in life. Personal pleasure, taste, preferences, peer pressure, fear of man, desire to be accepted, and culture should all fade away into insignificance before the goal of bringing glory and honor of God.
Is God glorified by a believer being one of the guys and drinking beer to prove it, or by by the believer who is willing to be different and suffer reproach (James 4:4; Rom. 15:1-4)? Is God more glorified by self-indulgence or self-sacrifice (I Cor. 8:13)? Is God glorified by the believer demanding his right to drink or by the believer who is willing to lay aside the exercise of his rights for the good of others (Phil.2:4-11)?
- Would Jesus drink the strong drinks sold today? Would I feel comfortable drinking strong drink if He were standing next to me?
Let this mind be in you, which was also in Christ Jesus: (Phil.2:5)
Let every one of us please his neighbour for his good to edification. For even Christ pleased not himself; but, as it is written, The reproaches of them that reproached thee fell on me. (Rom.15:2-3)
Some would love to word the argument this way: “Would Jesus drink wine?” And they would quickly (but superficially) answer in a triumphant, “Yes He would and He did!” However, one should not confuse the strong drink that is drunk today with the wine mixed with between 3-10 parts water as drunk in Jewish society in Jesus’ day. It is not fair or honest to assume that what Jesus drank was the same beverage as is sold in liquor stores today. It was not. The beverage He drank was virtually a sub-alcoholic, water-wine mixture. He drank it out of necessity. He had no access to a supermarket with hundreds of beverages. The question (Would Jesus drink wine?) is misleading. The question should be worded, “Would Jesus drink strong drink?” Strong drink was NOT for kings (Prov.31:4-5) or for priests ministering in their sanctuary (Lev.10:8-9; Heb. 8:1-2). In light of all that the Scriptures say concerning strong drink, it is fair to conclude that Jesus (Prophet, Priest, and King) would avoid strong drink. It is not for kings, but for those who are perishing.
Could you in good conscience drink strong drink before the Lord KNOWING what the Bible says about strong drink?
- Will I have confidence giving an account of this action at the judgment seat of Christ?
But why dost thou judge thy brother? or why dost thou set at nought thy brother? for we shall all stand before the judgment seat of Christ. (Rom.14:10)
So then every one of us shall give account of himself to God. (Rom.14:12)
The thought of standing before the Lord to give account of everything done in our body (and to our body) is in a sense a two-edged sword. It will be a time of great rejoicing for that which was done for His glory UNDER THE INFLUENCE OF the Holy Spirit. But it will be a fearful thing to consider that a portion of our lives may be burned up as wood, hay, and stubble (I Cor. 3:11-17).
Consider BOTH possibilities in light of the Bema Seat: choosing to drink and choosing to abstain. Which choice makes you MOST confident before Christ? Would you be more confident choosing that which GUARANTEES safety (total abstinence) or by choosing that which gives us a one in ten chance of being brought under its power? Will you be more confident before Christ having made the choice that is risk free, or one that is risky? Will we be able to convince the Lord that we made the choice to drink because we concluded that it would be beneficial in running the race (Heb.12:1-2) and that it was spiritually edifying (I Cor. 10:23)? Will we be able to assure the Lord with certainty that our choice to drink strong drink did not become a stumblingblock to anyone in our circle of influence? Now is the time to think about these questions because one day “we shall all stand before the judgment seat of Christ” (I Cor. 14:10) and every one of us shall give account of himself to God” (Rom. 14:12). How much better is it to “have confidence, and not be ashamed before him” (I John 2:28b)!
Think on things above. Think in light of eternity. Think of Christ, His immanent return for His Bride, and our standing before Him to give account. These are the higher and nobler thoughts that should influence our decisions.
Every believer needs to examine these issues for him or her self. Put alcohol to the test. This author concludes that alcohol does not pass the test and that the right decision is total abstinence. To strong drink we cry out, “TEKEL!” “Thou art weighed in the balances, and art found wanting” (Dan. 5:27).
Some believers will attempt to ridicule the call for total abstinence by attempting to point out perceived inconsistencies. The argument is often presented along these lines: “Well, coffee is not good for you either. It’s addictive too. Are you suggesting that it’s wrong to drink coffee?” To answer that, consider the following:
- Is coffee really addictive in the sense that alcohol is?
- How many people become incapacitated and unable to go to work because they drink coffee?
- How many hospitals have “coffee wards” next to the detox units?
- How many auto accidents per year are attributed to coffee drinking?
- How many marriages are broken up because of excessive coffee drinking?
- What percentage of the homeless who are living in city parks are there because of drinking coffee? (How many because of alcohol?)
- How many wives and children are beaten because the husband has been out drinking coffee all night?
- Where do you think more fights break out on Friday nights, in the local Starbucks café or in the East Street Tequila Bar? (tavernfor our West Coast friends).
- How many cases of cirrhosis of the liver are attributed to coffee?
- How many men and women have lost their jobs and ruined their careers because they were chronic coffee drinkers?
- How many men and women end up sleeping on skid row in cardboard boxes in mid January in vomit soaked clothes because of coffee addiction?
- If the coffee “addict” doesn’t get his “fix” he may end up with an annoying headache. But the alcoholic who doesn’t get his drink is incapacitated, unable to function, could experience delirium tremens (drunken tremors), and may require weeks in a rehab.
- Is it really honest to compare coffee and alcohol this way? It can hardly be viewed as a “parallel” to alcohol (Prov.26:7).