A good working definition of legalism, written about at length here, is this:
- Elevation of rules over relationship
- Creating sins that aren’t in the Bible
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Jesus didn’t actually talk about abstaining from alcohol, but he did talk about weighing people down with heavy burdens. This is what legalism does—it gives people guilt for breaking rules that man, not God, put into place.
Believing that alcohol is evil is fine. Debating other Christians about alcohol is fine. But pushing a treatise against wine for the whole world to see now makes you the Anti-Wine Christian and not the God Loves You Christian, and Jesus only told us to be one of those things.
What’s more, if you’re going to challenge the beliefs of other Christians, at least have the temerity to be up front about it. Don’t be that friend who begins with “now this is what I believe” and then immediately pivots into passive-aggressively hectoring you for not agreeing.
Anyway, this thing isn’t going to respond to itself. Let’s go through it piece by piece:
(I am a Christian and I don’t drink. I am also a pastor and ex-alcoholic.)
Cool. Makes sense. Ex-alcoholics (or alcoholics in recovery, but let’s not debate semantics) can’t drink because they would relapse. Let’s end it right there. Good article, no need to keep…
(I need to make that disclaimer right up front. Although it makes me biased, it also makes me an expert on this hotly debated issue.)
No it doesn’t. An alcoholic is someone who has lost the ability to drink in moderation. An alcoholic is the exact opposite of an expert in moderate drinking.
(Some of the worst “shudder moments” of my life have been under the influence, and as a pastor, some of the worst “shudder moments” I have witnessed in the lives of others have been because of alcohol. You have come too late to tell me it’s God’s best for a Christian to drink.)
Who is coming to say that?
(We are living in a church age where drinking has become “hipster” for some. Christian young adults post pictures of their signature drink on Facebook. Middle-aged Christian women name drop their favorite brand of Pinot Grigio to impress their wine snob friends. Churches send direct-mail postcards that read, “Give our church a shot!” featuring an edgy shot glass graphic. Even some pastors drink. Not this one.)
Mmm, hot take. Are any of those things actually sins though? If they are, why?
(I stopped drinking when I became a Christian 26 years ago. No one told me to abstain. I just knew it would be contradictory and self-defeating to my relationship with Christ. I had given my life to follow Jesus and nothing was going to hinder my walk. For me, it was a no-brainer.)
I’m not sure that’s how overcoming alcoholism typically works, but okay.
(This article is not a theological defense on the topic of Christians and alcohol (another article for another time), but it is a heartfelt plea. I humbly ask you to table any knee jerk, pro-alcohol, fight-for-my-right-to-drink arguments that you have ever heard, or made, and prayerfully consider this list.)
Now I’m just a simple Alabama boy writing on this interweb, but when somebody starts off their Christian thinkpiece by saying there won’t be any theology in it so don’t question or disagree with it, I…hmm. This might be a harbinger of memes to come.
(50 reasons why I don’t drink: )
(1. I can’t be sober-minded if I’m not sober.)
Wait, who is advocating drunkenness?
(2. Alcohol has an assignment: destruction.)
Someone should have told Jesus before he changed all that water to wine and killed all those people at the wedding.
(3. Alcohol is a depressant. Anything that depresses should be avoided at all costs.)
Yeah but that would also include relationships, sports, history, books, tv, movies, life itself, and also this article.
(4. I don’t want to make my brother or sister stumble in the name of exercising my “Christian liberties.” My choice to drink could lead to someone’s demise.)
Who is going to stumble if they see a Christian having a drink? This is a serious question. Whose faith is so fragile that seeing another Christian having a sip of wine will destroy their relationship to God?
(5. Alcohol skews my judgment.)
That’s generally what happens to alcoholics.
(6. Alcohol leaves me worse, not better.)
This is also generally what happens to alcoholics.
(7. What I do in moderation, my children will do in excess.)
Wait, what? Says who?
(8. Even the unsaved know I shouldn’t drink. Bible in one hand, beer in the other—any lost person could point this out as a confusing contradiction.)
The unsaved people I know would be more offended by an article of 50 reasons why wine is a sin.
(9. Alcohol doesn’t bring others closer to the Lord when they see me drinking, but further away.)
It is not a beverage’s job to bring others closer to the Lord.
(10. Alcohol doesn’t bring me closer to the Lord when I drink, but further away.)
It is not a beverage’s job to bring a person closer to the Lord.
(11. I want to be fully awake and ready for the return of Christ, not drowsy, sluggish and fuzzy.)
I have kids. I’m going to be sluggish either way.
(12. Show me a family for whom alcohol has made a positive difference in their lives. You won’t be able to.)
Sure. Here is my family:
That’s my wife Kendra on the right. She works evenings and sometimes comes home at 10 or 11pm. She has a hard time winding down and going to bed, so sometimes she has a glass of wine to help her relax.
(13. I have never heard anyone say, “Wow, that gin and tonic made me feel so Christlike!”)
(14. I want to avoid all appearances of evil.)
(15. Alcohol makes it much harder for me to practice the fruit of self-control.)
That is a sign of drunkenness. Not everyone who drinks gets drunk.
(16. Alcohol causes me to lose my filter.)
Again, this is a sign of drunkenness. Not everyone who drinks gets drunk.
(17. Alcohol is a legal mind-altering drug.)
That is a very broad term. Aspirin is a mind-altering drug.
(18. Alcohol is addictive.)
It can be. That’s why non-alcoholics drink it in moderation.
(19. Alcohol is a numbing agent for pain and sorrow only Jesus can heal.)
Did Jesus say numbing agents were bad?
(20. Many regrets are associated with alcohol. (I can give you a whole bunch!)
Do I have to keep typing “This is a sign of drunkenness. Not everyone who drinks gets drunk” over and over again, or can I just start posting DC Talk videos instead?
(21. No one has ever said, “If only I had taken a drink, things wouldn’t have gotten out of control.”)
(22. Alcohol causes me to act in ways I normally wouldn’t.)
That is a sign of drunkenness.
(23. Alcohol kills brain cells.)
(24. Alcohol is a counterfeit and provides a false peace.)
Technically, everything other than Jesus would be a counterfeit, including whatever sense of holiness I might scrape together by not drinking.
(25. The Bible says that no drunkards will enter the kingdom of God. Being drunk starts with one drink. I don’t want to see how far outside the lines I can color when eternity is at stake.)
Eternity is not at stake over one drink.
(26. Alcohol is a waster—money, gifts and talents, destinies and so on.)
These things are a sign of drunkenness
(27. Alcohol leads to really bad behavior. It is a factor in 50 percent of violent crimes.)
(28. Alcohol distracts and derails you from living the victorious life for which Christ died.)
Even social drinking? How, exactly? Just a smidge of evidence would be helpful.
(29. Wisdom is the principle thing that I need to pursue at all cost; alcohol makes me stupid.)
Drinking until you are stupid is a sign of drunkenness
(30. Alcohol has ruined many, many marriages.)
Sure, but there’s also a lot of 15-year-old kids in youth group named Skyler who are here today because in 2000 their parents had a glass of wine and said what the heck, let’s roll the dice tonight and now Skyler is almost old enough to drive and anyway how could anyone hate Skylar, he plays bass in the youth praise band and he could totally play for Hillsong
(31. The only influence I should be “under” is God’s.)
No, really, you should hear his backup vocals on “How Great is Our God.” I’ve always thought he could sing lead, but the pastor’s son Trey plays acoustic guitar and leads the youth band. Nothing against Trey, but just because you play acoustic guitar doesn’t mean you’re the de facto leader. I mean, why couldn’t Skyler alternate singing lead on a couple of songs? Shouldn’t the praise band be a meritocracy? Anyway, I’m starting to think Wayne Jolley might not be on the up and up.
(32. The Bible tells me to be alert; alcohol delays my reaction time.)
That’s why I drink caffeine, which is also addictive, but still.
(33. If I don’t start drinking, I’ll never have to stop.)
This is technically true. I have nothing to add.
(34. Alcohol severely tarnishes my testimony.)
How so? Wait, never mind, I forgot we’re not supposed to question this article.
(35. Don’t want your teenagers to drink? Yep, same reasons apply to you.)
No, teenagers have a different set of rules because they are teenagers.
(36. God is holy; alcohol is not.)
God is holy; nothing else is. There, I fixed it.
(37. Alcohol and prayer don’t mix.)
By the author’s own admission, she gave up drinking when she became a Christian, so I’m not sure how she would know this.
(38. Alcohol and Bible study don’t mix.)
Again, not sure how the author would know this.
(39. Alcohol lowers my resolve to resist temptation.)
This is a sign of drunkenness. Not everyone who drinks gets drunk.
(40. Alcohol = Brokenness (broken lives, health, dreams and so on))
Sin = Brokenness. If alcohol was a sin it would say so in the Bible.
(41. When the world sees us drinking, it sends the message that Jesus isn’t enough.)
When the world sees us making up sins that aren’t in the Bible, it sends the message that Jesus isn’t enough.
(42. Moderate drinking? How about moderate pornography or moderate heroin use or moderate lying or moderate adultery?)
Those things are either against the law or against Scripture. Alcohol is neither.
(43. Christians are called to live a life of total surrender and separation from the world.)
Who gets to decide what that means? Does separation from the world include using the internet?
(44. Alcohol makes me forget. It can make me forget that I am married, that I am saved and so on.)
That is a sign of drunkenness. Not everyone who drinks gets drunk.
(45. “I don’t get drunk. I only have one or two drinks.” If they didn’t affect you, you would drink soda.)
I thought drunkenness was the enemy. Now we are the pleasure police. Pleasure is bad. In that case, why soda? If it didn’t affect you, you would drink water.
(46. I should never look to the glass or bottle for joy, which can only be found in the Lord Jesus Christ.)
The Bible doesn’t say that joy is found only in Jesus. In Romans 5 it says that joy can be found in our suffering. If it’s okay to find joy in horrible things it would seem that it’s okay to find joy in all kinds of things.
(47. Alcohol fills my mind with impure thoughts.)
The Bible says that impure thoughts come from within. In Mark 7 it says that evil comes from inside us, from our sinful nature.
(48. If it could hinder my faith walk or love walk or dishonor the lordship of Jesus Christ, I need to forsake it.)
Some might argue that legalism dishonors the lordship of Jesus Christ.
(49. Alcohol doesn’t help me run the race that Jesus has marked before me to finish with more accuracy. It does the polar opposite.)
It’s not a beverage’s job to help us run the race Jesus marked before us. Not even Gatorade would do that.
(50. For any argument that tries to justify Christian drinking, there are at least 50 other reasons not to. The writing is on the wall. It’s not God’s best for Christians to drink.)
No, the writing is in Scripture: we are commanded to avoid drunkenness, not to abstain from all alcohol. To suggest otherwise would be to implicate Jesus, Paul, the disciples, and millions of believers who drink alcohol with clear consciences. Surely there is more important work to be done.