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What About Alcohol?


Pastors Answer Frequently-Asked Questions

Is the use of alcohol a sin?

Of course we know that that cannot be the case. Christ Himself drank from “the fruit of the vine” (Matthew 26:29), and in the institution of His Supper, He attached His word of promise to the contents of the cup, which was wine. The Apostle Paul encouraged young Pastor Timothy to drink “a little wine” (I Timothy 5:23) to treat some of his physical ailments. There is no direct or implicit command anywhere in Holy Scripture, except in specific cases, which forbids the consumption of alcohol.

We do, however, find warnings concerning and prohibitions against getting drunk. Perhaps the clearest of these passages is Ephesians 5:18, which reads, “And do not be drunk with wine, in which is dissipation; but be filled with the Spirit.” While this verse does not forbid the consumption of wine, it does forbid getting drunk on wine. We know that this prohibition applies to all alcoholic drinks (not to mention many drugs) because Paul gives the reason why drunkenness is to be avoided. He says that in drunkenness is dissipation. 

What is dissipation?

Think of the sun’s effect on fog. As the sun rises in the sky and brings more warmth to the surface of the earth, that low-lying cloud slowly vanishes—it dissipates. Paul says that what the sun does to the fog is exactly what drunkenness does to man. It causes moral discernment to vanish. That, in turn, often leads to other sins of the flesh—sexual immorality, jealousy, fits of anger, marital discord, and other such things. How many marriages have been ripped apart because of a sin that came through drunkenness! How many fights and yelling matches have occurred because of drunkenness! How many foolish and hurtful words have been spoken by those who are drunk!

But it’s not just moral discernment that vanishes through drunkenness. So does spiritual discernment. According to sociologists, two of the top reasons people get drunk are to forget about unpleasant circumstances in life, and to feel more confident. But in either case, the drunkenness doesn’t actually alter reality. A person who drinks to rid himself of the pain of a broken relationship will still find that pain when he awakes. A person who drinks to boost his confidence won’t actually become more intelligent or more attractive when he’s drunk. Drunkenness just enables him to hold a false view of himself.

By contrast, Paul encourages us to be filled with the Spirit. There is no dissipation in being filled with the Holy Spirit, primarily because the Holy Spirit doesn’t give us a false view of ourselves or of our circumstances. The Holy Spirit, through the Word, reveals to us the reality of our state of affairs. He shows us plainly in the Law that our sinful nature has led to a broken relationship with our God. He then shows us plainly in the Gospel that our broken relationship has been mended through the suffering and death of Jesus Christ on the cross. This is not a false view of our lives, but the view held by God Himself. Drunkenness seeks a false joy, a “joy” apart from a right relationship with God. The Spirit gives us true joy in knowing that we are in a right relationship with God in Christ.

Drunkenness, like any other sin,
is a serious matter.

It’s a serious matter because one’s relationship with God is affected when one takes a false view of oneself and of
sin. It is a serious sin, but not an unforgivable sin. If you are struggling with this sin, or if you have further questions on this topic, be sure to speak with your pastor. He would welcome the opportunity to help you search God’s Word for answers, and he desires to announce God’s forgiveness to those who have fallen into this sin, and to assist them in any way he can.

Frank Gantt is pastor of St. Luke’s Evangelical Lutheran Church in Lemmon, South Dakota.