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Substance Abuse

Substanc Abuse.doc  

Tipsy?  High?

Drunkenness, society would have us think, is fun and deserving of a chuckle – as long as we don’t hurt anyone in the process.  So here’s my question: would drunkenness be sin?  Or getting high on pot or meth?

Forgive my naïveté.  Perhaps I should think we all know the answer.  But I’ll ask it anyway, because I encounter Christians who consider the occasional binge acceptable, and the resulting inebriation something to laugh at.  Yet I do not believe the Lord laughs along.  And I’d rather not laugh when He doesn’t.

Genesis 1

Why does God not laugh at drunkenness?  I invite you to consider with me God’s Word in Genesis 1.  God determined, says vs 26, to create man in His image, and authorized man to “rule over the fish of the sea and the birds of the air, over the livestock, over all the earth, and over all the creatures that move along the ground.”  Notice: in his office as image of God man was to be king over all creation; everything that God had created on the first 5 ½ days of creation was placed under man’s feet.  As image of God he was to rule over creation as the Creator would rule over His handiwork. 

We understand the consequence.  God’s mandate to Adam would make it wrong for Adam in Paradise to let animals or plants or minerals or any other created thing rule over him.  By the ordinance of God, all creation must be under the influence of man, and not man under the influence of any created thing.  To let a created thing rule over man –for however short or long a time– was a denial of the honorable place God had given to man as His image.  Imagine: the one created to image God lying drunk in a stupor, under the influence of a created thing!  How offensive to God!


Let the reader, older and younger, be aware that God maintains after the fall into sin the same standards He insisted on before the fall.  Under no circumstance was one “made … a little lower than God, and crowned … with glory and honor” (Ps 8:4f) to come under the influence of creation such that he lays sprawled in a gutter.  This is the point the Lord God drove home to His people when He established with them His covenant of grace at Mt Sinai.  Though the Lord was pleased to live among sinful humans in the tabernacle, He emphatically told Israel that the priests who would serve Him in the tabernacle were never to have any alcohol in their blood when they went about their priestly duties.  Said the Lord to Aaron: “You and your sons are not to drink wine whenever you go into the Tent of Meeting, or you will die.  This is a lasting ordinance for the generations to come” (Leviticus 10:8).  It was not that a drop (or glass) of alcohol made the priest incoherent; it was rather that Israel should know that they have a lofty position as ruler over creation, ruler under God – and that’s why the priests were never, not even in smallest measure, to reverse the order and place themselves under the influence of a created thing.

Israel, of course, was to take instruction from God’s command to the priests.  The people as a whole were to learn of the absolute need to maintain the order God had created; man is to exercise influence over creation, and not creation over man.  That is why Solomon, for example, repeatedly warned his sons (and all Israel) about the dangers of alcohol.  “Wine is a mocker and beer a brawler; whoever is led astray by them is not wise” (Proverbs 20:1).  “Do not join those who drink too much wine or gorge themselves on meat, for drunkards and gluttons become poor” (23:20f; see also 23:29-35).   The people were to learn from God’s command to the priest to maintain always the order God had established between man and the rest of creation – and never let themselves be ruled by a created thing.
Jesus Christ

That is also why Jesus on the cross refused the wine that was offered to Him (Mt 27:34).  True, a shot of wine was a token of sympathy to the crucified, to take the edge off the suffering.  But Jesus would have none of it.  As He confronted the righteous judgment of God on the cross and fought the devil and his hosts, He had to have all His faculties about Him, was to be fully Ruler over creation with no created thing having influence over Him in slightest measure.  He had to be man as God created man to be, Ruler and Master over creation – and so image of God.  It’s because He was perfectly aware of the infinite hatred of God against sin –His sense of awareness was not dulled in any way– that He could satisfy all God’s justice and pay for our sins.

The blessed result of Christ’s triumph is that the people of God are restored to their place as ruler over God’s world.  That is why it remains God’s will that you and I are to rule over creation (how wonderful the privilege!), and never permit creation to rule over us.  Paul tells us not to “get drunk on wine,” but instead to “be filled with the Spirit” of the God whose image we are (Ephesians 5:18).  In fact, Paul damns those who let creation rule over them.  He includes drunkenness in his list of the “acts of the sinful nature”, and adds, “I warn you, as I did before, that those who live like this will not inherit the kingdom of God” (Galatians 5:21).  That’s so obvious: those who do not reflect what God is like –Master of His creation– have no place in the kingdom of God! 


So we need to conclude: substance abuse –be it with alcohol or marijuana or nicotine or crystal meth or whatever else may give one’s mind a buzz– is simply sin against God and provokes His judgment.  Since it’s sin, those of us guilty of drug abuse (of which drunkenness is Canada’s primary offender!) may not simply pass it off as an experience of the past, as something to laugh at or to belittle.  Rather, such conduct requires repentance, requires humble acknowledgement before God that ‘I have sinned against You and I’m sorry for it; please forgive’. 

Similarly, where we witness that someone lets a bottle or a chemical rule him (instead of he ruling chemicals or bottles), we need, in love for that sinning brother or sister, to admonish according to the Lord’s command in Mt 18 – even bringing the matter to the attention of the office bearers and exercising church discipline as a result.  We need to do so since those who do not reflect the Creator’s place over creation –and drunkards don’t– cannot inherit the kingdom of God.

Does this condemn all use of alcohol?  No, it does not.  The apostle told Timothy to “stop drinking only water, and use a little wine because of your stomach and your frequent illnesses” (1 Timothy 5:23).  Wine can have a beneficial medicinal function.  The Psalmist relates that God gave wine to cheer the heart of man (Ps 104:15).  When the Lord Jesus Christ instituted the Lord’s Supper, He mentioned that He would “not drink again of the fruit of the vine until the kingdom of God comes” – and so made clear that the “fruit of the vine” is a permissible drink (Luke 22:18). 

Yet the privileged position of the Christian is that he relishes his place over creation –there is no higher honor than being allowed to image what the Creator is like!– and so the Christian steadfastly refuses to come under the influence of any created thing.  He knows: the glory of his God and Savior is at stake.

C Bouwman
November 2006