We so easily fall into legalistic pits. We like rules, as a people, no matter how often we rail against them. Very few of us actually desire anarchy. We like or even crave structure and rules, so when we ascribe to a worldview, it is not uncommon for us to immediately begin to look for its dos and don’ts. Something practical we can hold on to or even begin to use to gauge our success. In ancient Israel, this led to the rise of the pharisaical law and its required list of moral laws and guidelines. While rooted in good intentions, this led to a structure that the Son of God himself despised. These men were so afraid of sin that they built up a false religion around their true one in hopes of protecting it.
Can we begin to see the parallels here with our modern-day way of doing things. The Enlightenment, for all of its wonderful outworkings created a flood of anti-scriptural and severely liberal theologies. Men, believing themselves and their intellect to be the apex of creation, believed themselves capable of knowing God without the virtue of His special revelation. Out of this rash of deviant theologies was born the neo-orthodoxy movement in Europe , and the fundamentalist movement in North America. These were the pendulum opposite reactions to the widespread liberal thought that the Enlightenment had birthed. North American fundamentalism developed from a well-meaning attempt at addressing heresy and misleading doctrine into a full-blown recreation of the pharisaical law. Suddenly, not only were more traditional theologies being preserved, but more conservative social structures were becoming law as well. One could not drink, smoke, dance or even attend the theater. These became the rules we would obsess over the next couple hundred years. They were the moral structure we would set up in order to gauge a man’s spirituality. We began to wonder if drunkenness is wrong, then to drink must be as well. If our body was a temple, then to smoke is evil.
I find myself then, asking, how much drink is too much? If my lips feel tingly, am I an alcoholic? If my head feels light have I sinned? I am so scared of crossing that line that the line becomes all that I can think about. I do not believe that Christ or the apostles wondered when they drank (which they undoubtedly did) if their lips were tingly, or their heads a little light, if they were drunkards after one drink or two. Scripture does not define what a drunkard was as it was generally and easily understood who the drunkard was, and what drunkenness was.
Ephesians 5 says “Do not become drunk with wine, for this leads to reckless behavior, rather be filled with the Spirit.” The passage goes on to talk about what positive things you should be doing in order to be more like God. It is more focused on the need for a Spirit filled life, than it is on the need to expunge alcohol from one’s life.
Do not misunderstand me, though, I fully agree with the importance of grasping the weight of your own sin, and what a price that was for Christ to pay for you. I do not wish to cheapen that by any means, but the Bible is clear in this. We are victors. We win, and we are righteous already, because we are made righteous by the one who paid our sin’s debt. We no longer owe that Strong Man anything and we are free to live in the hope of righteousness.