If there ever was a most talked about topic in the Christian circles this would be it. Some time back I knew how to respond in the conversation. The proper things to say without ruffling anyone’s feathers and yet making sure the ‘younger’ ones in the faith are not confused on how to go. In one of those times, a close friend of mine told me how she has no problem with taking alcohol. I did not respond but later she explained that my face said it all. It went something like really – even you – really. Sadly I learnt I am poor at hiding my thoughts, the way I thought this was one of my many strengths!
So anyway, this was before I discovered the alcohol debate is one I don’t want to get involved in. It never ends well, for some reason all parties always have a very well thought out easily arguable position. I aint a theologian and so before I bring up theology debates and get into trouble over all this, let me give some background.
Colossians got me thinking
I recently was reading through the verses below from the book of Colossians and they made me stop and think. They reminded me of debates we had with some friends over that my church has a Saturday service. I suspect the alcohol debates was also somewhere in my head.
So don’t let anyone condemn you for what you eat or drink, or for not celebrating certain holy days or new moon ceremonies or Sabbaths…Don’t let anyone condemn you by insisting on pious self-denial or the worship of angels…You have died with Christ, and he has set you free from the spiritual powers of this world. So why do you keep on following the rules of the world, such as, “Don’t handle! Don’t taste! Don’t touch!”? 22 Such rules are mere human teachings about things that deteriorate as we use them. 23 These rules may seem wise because they require strong devotion, pious self-denial, and severe bodily discipline. But they provide no help in conquering a person’s evil desires.
In my search I came across this sermon that has truly blessed me (Extracted from http://www.desiringgod.org/resource-library/sermons/flesh-tank-and-peashooter-regulations)
Drums rolling…the answer to the age old question
This coming Thursday evening, at the second half of our annual business meeting, we will be voting on the proposed amendment to the Church Covenant.
In 1965, the church amended the Covenant to add the sentence, “We engage … to abstain from the sale and use of intoxicating liquors as a beverage.” The Constitutional effect of this amendment in 1965 was to make total abstinence from the use and sale of alcoholic beverages a prerequisite for church membership.
The amendment before the church this Thursday is to replace the sentence about total abstinence from alcohol with a such broader commitment that would require a good deal of heart searching and Biblical self-examination. It would read as follows: “We engage … to seek God’s help in abstaining from all drugs, food, drink and practices which bring unwarranted harm to the body or jeopardize our own or another’s faith.” I wish I could help everyone see that the reason I support this amendment so strongly is not to encourage, but to avoid a great evil.
Alcohol abuse is a great evil in our land. And no one can reasonably construe the proposed amendment to countenance such abuse. Not only that, I regard total abstinence generally as a wise and preferable way to live in our land today. It’s the way I live, and the way I will teach my sons to live. The proposed amendment is not designed to encourage anyone to drink alcoholic beverages. It is designed to drive us to Biblical, spiritual self-examination in view of the stupendous fact that we are God’s dwelling and are called to love one another and to build up faith wherever we can.
The requirement of total abstinence, on the other hand, is heeded by millions of unbelievers and unspiritual church attenders. It is a regulation that requires no inner love to God or love to the church. The proposed amendment, however, drives us to God because it makes us ask, why abstain
The amendment will help us avoid evil in two ways. It will help us by drawing our attention to other activities besides drinking which enslave us and do no good to this bodily temple of God or to anyone’s faith.
But the main reason the proposed amendment will help us avoid evil and the chief reason I support the amendment is that it helps guard us from an unbiblical legalism and exclusivism. Let me define what I mean by legalism. The New Testament does not use the word “legalism” and therefore, it is thrown around today pretty carelessly. I want to try to define it in such a way that you can see that it is evil and that the New Testament does indeed deal with it even if it does not use the word.
I use the word “legalism” in at least two senses, but both have a common root problem.
1) First, legalism means treating Biblical standards of conduct as regulations to be kept by our own power in order to earn God’s favor. In other words legalism will be present wherever a person is trying to be ethical in his own strength, that is, without relying on the merciful help of God in Christ.
Simply put, moral behavior that is not from faith is legalism. The legalist is always a very moral person. In fact the majority of moral people are legalists because their so-called Judeo-Christian morality inherited from their forefathers does not grow out of a humble, contrite reliance on the merciful enabling of God. On the contrary, for the legalist, morality serves the same function that immorality does for the antinomian, the free-thinker, the progressive, namely, it serves as an expression of self-reliance and self-assertion. The reason some Pharisees tithed and fasted was the same reason some German university students take off their clothes and lie around naked in the park in downtown Munich.
The moral legalist is always the elder brother of the immoral prodigal. They are blood brothers in God’s sight because both reject the sovereign mercy of God in Christ as a means to righteousness and use either morality or immorality as a means of expressing their independence and self-sufficiency and self-determination. And it is clear from the N.T. that both will result in a tragic loss of eternal life.
It is a danger we must guard against in our own hearts every day. And please know that my old self is just as prone to it as anyone.
2) The second meaning of legalism is this: the erecting of specific requirements of conduct beyond the teaching of Scripture and making adherence to them the means by which a person is qualified for full participation in the local family of God, the church. This in where unbiblical exclusivism arises. There is no getting around the fact that the church does not include everyone. We do exclude people from membership because we believe worship should imply commitment to the Lordship of Christ the Head of the church. But exclusion of people from the church should never be taken lightly. It is a very serious matter. Christ is the Head of the Body, and he alone should set the entrance requirements. That is very important!
These two uses of the word “legalism” have a common root. I want to bring out what that is before we look at Colossians 2.
What unites these two forms of legalism at the root is unbelief — unbelief in regard to ourselves that it is God who works in us to will and to do his good pleasure (Phil. 2:12,13); and unbelief in relation to others that God will make his will known and incline them to do it. As Paul says in Phil. 3:15, “Let those of us who are mature be thus minded and if in anything you are otherwise minded God will reveal that also to you.” He confidently entrusts the purification of the church to God.
Brothers and sisters these are not the words of a man who in soft on evil. I hate evil, with the apostle who said, “Abhor what is evil and cleave to what is good ” (Rom. 12:9). I abhor the evil remaining in my own heart and see enough of it there to break the stiff-neck of my pride every day. I want to hate what God hates and love what God loves.
Legalism IS more dangerous than alcoholism
And this I know beyond the shadow of a doubt: God hates legalism as much an he hates alcoholism. If any of you still wonders why I go on supporting this amendment, after hearing all the tragic stories about lives ruined through alcohol, the reason is that when I go home at night and close my eyes and let eternity rise in my mind I see ten million more people in hell because of legalism than because of alcoholism.
And I think that is a literal understatement. Satan is so sly. “He disguises himself as an angel of light,” the apostle says in 2 Corinthians 11:14. He keeps his deadliest diseases most sanitary. He clothes his captains in religious garments and houses his weapons in temples. O don’t you want to see his plots uncovered? I want Bethlehem to be a place Satan fears.
Legalism IS more dangerous than alcoholism
Listen as I uncover one of his plots. Legalism is a more dangerous disease than alcoholism because it doesn’t look like one.
– Alcoholism makes men fail; legalism helps them succeed in the world.
– Alcoholism makes men depend on the bottle; legalism makes them self-sufficient, depending on no one.
– Alcoholism destroys moral resolve; legalism gives it strength.
– Alcoholics don’t feel welcome in church; legalists love to hear their morality extolled in church.
Therefore, what we need in this church is not front end regulations to try to keep ourselves pure. We need to preach and pray and believe that “Neither circumcision nor uncircumcision, neither teetotalism nor social drinking, neither legalism nor alcoholism is of any avail with God, but only a new creation (a new heart)” (Gal. 6:15; 5:6). The enemy is sending against us every day the Sherman tank of the flesh with its cannons of self-reliance and self-sufficiency.
If we try to defend ourselves or our church with peashooter regulations we will be defeated even in our apparent success. The only defense is to “be rooted and built up in Christ and established in faith” (Col. 2:6); (Col. 1:11); “holding fast to the Head from whom the whole body, nourished and knit together … grows with a growth that is from God” (Col. 2:19). From God! From God! And not from ourselves.
The sermon is pretty long, I suggest you read it for self at the link above. Sadly I may not have given a yes drink, no don’t answer. But perhaps what is in this sermon is more important – A HEART FOR GOD. It reminds me of what Christ says “Anyone who loves me will obey my teaching.” Obeying His teaching becomes an overflow of loving Him. So my true purpose has be to LOVE HIM, to TRUST HIM, to KNOW HIM; not the regulations.