Is drinking alcohol a sin?
I want to give you two perspectives. I want to spend a significant amount of time on scriptural insights that you can study carefully to make your decisions, but I also want to tell you my story. What happened in my family was also God's way of giving me guidance concerning how I should handle my own personal decision about drinking, social or otherwise. You will find the same. Study the scriptures carefully and thoroughly. Seek God and let Him speak to your conscience. Listen to godly counselors. And learn from life lessons. I certainly learned from mine.
Now, concerning your original question. Is alcohol a sin?
It depends. In fact, drinking may be a sin for some people while not being a sin for others. Let me explain.
A quick overview of relevant passages demonstrates that drinking alcohol is certainly not a sin. For example, Jesus made wine at a wedding feast when the host’s supply ran dry. In fact, the guests commented that Jesus’ brew was the best wine of the evening (John 2:1-11).
Paul encouraged Timothy to take a "little wine" when he had stomach trouble: “Stop drinking only water, and use a little wine because of your stomach and your frequent illnesses” (1 Timothy 5:23).
In Genesis 14:18-19 Melchizedek used wine and bread as an offering to God when he blessed Abraham: “Then Melchizedek king of Salem brought out bread and wine. He was priest of God Most High, and he blessed Abram, saying, …” Of course, it is easy to see the foreshadowing here of the institution of the Lord’s Supper (communion) by Christ the night before He was crucified.
As we delve a little deeper into the issues, we find that while drinking alcohol in itself is not a sin, drunkenness certainly is.
In Ephesians 5:18 Paul contrasted the delights of life in the Spirit with the misery of an overdose of alcoholic spirits: “Do not get drunk on wine, which leads to debauchery. Instead, be filled with the Spirit.”
Genesis 9:20-21 described the beginning of long-term curses upon Noah’s descendants which originated the morning after Noah got drunk: “Noah, a man of the soil, proceeded to plant a vineyard. When he drank some of its wine, he became drunk and lay uncovered inside his tent.”
In Titus 2:3-4 Paul admonished older women to be careful of becoming addicted to alcohol: “Likewise, teach the older women to be reverent in the way they live, not to be slanderers or addicted to much wine, but to teach what is good.”
How do you know if you have an addictive personality? Listen to my podcast with Dr. Steve Dowdle entitled Anatomy of Addiction.
Now, let’s delve even deeper. Besides drunkenness, drinking alcohol can also be a sin in three other circumstances.
First, if your conscience is trained to believe that drinking is a sin, then, it is a sin for you to drink. This is because the conscience is the “interface” between our inner-most-human-spirits and our minds. It is through this interface that God speaks to us—Holy Spirit to human spirit. We are never to violate our conscience because violated conscience impairs our ability to hear God speak.
The Biblical foundation for what I just said is found in Romans 14:1-23—especially verse 23: “But the man who has doubts is condemned if he eats, because his eating is not from faith ; and everything that does not come from faith is sin.”
The second circumstance comes into play in social settings. Paul identified a Christian with a “strong” conscience as one whose conscience does not condemn him or her for drinking. On the other hand, Paul defined a person with a “weak” conscience as one whose conscience condemns him or her for drinking—even though drinking is not a Biblical sin. If a Christian with a “weak” conscience is nearby, then, those whose consciences are “stronger”—limit their freedom in order not to offend the one with the “weaker” conscience. Drinking in front of those who believe that drinking is a sin may impair or cause them to stumble in their spiritual journeys. Therefore, those with “strong” faith are responsible for limiting their freedom so as not to offend, or as Paul put it, not to put a stumbling block in the way of those with “weaker” faith.
It is at this point that the third circumstance comes into play. Failure for the “strong” to limit their freedom would be to sin against those who are “weaker.”
While the “strong” limit their freedom, the “weak” are responsible for realigning their consciences with Biblical truth so they are not longer weak in this particular area.
By the way, these concepts are applicable in many areas of life than just drinking.
By the way again, those who are strong in one area may certainly be weak in others—and vice versa.
By the way again, and again, being a “strong” Christian does not mean that you have to drink or feel odd or even guilty for choosing not to drink. Here is where personal convictions come into play. I have a personal conviction not to drink. The reason is quite simple. A number of my family members and relatives are no longer alive because of what can be the devastating effects of alcohol.
Please Read: Dead Drunk: Signs and Symptoms of Alcohol Addiction.
I never met my maternal grandfather. Mom told us many stories about how she and her sisters hid under the bed when dad came home. They stayed hidden until they were sure he was not again home and drunk. They could usually tell by whether or not he was yelling at my grandmother, Nana. He had a great job at Woolworth’s Department Store during the Great Depression of the 1930s and mom’s family lived well. But, he began social drinking with his customers and couldn’t leave the hard stuff alone. The income stream trickled to a halt when he was fired—no longer able to hide or overcome his alcoholism. He committed suicide when I was two. Maybe I did meet him. Maybe he held me in his arms when I was a baby. I’ll never know. My mom never talked about him. I’ve never seen a picture of him. I think mom threw them all away. Mom fought fear and insecurity all of her life. She never forgot those terrifying nights under the bed.
My mom’s younger sister spent so much time in bars that my mom and dad took away her daughter and raised her as part of our family. This poor sister seldom had money for a baby sitter so my young cousin often accompanied her. She remembers as a child sitting on a bar stool while mom drank. I'll never forget the look on thirteen-year-old D's face as she came to live in a household of boys, struggling through her toughest teenage years away from her mom.
My mom’s other sister, Betty, and her husband, Bill, were driving home from a party when Bill made a left turn in front of a drunk driver. We got the news of the fiery car crash and raced to the hospital. Of course, this probably would not have happened if Bill had not imbibed too much himself. My uncle Bill was killed instantly. They told us that Betty lingered for a while—but not long. The funeral was double-closed caskets. Once again, my mom stared into the emptiness of her family that was lost. Her sister Betty was her closest friend. Nineteen-year-old Mindy, Betty's youngest daughter, then came to live with us. Phil, Bill and Betty's oldest son, was never the same. He too felt the scars of their untimely deaths.
Personally, I have no Biblical qualms with any Christian who drinks not to excess. But, understand why I personally will never touch the stuff.
I hope these thoughts are helpful. Thanks for the question. May God bless you.