According to Luke 7:34, “The Son of Man [came] … drinking.” As we saw in our previous post, the text interpreted in context indicates that Jesus was a social drinker. That is, Jesus used alcoholic beverages in moderation, and he sometimes drank in public. What does this mean for us today? How does the question of Christ’s social drinking apply to modern believers and the modern church?
1. According to this passage (and the rest of the Bible), it is legitimate for a Christian to drink alcoholic beverages in moderation and even socially when appropriate.
Follow the logic: If the Lord Jesus drank wine in moderation (and He did), and if He remained sinless in doing so (and He did), and if Christ is our pattern for a God-honoring life (and He is), then Christians too, like Jesus, may legitimately drink alcoholic beverages such as wine in moderation and even socially when appropriate. Before you close your browser, let me quickly inject some words of clarification and qualification.
I am not asserting that all Christians must drink or even that all Christians should drink wine. I know of no commandment in the Bible that absolutely obligates every Christian to use alcoholic beverages. The Bible seems to present the moderate use of wine as a liberty, not as a necessity. Furthermore, there is no indication in our text or anywhere else that Jesus criticized the practice of John the Baptist. John lived a God-honoring life and abstained from alcohol. And there have been many godly Christians in the history of the church who have done the same (e.g., John G. Paton). Therefore, voluntary abstinence is a legitimate option for the Christian.
So the Christian may drink wine in moderation. However, if and when this liberty is exercised, it must be exercised prudently and lovingly. The Bible portrays social drinking as a Christian liberty, but it also teaches that there are sometimes wise and loving reasons to refrain from using our liberty. I can think of at least four examples.
(1) Do I have a physical condition that precludes the moderate use of alcohol?
Some Christians should refrain from drinking for health reasons. Interestingly, there is growing scientific and medical evidence that a moderate use of wine can actually be beneficial to one’s health.1 This should not surprise us since the Bible itself seems to commend wine for medicinal purposes (1 Tim. 5:23). Nevertheless, some people do have certain medical conditions that would make it unhealthy for them to drink wine or any other alcoholic beverage. This is true about other foods as well. Some people are allergic to dairy products. Some people can’t use sugar. Others can’t eat wheat products. Similarly, some people cannot drink wine without doing damage to their body. And since the sixth-commandment as well as the indwelling of the Holy Spirit obligates us to take care of our body, then some of us should refrain from drinking if it’s harmful to our bodies.
(2) Do I possess the grace of self-control?
Some should abstain because of a lack of self-control. People who’ve been converted to Christ from a life of alcohol abuse usually don’t immediately possess the self-control to switch from drinking a twelve-pack of beer per day to drinking only one or two beers per day. Only after a good deal of spiritual growth and maturity and the cultivation of self-control may a former alcoholic even consider an attempt to use alcohol moderately. Unless you have the moral fortitude to use wine and beer with proper restraint, then don’t use it at all (1 Cor. 6:12).
(3) Do I have a weak conscience?
Christians with a weak conscience should not drink alcohol. There are some brothers who believe it would be a sin for them to drink a glass of wine. If that’s your conviction, then you need to obey your conscience. That doesn’t mean that your conscience is right. But it does mean that violating your conscience is a very serious matter. Therefore, if you believe it would be wrong for you to drink wine, then by all means abstain! (Romans 14:14, 23)
(4) Will the particular occasion in which I drink cause a weaker brother to stumble?
Strong Christians should refrain from drinking in situations that may encourage the weaker brother to sin against his conscience. In connection with this point, someone may ask, “Should not the stronger Christian perpetually abstain from wine at all times and in all places, since there is always the potential of causing a weak brother to stumble?” This is position taken by many Christians today. It sounds biblical and loving. But if Jesus did not abstain from wine at all times and in all places for the sake of weaker brethren, then we cannot make it an absolute requirement for His disciples. Moreover, Romans 14:1-3 indicates that the weaker brother must not expect the stronger brother to adopt his convictions.
These qualifications are important and must be taken seriously. Nevertheless, even with these qualifications in view, Christ’s example in our passage legitimizes the use of alcoholic beverages in moderation and even socially when appropriate.
2. It is best for the local church not to make abstinence from alcohol a requirement for membership and a standard for holiness.
I realize that many churches do require abstinence from their members. I do not question their motives in doing so. In light of the example of Christ as well as other teaching in Scripture, however, I believe such a requirement is unwise and could be potentially harmful for the following reasons.
a. Such a requirement would potentially exclude godly people from the church.
If we as a church made abstinence a requirement for membership, then the Lord Jesus Christ could not be a member of this church! Have you ever considered that? Would you want to exclude the godliest man who ever lived from being a member in good standing in your church? And we would be excluding lots of other godly Christians as well. The great Reformer Martin Luther drank beer. After his famous stand at the Diet of Worms, Luther returned to his room and enjoyed a silver flagon of Eimbeck beer.
Did you realize that the godly Pilgrims who came to America enjoyed both beer and wine with their meals? Did you realize that Oliver Cromwell’s brother was known as both a devout Christian and a brewer? Did you realize that until the last 200 years most godly Christians have never made total abstinence an issue of church membership? Folks, if we took the position that the moderate use of alcohol is totally inconsistent with membership in Christ’s church, we would be excluding lots of godly Christians as well as Christ Himself!
Some brothers would respond to this point by arguing that if Jesus and these other Christians were alive today, they would abstain because of the problem of alcoholism in America. In other words, total abstinence may not have been necessary in Christ’s day or Martin Luther’s, but it is necessary today. But the problem with such reasoning is that drunkenness (what we call ‘alcoholism’) was a big problem in Jesus day too. Look up the words ‘drunkenness,’ ‘drunk,’ and ‘drunkard’ in a Bible concordance and you’ll find it listed alongside the other major vices of Jesus’ day. In fact, drunkenness has been a major problem in almost every society at every point in history. Yet Jesus and many other godly believers did not choose to abstain from alcohol.
Therefore, I do not believe that it would be wise to make abstinence a requirement for membership in this church since we would potential exclude godly Christians from the church.
b. We would be calling “evil” what God has called “good”
He causes the grass to grow for the cattle, and vegetation for the labor of man, so that he may bring forth food from the earth, and wine which makes man’s heart glad, so that he may make his face glisten with oil, and food which sustains man’s heart (Psalm 104:14).
Commenting on this verse, Calvin writes, “God not only provides for men’s necessity … but in his goodness he deals still more bountifully with them by cheering their hearts with wine and oil. Nature would certainly be satisfied with water to drink; and therefore the addition of wine is owing to God’s superabundant liberality.”
Go then, eat your bread in happiness and drink your wine with a cheerful heart; for God has already approved your works (Ecclesiastes 9:7).
The LORD of hosts will prepare a lavish banquet for all peoples on this mountain; a banquet of aged wine, choice pieces with marrow, and refined, aged wine (Isaiah 25:6).
These texts clearly indicate that wine is a God-given blessing to be enjoyed.5 Of course, this blessing can also be abused. That’s what the Bible calls drunkenness. And drunkenness is a sin. But so is gluttony—the abuse of food. So is greed—the abuse of money. So is fornication—the abuse of sex. But the solution to these sins is not to call evil what God intended for good. The solution is not even to abstain from these things. Martin Luther expresses it pointedly: “Do not suppose that abuses are eliminated by destroying the object which is abused. Men can go wrong with wine and women. Shall we then prohibit and abolish women?”
Nor do I believe it’s necessary to prohibit and abolish wine. The solution to gluttony, greed, fornication, and drunkenness is to use God’s gifts as they were intended. In the case of wine, God commands moderation. And when wine is used in that way, it may be viewed as a gift from God. Therefore, let us beware of calling evil what God has called “good.”
c. We’d be erecting a man-made standard of holiness in place of a God-given standard of holiness, which is the error of legalism.
This was the great error of the scribes and the Pharisees. They erected all sorts of man-made standards. At first they may have only intended these standards as safeguards. However, it wasn’t long before they began to use them as tests to determine a person’s spiritual state. And I’m afraid that this is the way many professing Christians use abstinence today. Perhaps it was originally intended as a safeguard, but now it has become a major criterion in determining whether a person is right with God or not. For example, one modern writer has declared that he “seriously doubts Christians who drink can be called saints.”7 Another says, “Alcohol is never approved of by God in any amount for the obedient Christian.”
But as we’ve noted, Jesus who is the model of a perfect Christian used alcohol in moderation. Moreover, the Bible elsewhere portrays alcohol as a gift from God to be enjoyed though not abused. Is the Bible a sufficient standard for holiness or not? I believe it is!
All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness; so that the man of God may be adequate, equipped for every good work (2 Timothy 3:16).
If the Bible is a sufficient standard for holiness, then we don’t need to add a bunch of man-made standards.9 If it was possible for Jesus to drink wine in moderation and to live a holy, God-honoring life at the same time, then what’s good for Jesus ought to be good for us. Let us, therefore, avoid legalism, and let us be satisfied with the Bible as our standard for holiness!
Bob Gonzales is Dean of the Reformed Baptist Seminary in Taylors, SC. He blogs regularly at
RBS Tabletalk where this article first appeared and it is used with his permission.
[Editor’s note: The original URLs (links) referenced in this article are no longer valid, so the links have been removed.]