Mowing my yard recently in the great state of Georgia I ran over a snake. 

Totally accidental, I assure you. No harm intended. But as you may imagine, the snake didn’t survive the encounter. I guess I should have been sad. Come to find out it was a good snake. (Hey, you should ask my wife about good snakes!) I find snakes distasteful; she finds them disgusting. She is a serial snake killer. Axes, guns, sticks, brooms, garden tools, she has used every weapon imaginable in her war against the enemy. You know what most women say about snakes, don’t you? “The only good snake is a dead snake.”

Ever since the Garden of Eden, women have had this uneasy sense about snakes. Just the fact that my wife has so many weapons at her disposal makes me nervous! 

Much has been written about alcohol and the Christian, but not so much about snake handlers (though I believe they should occupy the same category). Both have a great affinity for trying to cheat death. God himself likens these two concepts in Proverbs 23:31-32. “Wine. . . at the last biteth like a serpent, and stingeth like an adder.” Notice the double reference to snakes in one verse. In the Hebrew the thought is, “just give it time and wine will bite you like a snake – yes, even like a poisonous snake.” Snakes and wine share commonality. They are both seductive and destructive.

Before we talk alcohol, may I ask you a personal question? What are your feelings about poisonous snakes? My guess is that you, like my wife, have strong convictions. My guess is that you don’t have a special door for poisonous snakes to access your house. My guess is that is that you don’t keep one in your cupboard or bring one out just for parties. Why is that? Well, no one wants to live that close to a potential killer. Ah, but would it help you to know a snake can only strike at half the length of its body? You are fine as long as you don’t get in the “strike zone.” Additionally, did you know that in the U.S. only 1 in 50 million people dies from a snakebite each year? That should make you feel better about living with poisonous snakes. Hopefully that changes your opinion, right?

My guess is you’re still not planning to run out and get one for your kids. Not a chance, right? I can still remember the rhyme about the deadly coral snake – when red touches yellow – it’ll kill a fellow! God gave us a rhyme too. When it sparkles and bubbles in the cup – just give it up! (Proverbs 23:31) We’re undoubtedly afraid of snakes, but not so concerned about wine and all her bubbly cousins. 

While on average snakes only kill five people a year in the U.S., alcohol claims 88,000 lives. Yet somehow, because it really looks sheik and sophisticated to hold a wine glass in your hand, we have decided wine is a good snake. 

Maybe it’s time to go snake hunting.

While the national average for alcohol consumption is decreasing, inside the church it is on the rise. The world is finally getting smarter about the dangers of drinking; but the church is losing her mind.  Do you remember when the “battle against the bottle” used to be a passionate theme of the church? Not so much anymore. Slowly we are moving into the strike zone. Remember, the Bible doesn’t say, at the first wine bites like a serpent, but rather at the last. This snake kills by slow degree. First it dazzles then it deadens. At the last it destroys. 

Alcohol in its many forms has now become the beverage of choice in some church circles. It is considered, especially by millennials, an overdue privilege that for too long has been held captive by previous generations. The same out of touch generation, they claim, who hated dancing, mixed swimming, long hair on men, rock music, and slacks on women. With all these other taboos now nearly vanquished, they lift their wine glasses to toast their newfound Christian liberty to drink. “After all,” they claim, “it’s not what goes in the body that defiles it.” (Matthew 15:11) Quickly they remind us they are in good company. Martin Luther and John Calvin, the darlings of theology, drank wine in days gone by! Whatever was good enough for Martin and Calvin must be good enough for us. Why, it was Calvin himself who said, “It is not by accident that Psalm 104:15 praises God’s kindness in creating wine to cheer man’s heart.” Wine is among God’s gifts to man, isn’t it? Ben Smith, co-founder of Reclamation Brewing Company in Butler, PA, agrees. “For too long we have talked about the evils and not the benefits of beer. Craft beer is an art to be enjoyed, like all of God’s gifts.”  

Finally, as if to add the final nail in the coffin of the weaker and under-enlightened believers, the crowd that endorses drinking submits, “After all, didn’t Jesus turn water into wine?” We must all agree that it certainly wasn’t wine that he turned into water. The word in that passage, oinos, can include fresh grape juice. (John 2:10) It cannot be proven that the wine Jesus created had any alcohol in it; in fact, it would be more plausible to argue that the Creator would not create for the guests a beverage with potential for intoxication. Still, it is true that wine cannot be ignored in the Bible. It is mentioned over 630 times.

Of course social drinkers tell us, “Don’t worry, it’s not that we want to get drunk, it’s just that we want to drink.” It’s not that we want to get snake bit, we just want to handle snakes. Somewhere, off in the distance, I hear an ominous rattle. A snake lives nearby.

The late Darrin Patrick, who was a rising star in New Calvinism before he took his own life, wrote in his book, Church Planter, “I am shocked at the number of [young pastors] who are either addicted or headed toward addiction to alcohol.” And it’s not just the young preachers who are playing with fire, adds David Wilkerson. “Alcohol is now the modern golden calf, and millions of people, young and old, male and female, are being seduced by it. Counseling appointments are increasing in the church because of alcohol and drug abuse. Add to that the amount of domestic violence cases, and the number of abused children because of alcohol…we would be remiss to ignore its dangers.”

And here we thought a Christian snake would behave itself better in church. What were we thinking?

Allow this sarcasm in love but I know, dear reader, you are different. You will hold your liquor. You will manage your snake. You are gifted enough to see the fine line between the joy of drinking (Psalm 104:15) and the sin of drunkenness (Ephesians 5:18). You will not be controlled by it. Even though millions of staggering drunks thought they could, too, that will not happen to you because “Christian wine consumed by Christians with Christian friends at Christian gatherings can only produce greater insight, increased health, less criticism, and happier outcomes” or as Calvin suggests, a cheerful disposition. Wine, after all has been reclaimed, reformed, and renamed. It’s now a good snake.

Allow me to turn the edge of the sword just a bit further. Our young, restless, and reformed friends, some of whom are justifiably tired of endless and sometimes weak exposition on issues like Bible translations, dress standards, and matters of separation, have flocked to preachers who don’t obsess over “matters that don’t matter,” like rules and standards and what goes in or on the body. Instead these preachers (and many are, indeed, gifted preachers) provide insight on deep matters of theology, like how the church has replaced Israel, how dispensations have no bearing on biblical history, how the non-elect were hated by God in eternity past, how children before salvation can be baptized, and how the millennium is just a spiritual mirage. It is these men who, by in large, are the writers and speakers that have garnered the devotion of many in the rising generation. To them separational and external issues are not as weighty as creed and doctrines about the attributes of God. Just an observation, but it seems that in our modern pursuit of the holiness of God, the church, by all appearances, is becoming less holy in its practices. Some of these men are indeed great theologians, pastors, and writers, but shouldn’t our faith inform our practice? When grace appears, says Paul to Titus, it teaches us to deny ungodliness and worldly lusts and to live soberly. (Titus 2:12)  

Men like Mark Driscoll, who after a fall from grace at the Mars Hill mega-church in Seattle, moved on to pastor Trinity Church in Scottsdale, Arizona. He has since repented publicly to his church for not drinking sooner! Driscoll has now abandoned reformed theology altogether. John Piper, who is the Pastor Emeritus of Bethlehem Baptist Church in Minneapolis, commented on his church’s policy about alcohol use. “We don’t want our church members to drink, but we won’t disallow drinking by our church members.”

Remember, a mist in the pulpit produces a fog in the pew.

In my short lifetime, the church has turned from an adversarial position about drinking and now espouses an accommodating tone. It’s okay to play with snakes as long as they are just mildly venomous. Moody, Wheaton, Huntington, and Asbury Seminary have softened their stance on drinking and tobacco. In 2013 a spokesman for Moody College said, “We wish to emphasize values not rules and require no more or less than God’s Word requires.” As if rules and values are not integral to each other! I have found that those who say, “we wish to emphasize the spirit of the law, not the letter” usually love neither the spirit nor the letter.

Could it be that we have been over-convicted about alcohol in fundamental circles? Were the old-timers all wrong? Does it matter? Lest I confuse some, let me now speak plainly about alcohol and not snakes.

Below is a list of ten reasons why I have personal convictions and common-sense defenses against the use of intoxicating drinks. Maybe you think you have equal reasons that would allow you to drink. Please ask yourself first, are your preferences about your own desires or your calling to promote the gospel? Will they hinder or help your growth? Will they lead to enslavement or cause your brothers to stumble? The list below is my personal defense for not drinking alcohol.

 The first two reasons may surprise you; but read on.
1. Yes, you can drink alcohol and still go to heaven, but the issue isn’t about just “getting in.”

Heaven will be full of surprises! The Bible is clear that drunkards can be saved, but that they won’t arrive in heaven as drunkards. (1 Corinthians 6:10-11, Galatians 5:19-20) Not a drunk, you say? Well, good for you, but I’ve never seen a drunkard that didn’t start out as a drinker. The question isn’t about permissive living, it’s about submissive living. After salvation, which we understand is God’s work, not ours, we are to grow in grace. This growth has to take us beyond the infantile posturing of “What can I get away with and still make it in?” We are to mature, grow, and leave behind things that are unwise, unnecessary, and offensive. The mark of genuine faith is growth in grace. That statement alone should settle this question of “dining and wining.”

People who are continually fighting for their personal rights are either babes in Christ or still dead in their sins.

It is true that Paul reminds us that the morality of any “thing” is not based in its molecular makeup or the even the amount of alcohol it possesses. We all understand that a thing is just that – a thing! Heaven is about faith in the finished work of Christ. That, as we know, is a matter of the heart, not the stomach. However the Spirit must direct our appetites and Christian growth should affect our discernment. Paul’s statement in Romans 14:14, a passage whose context is all about “doubtful disputations,” reminds us that spiritual uncleanness is not tied to our stomach, nor is our righteousness tied to what we drink. The kingdom of God is not meat and drink, but righteousness, and peace, and joy in the Holy Ghost. (Romans 14:17) Not to sound trite here, but presumably you could eat possum pot pie and drink a pint of ale with profane politicians and still have a place in paradise. I do get that. “All things indeed are pure.” (Romans 14:20) However in the very same verse, Paul warns that both eating and drinking are not without moral consequence. “For meat destroy not (a weighty consequence) the work of God. All things indeed are pure; but it is evil (a moral condition) for that man who eats with offense.”

So then, everything we do, eat, or drink as believers has a bearing on the mission we have which is the “work of God” and the “glory of God.” (1 Corinthians 10:31) To drink or not to drink isn’t really your decision to make – it is an others-first decision. How is God glorified and how are others ministered to by this decision? Food and drink are not intrinsically moral but once the cup is placed in the hand of a believer and shared in community with others, it does have the ability to destroy your testimony, damage the work of God and the walk of fellow believers. True, it is what’s in your heart, not what’s on your plate that comprehends righteousness. But the debate is not ultimately about the beverage itself. It is more importantly about what the beverage does to my worship of God. What becomes of my testimony if it is compromised by alcohol? None of us live to himself. (Romans 14:7)
2. Be careful comparing grapes to grapes.

Some drinkers try to excuse themselves without any contextual consideration by glibly saying, “Well, since Jesus and the disciples drank wine, we can too.” And some, on the other hand, try to wring all intoxicating drink out of the Bible, by acting as if those beverages didn’t exist at all. We are to think biblically and be honest with the Word. Wine is a part of the biblical narrative and was a part of the culture of Jesus’ day. There are thirteen Hebrew and Greek words used for wine in the Bible. It’s a word that comprises everything from strongly intoxicating drink to fresh grape juice. A careful study of the Bible is necessary to understand the context and the term used in each place. It’s hard to believe, as some would say, that every time the Bible says wine it is always grape juice!

For example, you wouldn’t pour grape juice on a wound (Luke 10:34) or use grape juice medicinally for your stomach’s sake (1 Timothy 5:23). It is impossible for fresh grape juice to cause intoxication, as we see with Noah (Genesis 9:21) and later on with Lot (Genesis 19:34-35). The abuses of drunkenness at the Lord’s Table in 1 Corinthians 11:21 were not the result of too much grape juice. Grape juice doesn’t bite like a snake (Proverbs 23:31). Jesus, too, was aware of the nature of wine in his day and provides a parable involving the fermentation process in Matthew 9:17. Essentially, animal skins were used at the time because the elasticity of the skin allowed for expansion during the storage process. Older skins couldn’t be used because the brittle nature of older skins would cause breakage during fermentation.

In Israel, fresh grape juice (new wine) was seasonal and preferred, but grape juice stored without refrigeration and modern bottling techniques soon began to ferment. To solve this problem, ancients would boil the juice to syrup and then reconstitute it later with water and in some cases, up to twenty parts water. (The average was three or four parts water to one-part syrup.) This process was intended to reduce fermentation and to make drinking water more pleasing to taste and safer to drink. Ancient table wines topped out at around 2.25% alcohol, which was considered safe enough for even children to drink.  

To say, “Well they drank, so I drink!” is naïve at best. First century wine is not comparable to the alcoholic beverages sold today. In fact the distillation process, a process of heating vapors to increase alcoholic content, was not even known until 1,000 A.D. To consider a beverage alcoholic today requires a minimum of 3.2% alcohol. Beer has an average alcohol content of 4.0-6.0% and table wines start out at 7.0% and generally average around 12.0% alcohol. Hard liquors can contain up to 40.0% alcohol.

Scholars suggest that it would have taken approximately one gallon of the reconstituted table wines of Jesus’ day to cause inebriation. In 60 A.D., a Grecian biographer by the name of Plutarch said that “filtered [or diluted] wine neither inflames the brain nor infects the mind or passions and is much more pleasant to drink.” So we can’t justify the use of intoxicants today, which are often distilled and fortified with additional alcohol, to what the first century church drank in their day. Today, because of their elevated alcoholic content, all modern wines would fall under the heading of “strong drink” and thereby be prohibited by biblical mandate. (Proverbs 23:31, Isaiah 5:11)

Yet at times we do need to compare grapes to grapes! Wines that could intoxicate were spoken of in scriptures as strong drink, but the table wines mentioned were not comparable to the alcohol enhanced products sold today.
3. You have a high and priestly calling, so act like a child of the King!
Greater responsibilities necessitate a higher standard of behavior. (Leviticus 10:9) The High Priest and the Levitical priests were not to drink in the performance of the service of the tabernacle. 1 Peter 2:9 states, “But you are a chosen generation, an holy priesthood, a peculiar people, that ye should show forth the praises of Him who has called you out of darkness into his marvelous light.” The Nazarites (from nazir, meaning “consecrated to God”) did not drink and were not allowed to touch any product of the vine, including grape skins. (Numbers 6:2-7) 1 Timothy 3:3 reminds pastors and elders that they are “not to be given to wine.” You, too, are consecrated to God with a high and holy calling. Let that lead your thinking about drinking.
4. Political rulers were not permitted to drink.
In Proverbs 31:4-5 we are told that it is not for kings to drink wine lest they forget God’s law and pervert justice. President George W. Bush did not drink and our own current president, Donald J. Trump does not drink. His brother Fred died from alcohol abuse at the age of 42. As a result, he decided not to drink or smoke. Not only is drinking dangerous to your health, it can impair judgement and cause distraction. Clear-headed thinking is necessary for godly living and leadership. What leaders allow in moderation, their followers excuse in excess. Stay away from alcohol for the sake of keeping a clear head. Drinking can pervert sound judgement, reduce inhibitions, and give license to others to abuse what we may think is our liberty. (Isaiah 28:7) One of the top ten reasons teenagers drink is because they saw their parents drink. Your influence matters and your footsteps lead others in similar behaviors.
5. Drinking is not associated with spiritual causes.
You are to avoid even the appearance of evil. (1 Thessalonians 5:22) I’ve never heard a testimony start with, “After downing a six-pack of Budweiser, I was motivated to read my Bible, win souls, go to church, work hard, and love my family.” Testimonies are often heard at rescue missions but with a decidedly different ending. “Had it all, drank it all, lost it all.” The alcohol industry has caused untold shame, brokenness, corruption, and financial ruin in our country. We are to flee youthful lusts and evil associations. The predominant association with “all things alcohol” is not good. If you couldn’t take a drink of beer in the foyer of your church with Christ in your heart and your youngest child at your side, then you have forgotten that you are the temple of the Holy Spirit and he is both watching you and in you. Guard your reputation and avoid the appearance of evil – even in the privacy of your home.
6. Drinking is unnecessary.
Think about it. With our modern quality health care, purified water at nearly every faucet, and the availability of non-alcoholic juices and health drinks, there is no longer a need to “use a little wine for thy stomach’s sake.” In our day, other medicines and treatments are far more effective than wine.
7. Drinking is unwise.
  • 1 out of 12 marriages end because of alcohol–related causes.
  • Alcohol contributes to 11,000 traffic deaths and is complicit in 40% of all traffic accidents. Over 300,000 people are injured by alcohol-impaired drivers each year.
  • 60% of all murders have some connection to alcohol.
  • 33% of all suicidal deaths are caused by alcohol.
  • Alcohol kills 88,000 a year and is a contributing factor in an additional 200,000 deaths each year in the United States.
  • Alcohol creates toxic substances called aldehydes that can destroy the liver, kidney, and brain cells.
  • Alcohol is highly addictive, enslaving 1 out of 10 people.
  • Alcohol is the primary drug problem among teens.
  • Alcohol abuse costs the nation $100 billion in quantifiable costs annually. 
8. The Bible forbids strong drink.
All modern alcoholic drinks would fit this description. (Proverbs 23:29-35)
9. It’s not your body, so it’s not your decision!
Ye are not your own . . . for ye are bought with a price: therefore, glorify God in your body, and in your spirit, which are God’s.” (1 Corinthians 6:19-20) You are under new ownership. According to Romans 14:21, the decision to drink has an outward consideration. That is, because it will cause others to be offended or to stumble, you will not want to drink. This point has an upward (or Godward) decision as well. You are not your own anymore. Purchased by the spotless blood of the Lamb, you are his. Rights surrendered, cross-embracing, you now are concerned only with the One who has rescued your soul and placed you into his glorious kingdom of light. Drop the beer can and while you are “dropping non-essentials,” drop the wine bottle as well. You will be glad you are traveling lighter. The cross will require both hands and all your heart.
10. Based on these facts, I have decided to just say “no.”

“Proving what is acceptable unto the Lord.” (Ephesians 5:10) After considering the truths and warnings presented here – after seeing the untold misery it has brought to so many in my wife’s extended family – after personally witnessing the death of a college friend killed in front of me by a drunk driver – after a careful respect for the power alcohol has to enslave – after a humble resolve to serve Christ and not my own cravings – after all that, I’ve made my decision never to drink alcohol.

I’m sure you have strong convictions about snakes, but what about alcohol? Won’t you join me in this resolve before you drift into its seductive strike zone? I hope you will. If so, why not respond by taking the following pledge: I resolve never to drink a drop of alcohol, and if I have started, I now vow to God to put it away. For the good of others, myself, and for the glory of God.

I’d love to hear from you.