Scripture’s Teaching Regarding Alcohol (7) The Gospel’s Remedy Against Drunkenness

“And be not drunk with wine, wherein is excess; But be filled with the Spirit.” Ephesians 5:18.

Drunkenness is sin.

This is not only my idea; God says so.

Not only that, but it leads to more sin; in drunkenness is “excess.” As we noted in our last article, this means that one who is drunk is living as one who is not saved. It means further that no drunkard will be given eternal life, except he turn from his sin in true repentance.

Young people, do you understand the implication of this for your lives? Getting drunk is not something to do for fun; it is not an acceptable way to pass time with one’s friends!

Yet God’s people do fall into this sin. Some have fallen into it only a few times; others are drunkards, who live in the sin, being addicted to alcohol. Being God’s people, and having the life of Christ in them, they hate not only the consequences of the sin, but the sin itself, and desire never again to commit it. But the power to turn from it, they do not find in themselves. The sin holds them in bondage, and though they have resolved never again to commit it, they do fall into it yet again!

Such must not despair. God has a word for them in the gospel. The gospel provides a remedy against drunkenness.

That remedy comes in the form of a command: “be filled with the Spirit.”

At first glance, such a command might seem strange to one who understands the doctrines of man’s total depravity and God’s sovereign, irresistible grace. Is it not impossible for us to fill ourselves with the Spirit? And if this is impossible for one who is not a drunkard, is it not doubly impossible for the one who is a slave to alcohol?

Of course we cannot fill ourselves with the Spirit. But that is not what the Word of God requires us to do, either. Let us examine the command more closely and explain it in a way that is consistent with the doctrine of sovereign grace.

Notice first that the command comes to the church and saints of God in Jesus Christ. Specifically, it comes to the saints at Ephesus. It comes, then, to God’s people in every age, who have been delivered from the bondage of sin by Jesus’ death, and who have in them his new life.

Second, the command is passive. We are not told to fill ourselves with the Spirit, as though salvation is man’s work; rather, we are told to “be filled.” God fills us with the Spirit.

Third, though the verb is passive, it is imperative; it is emphatically a command to God’s people. It requires of us continual activity—“keep being filled with the Spirit” is the idea.

To be filled, or keep being filled, with the Spirit, is first to live as one who is controlled by the Spirit. To be controlled by the Spirit is not to let God work in one, as if it is in our power to resist God. Rather, it is to seek from God all the blessings which the Spirit gives, and to live all one’s life in obedience to God’s law, in the power of the Spirit.

To be filled with the Spirit is also to use the means God has provided to stay spiritually strong, so that one finds in himself the power to live a godly life.

Verses 19-21 tell us concretely what we do, being filled with the Spirit. First, we speak to each other the praises of God, in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs. These songs (all of which, I’m convinced, refer to the 150 Psalms; in the Hebrew Psalter, they were arranged under the three headings of “psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs) will be found on the lips of those filled with the Spirit. Second, we will give thanks always for all things to God in the name of Jesus Christ. Third, we will submit ourselves one to another in the fear of God.

All of this we will do together! That is, the child of God is not to carry out this command all by himself; he does so in communion with the whole church of Christ! To be filled with the Spirit requires prayer, singing, studying the Scriptures, not only individually, but also at church!

Being filled with the Spirit in the way of fervent prayer and use of the means of grace, the child of God experiences God’s power in him to fight sin.

That this is an effective remedy against drunkenness is indicated by the text’s sharp contrast between being filled with wine on the one hand, and being filled with the Spirit on the other. To be filled with the Spirit, and manifest such by an antithetical life, is an effective way to guard oneself against drunkenness.

The Ephesians needed to hear this. One gathers from Ephesians 5:1ff that many were guilty of drunkenness—some physically, and others spiritually, living under the power of spiritual darkness. Yet they were “saints” (1:1) and “dear children” of God (5:1)—they were delivered from sin in Christ, and had the power to live a new and godly life. So God calls them to live an antithetical life, separate from sin, promising them that in the power of the Spirit they could indeed “walk as children of light” (5:8). And now he commands them to “be filled with the Spirit.”

What encouragement to us!

It is encouragement to us who face temptation to become drunk. To such it is a reminder that, although no man can fight temptation in his own power, God gives his people divine, spiritual power to fight temptation. It is a reminder that, in the way of prayer, we will find the power to escape (I Corinthians 10:13), and that in the way of godly living, we will find sin to be less attractive.

It is also encouragement to those children of God caught in the snare of drunkenness.

First, it reminds them that until they turn to God for help, they will continue to be in the bondage of this sin. No man can fight it in his own strength. We need God’s power; we depend on him alone. And this God who delivers his people is not merely any god, or some unnamed or impersonal higher power, but the triune God of whom Jesus Christ is the personal revelation, and whose Spirit works in his church. One practical implication of this point is this: anyone who uses the 12 step program of Alcoholics Anonymous to help overcome their sin of drunkenness must confess that only the one true God, Jehovah, has the power to deliver them.

Second, it reminds God’s children caught in the snare of drunkenness that the way to experience deliverance is the way of confession of sin and finding forgiveness in the blood of Christ. For only by the Spirit can we do such things, and by the Spirit God assures us that our prayers are heard and our sins are forgiven.

Third, it reminds them that in the keeping of the law is true happiness. Men turn to drunkenness to find happiness, but do not actually find it; only in the way of obedience will true happiness be enjoyed.

Confess your sins, then! If you succumb to the charms of alcohol, confess this to God, and cry out for his mercy! Or, if you pride yourself on never having been drunk in the body, yet you lack spiritual sobriety so that in other ways you have lived as one not saved, confess this, and seek his grace!

He will give grace to his people!

How lovely, the life of one who is not under the bondage of alcohol! How desirable, the life one lives who is filled with the Spirit!

As wine beckons us to enjoy its charms, so the Spirit causes God’s people to see that true happiness is found in obedience to God’s law. And as wine repays those who drink it by mocking and making a fool of us (Proverbs 20:1), so the Spirit repays us—but with a great blessing. We bring forth the fruit of the Spirit—love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness, temperance, against which there is no law (Galatians 5:22-23).

Still more: while the drunkard is excluded from the kingdom of God, the promise of the gospel is that the true believer who by God’s grace is filled with the Spirit has a place in that kingdom now, and will enjoy a place in that kingdom to all eternity—earned by the blood of Christ. So the true believer lives in hope! And in that hope, he watches soberly for the coming of his Lord, obeying God’s law.

We conclude our examination of Scripture’s treatment of alcohol by remembering how John concluded his first epistle: “Little children, keep yourselves from idols” (I John 5:21).

Young people, and children of God, keep yourselves from idols. One idol from which we must keep ourselves is alcohol. We may use it properly; but we may never serve it.

Rather, be filled with the Spirit! Serve God!