WHAT DOES IT MEAN TO BE SOBER?
By David Banning
Are you sober?
This is a question we would expect to hear a police officer ask a driver who he believes is driving drunk. The word “sober” has a very narrow meaning for us. We use it almost exclusively to describe a person who is free from the influence of alcohol. However, in Scripture this word has a broader meaning. It can certainly include the idea of being free from intoxication. But to be sober can also mean that you are thinking straight; that you are sensible. It sometimes carries the idea of having your passions and desires under control; that you are self-disciplined (Titus 2:12). It might also describe a person who is careful and cautious (1 Peter 5:8). So, are you sober?
Any serious disciple can quickly see the value of this quality. Think again about Peter’s warning (1 Peter 5:8). Every day we face a terrible enemy who is seeking to destroy us. He employs a vast array of tactics to lure us away from God. He is relentless. This is no trivial matter; it is life’s greatest struggle. Eternity is at stake. For this reason, we must go out every day ready for battle; we need to be sober! We need to be on guard and cautious, keenly aware of the danger we face. We need a sound mind and clear thinking so we can size up the devil’s work and see it for what it is. We need inner strength and self-discipline to control our passions and desires when Satan uses these to pull us into sin. In light of these realities, it is no surprise that Paul tells us to “live sensibly” (soberly) in this present age (Titus 2:12). Do you go out every day ready for battle? Are you sober?
If we can appreciate the value of this quality, then it will not be hard to see why drinking alcohol is a really bad idea. The problem with alcohol is that it messes with our minds and robs us of our sobriety (Proverbs 20:1; 23:29-35). It gradually takes away our ability to think straight and control our passions. It lowers our sensitivity to danger and makes us less cautious. In other words, the more we drink, the less sober we become.
It needs to be emphasized that this problem begins early in the drinking process. Many factors must be considered when discussing how alcohol affects the mind. Gender, weight, experience with alcohol, medications, time between drinks, what you are drinking, food intake … all of these influence alcohol’s impact. But with that being said, we should appreciate that even small amounts of alcohol (like 1-2 beers) begin to influence the mind. Inhibitions start to come down, emotions are intensified and judgment about continued drinking starts to be effected. This helps explain how people who were intending to go out for a couple of drinks sometimes end up “passed out drunk.” The more they had, the less they were able to make good decisions about having more. Even small amounts of alcohol affect the mind. It comes as no surprise that the National Transportation and Safety Board (NTSB) has advocated lowering the legal blood alcohol limit from .08 to .05. This effort has been met with protest from people who complain that, if implemented, some will be legally drunk after only one drink!
Perhaps the better reaction would be to appreciate the danger. This is not the opinion of a group of old preachers. It is people charged with protecting us when we travel who are saying that even small amounts of alcohol make it unsafe to drive. Why? It affects the mind. It is interesting that many alcohol impairment charts list zero drinks as the only safe amount for those who are driving.
Some will certainly take issue with the claims in the preceding paragraph. A simple Google search for “alcohol impairment charts” will confirm most of the information. Check it out. This is an issue that deserves careful research.
What does this mean for disciples? It is unfortunate that much of the discussion about alcohol has come down to one, narrow issue: Can you prove it is a sin to have one beer or one glass of wine? I fear that this question often comes from people who want to be part of the drinking crowd and have already made up their minds. When someone really wants to do something, they will find a path to justify it. By contrast, people who live to exalt Jesus (Philippians 1:20) ask different questions when faced with moral choices: What does God want (Colossians 1:9-10)? What will bring glory to God (I Corinthians 6:19-20)? Will this enhance my ability to reflect Christ and bring others to Him (Matthew 5:13-16)? Is this wise (Ephesians 5:15-16)?
Asking these questions will cause us to process our decision about alcohol in a completely different way. Think about it: if I’m determined to live my life to God’s glory, when is it ever a good idea to drink something that diminishes my sobriety? When would it ever be the wise choice to reduce our caution or lower our inhibitions, even a little bit? If my teenage son were out with friends from school on a Friday night, would I want him to drink something that made him less cautious? If my granddaughter is off at college and friends persuade her to attend a frat party, would I want her to drink something that lowered her inhibitions? If a husband were away from his family on a business trip, would it be wise to sit in a hotel bar and drink something that diminishes his self-control? These examples are not imagined. An endless array of ugly, true stories could be attached to everyone. The path to disaster is easier to travel when we allow alcohol to erode the safeguards that protect us from it … sound mind, self-control, caution.
It is time to grow up. We must stop processing this critical issue like spiritual adolescents and start thinking like mature disciples. We need to move beyond this silly quibble about whether it is technically a sin to have one beer. We are at war with Satan. Everything hinges on the outcome of this great struggle. We need every ounce of caution, self-discipline and good sense that we can muster to fight the enemy. I should not sacrifice even the smallest amount for the sake of a drink. I need to be sober.