Alcohol has been called the great truth serum. If you want to get to the bottom of yourself — to truly know yourself better — grab a bottle.
People drink for lots of reasons. Many drink to experience freedom, an unrestrained, unchecked, and uninhibited “me.” What comes out when you’re drunk — in person, over the phone, on social media, or in text messages — is supposed to be the real you, what you really think and feel under all the put-together masks you wear. The promise on tap is that excessive alcohol will unlock you to yourself and all your friends. It’s liberation by libation.
But the Bible presents a different picture of freedom. “For freedom Christ has set us free . . . Only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another” (Galatians 5:1, 13). Freedom, then, is not the selfish, reckless wielding of cravings and opinions. Freedom, rather, is the sober, calculated, sacrificial laying down of our lives for the good of others.
If that doesn’t sound like freedom to us — and it won’t to most of us — then we may have had a few too many glasses of what the world is serving.
Sobriety About Drunkenness
“Drunkenness may expose things deep inside of you, but it doesn’t have any good news for the darkness that emerges.”
Is drunk you the real you? It’s true, alcohol does not bring anything out of a person that was not already there. The heart is always the tapped keg of any anger, lust, or profanity that pours out (Matthew 12:34). Therefore, who you are when you’re drunk is you.
That person is you, but it’s a small, pitiful, broken, and incomplete you — a you marred by sin, consumed with self, blind to truth, and therefore numb to reality. He or she is not the you God created you to be, not the you that’s most in tune with real life, and not the fullest and happiest you. Drunkenness may expose and unleash things deep inside of you, but it doesn’t have any good news for the darkness that emerges. It will show you all of you, and then soothingly promise that laughing at what you see will make it all better.
The gospel also exposes that secret side of you, but then it frees you from you. Instead of drowning yourself in something that numbs the pain and blurs reality, why not drown yourself in the grace that will forgive and heal what’s broken and hidden inside of you?
Forfeiting and Fulfilling
Again, the Bible says,
Do not get drunk with wine, for that is debauchery, but be filled with the Spirit, addressing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody to the Lord with your heart, giving thanks always and for everything to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, submitting to one another out of reverence for Christ. (Ephesians 5:18–21)
I used to think that when the Bible told me not to do something — like not to get drunk — it was self-denial for the sake of self-denial. Forsaking “worldly” pleasures was just a way to declare I was a Christian, to set myself apart from all the bad people. In Paul’s picture, though, this kind of self-denial is not merely a loss, but a trade — not mainly a forfeiting, but a fulfilling. Forsaking drunkenness isn’t just a name tag for righteous Christians. It’s a path to becoming a more whole and happy person.
Putting on the Spirit, rehearsing the good news, exercising self-control, and serving each other within a community of believers are not ways we become less ourselves, but ways in which we rid ourselves of sin — of our old selves — in order to become more of who we were designed to be. In drunkenness, we retreat and surrender to sin inside of us, accepting that broken me is the real me I’ll always be. In the Spirit, we cleanse and advance ourselves with real truth, grace, hope, and joy, not artificial and expiring counterfeits.
All Who Are Thirsty
“Alcohol only numbs the pain and blurs reality. Grace forgives and heals what’s broken inside of you.”
We are denying a real desire, but we’re not sacrificing our self. The trade is gain — in satisfaction and in self-realization. We were made to be and feel free, not for our sinful impulses, but from them. We were made to be known — every part of us, even the darkest secrets — but not in ways that will be forgotten the next morning. We were made to be happy, not in some incoherent, half-conscious way, but fully aware of ourselves and the world around us. And one day, those who have said no to this world, and instead have had their fill of Christ, will find themselves even more awake to themselves, to each other, and to God in his presence (1 Corinthians 13:12).
We don’t discover ourselves by relaxing our self-control and inhibitions. No, we discover who we really are — who we are meant to be — by denying our shortsighted, selfish, sinful impulses, by embracing Jesus Christ and all of his promises through faith, and with his Spirit inside of us, by exerting his wisdom and his power and his love for the sake of others.
All who drink from his well will never thirst again (John 6:35).