1.5 The Nature of Sin and Temptation

We can bring into play here the true Christian understanding of the devil and temptation. There is no dragon or person out there called the devil who is responsible for your temptations, no Angel that fell down from the 99th floor waiting to pounce on you in weak moments. We ourselves have the source of temptation within our own psyche, our own self-talk, our own ‘heart’ as the Bible calls it. And this fountain of wrong suggestion is the real and essential ‘satan’ or adversary. There is nothing from outside a person that can enter in and defile them- be it alcohol or heroin. Sin proceeds from within, “out of the heart of man” (Mk. 7:15,21-23). The human mind is the arena for the essential spiritual struggle.

Sin by its very nature gets a grip on human life. The more it is practiced, the firmer becomes its grip. You must have experienced this yourself. You commit a sin for the first time. You are deeply shocked with yourself afterwards and very urgently repentant before the Lord. The next time you do it, the feelings of shock and remorse are far weaker. If you do it again, and again, and again... it becomes a way of being, and conscience becomes largely numbed. With alcoholism and narcotics abuse, this fact is manifested physically. The addict needs more and more alcohol. It is a progressive disease, just as sin itself is progressive. The body metabolism of the alcoholic changes, just as the spiritual makeup likewise becomes numb, in denial, and demanding of ever more gratification of the flesh.

Alcoholism: The Epitome of Sin?

The well known slide into alcoholism which every society has witnessed in some of its members is perhaps the epitome of sin. Is. 28:1,4 speak of “the drunkards of Ephraim” as a “fading flower”, and yet Is. 40:6-8 describe all of humanity with the very same language. In spiritual terms, alcoholics are the epitome of us all in our unredeemed state. Wine is a symbol of several things, but in the final book of the Bible it appears to be a definite symbol of evil (Rev. 14:8,10; 16:19; 17:2; 18:3). For the alcoholic, “it bites like a snake and poisons like a viper” (Prov. 23:29-32 NIV). The snake is the epitome of sin; and this is what alcoholism is like, Solomon says. The cunning of the snake is revealed in how the alcoholic manipulates all things to achieve his goals of drunkenness. Wine and drunkenness are used as a figure for God’s judgment (Jer. 13:9-14; 48:26). Perhaps this is because drunkenness of itself becomes the punishment- the person physically and mentally becomes alcoholic because this is God’s confirmation of them in their sin. Likewise if a person knowingly refuses to accept Bible truth, God sends them a strong delusion that they may not be able to find the true way (2 Thess. 2:10). Indeed, Hab. 2:5 RV describes the coming antichrist as a person identified with wine: "Wine is a treacherous dealer, a haughty man, and that keepeth not at home; who enlargeth his desire as hell". Wine is personified as a man- because the alcoholic is so identified with alcohol. His desire for it is ever enlarging, and it leads him to the grave. The same passage goes on to speak of how God's condemnation of the antichrist will be in terms of giving him a cup of wine to drink, and making him drunk, resulting in his glory turning to shame. Again and again, drunkenness is associated with God's condemnation.

Misquoting Scripture

The record of the Lord’s wilderness temptations gives an insight into the nature of how the ‘satan’ of the human mind works. We can even quote Scripture to ourselves in order to justify sin. In discussion with Christian alcoholics, if they are being honest, it is likely that there will be an admission to having misused Biblical texts in order to justify their drinking. If the discussions which you are involved in lead to a discussion of how the Bible speaks of wine in a positive way, the following points may be helpful:

- In Bible times, alcoholic drinks had a different context to what they have today. Distillation techniques were fairly limited; there was no refrigeration, porous containers were used allowing air to contact the fermenting wine, and stoppers were rarely airtight. Alcohol can only be distilled in any strength under ‘anaerobic’ conditions, i.e. where no air at all has contact with the liquid. It has been estimated that nothing could be fermented beyond 10% alcohol without it turning into vinegar. Most alcoholic drinks probably had a strength of about 2% alcohol (7). Wines were often made by boiling the ‘wine’- which evaporates the alcohol- and adding water to them, to make a kind of cordial. They were therefore pleasant drinks but only very large scale usage could lead to abuse. Wines also weren’t available in large quantities- when the wine ran out at Cana, there was a real problem getting any more. Wine making was a cottage industry. Thus whilst wines were alcoholic, they were generally weak compared to modern wines of 20% alcohol content, and spirits like vodka with 40% or more.

- The effects of wine are used in some Bible passages as a figure or illustration / word picture; but this doesn’t justify drunkenness.

- Ps. 104:14,15 speaks of the blessing of “wine that maketh glad the heart of man”. This phrase and those surrounding it are not talking about the effect of crops on the bodies of people, but rather the effect of a good harvest on the emotions of those gathering them.

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