When I was in my late teens, I stumbled onto a character description in a book that really stuck with me. Most people born after the 80’s probably had to read this book in school, so no surprise if you recognize the line: “But Soda never touches a drop—he doesn’t need to. He gets drunk on just plain living.”
It is so, so easy to get drunk on this life. Not just to enjoy it, not just stepping into those moments like a perfect Christmas display or a day at Disney World that you want to remember forever…but actually getting intoxicated on everything this world has to offer, in a way that numbs us to the spiritual battle that’s always raging.
Sometimes we do this on purpose. Sometimes it happens accidentally. I think a lot about this because it has happened and even now still drags at me a lot…wanting to get stuck on the things in this world that serve as a distraction.
I hear a lot of Christians ask, when does something become idolatry? When do we know we’ve strayed too far? I think that’s really the indicator: when we’re intoxicated by it. When the “thing,” whether it’s a substance, an experience, a person, a thing, whatever, becomes so all-consuming that we’re willing to numb out to the rest of life and get lost in that thing instead.
It’s really easy to get drunk on this life, when you think about it. And one of the Enemy’s great achievements has been to narrow down the window of what it means to be a “sober-minded Christian”. Many think it’s just those who avoid imbibing substances to excess, but we can lose our mental sobriety without ever touching a drop of drink or a drug.
God doesn’t call us to just be physically sober; He calls us to be mentally sober, to stay watchful and clear-headed. When we take deeper inventory of our personal lives, just how many things intoxicate us, taking our focus off the watch we’ve been called to and the spiritual realities around us, where it belongs?
What is Sobriety?
Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines sobriety as “the quality or state of being sober; marked by sedate or gravely or earnestly thoughtful character or demeanor.”
Sobriety is about a lot more than just not getting drunk, high, or intoxicated on any substance; it’s a state of readiness and preparedness, that we allow nothing to interfere with our ability to move and act the moment we are prompted either by circumstances or by the voice of God. Sobriety doesn’t mean we never have fun or enjoy ourselves, but it means we don’t let having fun, numbing out, or any kind of pleasure take precedence over watchfulness. This is also crucial because the Adversary will look for any lapse in judgment or preparedness to attack us; and if we allow ourselves to be intoxicated by anything, be it substances or other enticements in this world, there is no doubt our enemy will take advantage of that to manipulate, deceive, or harm us.
God wants us to be ready at all times to move on His behalf; He wants us ready and able to use the armor we’ve been given to protect ourselves as well. This is why He instructs us, over and over again, on the values of sobriety.
What Does the Bible Say About Sobriety?
1 Peter 5:8 – Be sober-minded; be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour.
Ephesians 5:18 – And do not get drunk with wine, for that is debauchery, but be filled with the Spirit
1 Timothy 4:5 – As for you, always be sober-minded, endure suffering, do the work of an evangelist, fulfill your ministry.
How Can I Become More Sober-Minded?
Discipline and guardianship of one’s thoughts, actions, and intake are HUGE factors in remaining sober-minded. As tiring as it can seem, we need to be constantly checking our thoughts and actions, making sure we are not “checking-out” and making ourselves unavailable to God. *This can often mean denying ourselves what seems to be pleasant or fun and refusing to get caught up in things we know will take us out of commission; but part of dying to self and living for Christ is that we prioritize a life lived in sobriety, refusing to get caught up in those distractions.*
In terms of substances, we must always be very clear about how much and why we are imbibing. It’s true that Paul told Timothy to drink wine to help with his stomach ailments, and indeed, wine can be helpful for things like that! But we can never use one verse to trump dozens of others about a subject. God makes it clear: don’t drink to the point of getting drunk. The moment we lose control, we are utterly open to physical and spiritual attack and we run a great risk of making fools of ourselves—and by extension, the One we represent. We also need to be mindful why we are imbibing substances. Having a drink is fine; drinking for the express purpose of “numbing out” sets a very dangerous precedent that is not encouraged by God. If there are things we are imbibing to escape from or avoid, they need to be taken before God and dealt with, otherwise they present another open flank for the Adversary to exploit.
Sober-mindedness requires we stay focused, put the things of God first even when it makes us unpopular, and always bear in mind that there is a spiritual battle raging around us. We don’t subject ourselves to anything that can take us out of the game; we know our limits, we are active to confront problems rather than numbing them, and we are always in a mindset of “I’m here, God. Send me!”
Do you find there’s an area of life where you tend to be high-strung and reactive rather than sober-minded and calm? Or is there something in your life from which you need to abstain—particularly a substance or habit? Take time this week to bring those things to God in prayer and begin bringing them into submission to Christ!