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 nametag for righteous Christians. It’s a path to becoming a more whole and happy person.
“Drunkenness may expose things deep inside of you, but it doesn’t have any good news for the darkness that emerges.”
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
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 short-sighted, 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).