According To The Bible, What Constitutes Addiction?

Jesus enjoyed eating and drinking. How do we gauge how much is too much? Why does it matter?

The Son of Man has come eating and drinking, and you say, “Look at him! A glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners!”

In Luke 7:34 we learn that Jesus himself was a man who ate and drank. Jesus enjoyed food and wine and didn’t apologize for that. Yet many Christian view drinking as problematic, even sinful. Is it?

The Apostle Paul says this in 1 Corinthians 6:12: “All things are lawful for me,” but not all things are helpful. “All things are lawful for me,” but I will not be enslaved by anything.

Paul’s words recorded in Scripture echo Jesus’ actions. Food and alcohol are not evil in themselves. They are not restricted substances. This is why Paul says all things are lawful. But he makes an important point: not all things are helpful. Paul’s life was committed to honoring God and serving others through the preaching and teaching of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. This was his number one priority. He considered carefully how his actions would impact his example before others. He was careful to guard his own heart. A behavior may be permissible, but as addicts have seen, our behaviors and the things we consume also have the power to consume us. If we are to have God as our master, we cannot be enslaved by any substance or behavior.

This is why Christians understand over-indulgence and drunkenness as sinful. It is not the food or the alcohol or a particular behavior as such that is the cause of sin or evil, it is the power of that practice to jeopardize our faith, our relationship with God, and the example that we set before others.

It can often be a very fine line between enjoying life’s pleasures and engaging in behavior that is sinful. The Bible does not always give specifics. Some churches restrict their members from drinking and other behaviors. This is not necessarily a bad practice, but it can often lead Christians to legalistic conclusions, equating all consumption of alcohol, for example, with sin. Judgment and divisiveness can result.

There is one thing that most Christians agree upon, however, and that regards the use of illicit drugs. This is for two reasons. First, the Christian is called to obey and submit to the legal mandates of the government (unless to do so would jeopardize his commitment to the Lord). Since the consumption of drugs is forbidden by most governments, it is for the Christian as well.

Secondly, we are to remember that the Christian’s body is a temple of the Holy Spirit. The consumption of drugs and the abuse of alcohol and even food can cause damage to the body God has given to you as a blessing. Taking care of the body honors God and His creation-you.

In Galatians 5:19-21, the Bible lays out the problem areas-these are the actions, habits, and behaviors that have the power to destroy faith: “Now the works of the flesh are evident: sexual immorality, impurity, sensuality, idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, rivalries, dissensions, divisions, envy, drunkenness, orgies, and things like these. I warn you, as I warned you before, that those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God.”

God doesn’t warn against these practices simply because he doesn’t want people to have fun or to find any enjoyment in life. He gives these commands because he is concerned to protect you-not just your body, but your soul. Abuse of chemicals and engagement in these behaviors are physically and spiritually detrimental, and even dangerous.

“Beloved, I urge you as sojourners and exiles to abstain from the passions of the flesh, which wage war against your soul.” 1 Peter 2:11

Leaving aside the above practices, what constitutes healthy enjoyment of food, wine, and other Biblically permissible pleasures? How much is too much? Ultimately this is a matter of the heart. The Christian must, at all times, exercise wisdom and discernment. Remembering that God alone is Lord over his life, the Christian must examine his actions and the desires of his heart. Is consumption of alcohol or perhaps food claiming an inordinate about of time, thought, desire, or money? Each individual has to answer these questions for himself in light of Scripture’s guidance, prayer, and the counsel of trusted Christian leaders.