The answer to this question is yes and no.
Before we dive into the Scriptures on this matter, let me say at the beginning that I believe the gospel of Jesus Christ, seek to obey Christ as King in all of life, and I have a box of cigars in my office that I go to on special occasions. I do not, simply by personal choice, choose to drink alcohol. I have many brothers and sisters in Christ who refrain from both, and I have many brothers and sisters in Christ who choose to drink alcohol responsibly and enjoy cigars.
This question is an important one. This question seems to be a “hot-button” issue especially where I live in the hills of Appalachia. From the time when I was a little kid I always heard from very well-meaning and kind folk within the church that “you should never drink alcohol or smoke tobacco – it is a sin!” And personally, I understand statements like these. Many people who say this have relatives who have abused these items and it has caused devastation in their family. They have seen these items lead to sinful behaviors and actions. Even so, we should be very careful when calling something as sinful in and of itself. What we choose to label as “sin” is important.
If our logic on this issue is alcohol and tobacco are sinful because of what they can do, then the logic follows that owning a firearm is sinful because of what it can do as well. But none of us, I hope, believe owning a firearm (or steak knife for that matter) is a sin simply because it can be used unjustly as a weapon. The question I am seeking to answer biblically today is whether or not drinking alcohol or smoking tobacco responsibly is a sin.
Let me make this abundantly clear: I unequivocally affirm that drinking alcohol or smoking tobacco underage is a sin due to civil disobedience to the law of the land (Romans 13:1-7). I unequivocally affirm that abusing alcohol and entering a drunken state is a sin (Ephesians 5:18). I unequivocally affirm that abusing tobacco, just like eating too much fast food, is harmful to one’s body and is sinful as we mistreat the temple of the Holy Spirit — our bodies (1 Corinthians 6:19-20).
I stated at the beginning that I believe the answer to this question is yes and no. Why? I am glad you asked. Let’s go to the Scriptures! First, there is no Bible verse that states “under every circumstance alcohol and tobacco are sinful.” Because of this, we must be good Bible readers and ask good questions like: “Did Jesus drink alcohol?” and “If drinking alcohol and smoking cigars are not sinful, then can I do this wherever and with whomever I want?” Let’s answer these two important questions.
Did Jesus Drink Alcohol?
Jesus consumed wine (alcohol). The only group of people the Bible tells us that did not drink alcohol (“strong drink”) were the Nazarites (Numbers 6:1-4). Jesus was not a Nazarite, he was a Nazarene, a native of the town of Nazareth (Luke 8:37). Thus Jesus never took the Nazarite vow to abstain from alcohol. Furthermore, Christ’s first miracle involved the turning of water into wine. And the Bible says it was not just wine, but “fine” wine (John 2:10-11)! Additionally, the Passover celebration would have commonly included fermented wine. The Bible uses the term “fruit of the vine” (Matthew 26:27-29; Mark 14:23-25; Luke 22:17-18) and Jesus most certainly joined the disciples in drinking the Passover cup (Mark 14:23).
I believe this is very strong evidence that alcohol is not in and of itself a sin. But as I stated above, the New Testament is clear that the abuse of alcohol, to the point of entering a drunken state and underage drinking, is a sin against God and should be avoided by all Christians (Ephesians 5:18; Romans 13:1-7). But can I drink alcohol and it not be a sin as a Christian? I believe the answer must be yes.
Can I Drink Alcohol/Smoke Tobacco Wherever and with Whoever I want?
If alcohol, and by extension tobacco, is not a sin in and of itself, then can I freely drink it whenever I want as an adult and in moderation? The answer to this is no. The apostle Paul explains this type of restriction in 1 Corinthians 8. In this chapter Paul is addressing the Corinthians regarding food offered to idols where some Christians in the church think eating this food is sinful and others do not.
Paul first addresses the theological point on the nature of the existence of idols. He makes it clear that these”so-called gods” (v. 5) in which this food is offered to have “no real existence” for “there is no God but one” (v. 4). Then Paul, because not all the Corinthian believers have this understanding, instructs the knowledgeable and mature Corinthians in the faith that even though eating this food is not sinful (v. 9), it still would be sinful to eat this food around “weak” (biblically immature) believers.
These weaker Christians do not understand their freedom in Christ to enjoy such food in good faith (vv. 12-13; Romans 14:23). To them, the food is offered to real gods. To them, eating this food is a sign of abandoning the true God. It is a sign of apostasy. Thus if they join the mature believers in eating the food, due to their lack of knowledge, they eat and “stumble” into idolatry and “wound their conscience,” that is their standing in Christ (v. 12).
In Paul’s context, the “weak” Christians are Christians who are unable to dissociate various elements in pagan rituals from true idolatry itself. The mature Christians understand that because there is no god but the God of Israel, this food is not offered to any real idol and is okay to eat and enjoy as a blessing from God (v. 6). They understood that God is the giver of all good gifts – including this food. However, these weaker Christians are unable to discern this reality. When they eat the food offered to idols they eat what they truly believe to be devoted to a real god and thus fall into idolatrous sin.
In our context with alcohol and tobacco, we may have a mature understanding from the Scriptures that these elements in and of themselves are not sinful. We may understand that we are “free” to enjoy them (v. 9; 9:1). But if we are surrounded by others who do not share this same mature understanding, for the sake of keeping our brother or sister in Christ from “stumbling” (v. 9), we are to refrain and suppress our freedom to drink an alcoholic beverage or smoke a cigar.
Paul is absolutely clear on his freedom to eat food offered to idols and also his duty to refrain if it will cause a fellow Christian to stumble in verses 8-9, 13: “Food (or alcohol/tobacco) will not commend us to God. We are no worse off if we do not eat, and no better off if we do. But take care that this right of yours does not somehow become a stumbling block to the weak… Therefore, if food (or alcohol/tobacco) makes my brother stumble, I will never eat meat (or drink alcohol/smoke tobacco), lest I make my brother stumble” (emphasis added).
Paul’s greater concern, more than instructing the Corinthians what they are free to do in faith and a good conscience, is making sure these Corinthians are loving their fellow brothers and sisters in Christ well. Paul’s thesis argument is that love trumps knowledge. You may know biblically that you are free to drink alcohol or smoke a cigar responsibly (and of age), but if you are around someone who struggles with this mature understanding of the Scriptures your duty is not to dismiss their “weak” understanding and enjoy your freedom. Rather, your duty is to practice self-control and surrender your freedom to the use of alcohol and tobacco so that you do not cause your brother or sister in Christ to stumble into sin.
So in conclusion, is drinking alcohol and smoking tobacco a sin? If you are of age and doing so responsibly, no. BUT, it will be sin for you if you do so around another Christian in which it causes them to stumble. This stumbling may be that they have a past of alcohol or tobacco abuse. It may be that they truly believe these items are sinful and if they see you drink or smoke, it will tempt them to do the same without a good conscience (Romans 14:23) leading them into sin. So be very careful about the audience in which you choose to use your freedoms in Christ. Christ-like love calls us to lay down our freedoms for the sake of another, even if it may be an inconvenience to you.