In America we have long enjoyed the observable blessings of God. These blessings have been the fruit of faithful, Christian people who have acted like the salt and light, which every land requires to be preserved from God’s judgment.
But now, the fruit of those long-ago planted trees of righteousness is running out. The inevitable, albeit temporary, victory of wickedness is upon us.
I do not say this to engender despondency, or fear. I say it because it is true, and denying the truth at this crucial point would not be showing kindness, but rather a lack of care for the people of God.
The time has come for us to be sober.
What does it mean to be sober? Webster defines sober as: Regular; calm; not under the influence of passion; as sober judgment. Serious, solemn, or grave. It also connotes watchfulness.
To be clear, our topic here is not sobriety in the sense of abstaining from alcoholic beverages, but sobriety of mind, being of a serious disposition.
Strangers in a Strange Land
The Bible speaks of those who have trusted in Christ as being pilgrims and sojourners in this world. In his letter to the Philippians, Paul says, “For our conversation [citizenship] is in heaven; from whence also we look for the Saviour, the Lord Jesus Christ.” The person who has been born again is not a native of this world. His home is with God in heaven; and in this world, he is just passing through.
The scenario is not unlike the Israelites who had been taken captive into Babylon. The captivity was the LORD’s judgment upon the nation of Israel, but some of the people who had been carried away were faithful to Him. People like Daniel and his friends did not stop serving the God of Israel in captivity. They knew that they were different from the Babylonians, though they had been transplanted there. Their understanding the situation created in them a sense of longing for their homeland and a level of sobriety that they would not have otherwise had.
The psalmist records it like this in Psalm 137:1-4, “By the rivers of Babylon, there we sat down, yea, we wept, when we remembered Zion. We hanged our harps upon the willows in the midst thereof. For there they that carried us away captive required of us a song; and they that wasted us required of us mirth, saying, Sing us one of the songs of Zion. How shall we sing the LORD’S song in a strange land?”
The godly captive had no heart for making merry with the Babylonian world. The situation was too heavy. There is a time for gaiety and a time for sobriety. As Israel was in Babylon, so we are in the world today. Mirth in our interactions with today’s world is unbecoming for God’s people. The times we live in are too heavy. They require sobriety.
This is not to say that we should be crestfallen. We have hope despite the darkness of the world, but we also know the gravity of the situation. The world needs Christians who reflect God’s heart of heaviness for the state it is in. People are being blinded to the truth more and more each day, and they need us to take their plight seriously. This is partly because they themselves do not know how serious the situation is.
Hope and sobriety are not mutually exclusive terms. In fact, the Bible tells us to be sober and hope at the same time. This is found in 1 Pet. 1:13, which says, “Wherefore gird up the loins of your mind, be sober, and hope to the end for the grace that is to be brought unto you at the revelation of Jesus Christ.”
When Jesus comes back for his saints, things are going to change “in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye.” In the here and now, though, we need to be sober. What things would keep us from having the sober frame of mind the Word of God commands us to have?
There are many things that can appeal to our passions and cause us to lose sight of the seriousness of our duties before God. I would like to talk about four of those things, and perhaps the Holy Spirit will bring to your mind others too.
Revelry – Life’s a Party!
The Bible warns against revelry in a few different places. In fact, it is listed as a work of the flesh in Galatians 5:21. The desire to “let loose” and just have fun is of the flesh. But please do not misunderstand. God “gives us richly all things to enjoy.” He wants us to have pleasure in the things that He gives us, but taking pleasure in something and enjoying it to the glory of God is quite different from having a party mindset.
Romans 13:13-14 says, “Let us walk honestly, as in the day; not in rioting [reveling] and drunkenness, not in chambering and wantonness, not in strife and envying. But put ye on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make not provision for the flesh, to fulfil the lusts thereof.”
The idea that God only loves and has no other qualities to His nature and therefore has no expectations of his saints is unbiblical. God says that He is Love, but His love compels him to have standards for his children. He commands us to be holy (1 Peter 1:16), separate from the world. He also commands us to not make provision for the flesh as we saw above in Romans 13:14.
A view of life that paints it as one big, ongoing party is not a godly view. The mindset that life is a Christian’s proverbial oyster is not a biblical one. We are not here to party but to do the work of God to His satisfaction and glory. Allowing ourselves to “let loose” is an open invitation to our flesh to be unbridled. It is an intoxicating spirit in which we cannot afford to imbibe.
Wealth – The Pursuit of Worldly Gain
“Once I have _____, I can get more serious about serving God.” This is a device the enemy uses often in our culture. We live in historically unequaled opulence. The person in America today making minimum wage has more money, food, conveniences, and comforts than most people in the world today. We do not realize how comfy cozy life is for us.
Yet in this richness, we are discontented. Our flesh constantly yearns for more and more and more. We are intoxicated with being among the first to have the newest phone, newest car, nicest house, best job, most fashionable clothing, etc. This spirit takes our hearts away from God and enslaves them to what the Bible calls mammon.
1 Timothy 6:6-9 tells us, “But godliness with contentment is great gain. For we brought nothing into this world, and it is certain we can carry nothing out. And having food and raiment let us be therewith content. But they that will be rich fall into temptation and a snare, and into many foolish and hurtful lusts, which drown men in destruction and perdition.”
As mentioned earlier, God gives us blessings and wants us to enjoy those blessings, but when His blessings cause in us a spirit of discontent, we fall into sin. If you only had food and clothing, would you be content? Proverbs 23:4 admonishes, “Labor not to be rich; cease from thine own wisdom.”
Fear – A Cowardly Heart for God
Fear and caution are not synonyms. Caution is prudence in the face of possible danger. Fear is defined by Webster as “A painful emotion or passion excited by an expectation of evil, or the apprehension of impending danger.” Caution is therefore a process of mental clarity, while fear is an incitement of fleshly passion. Fear is accompanied by his brother anxiety. We are told in Philippians 4:7, “Be careful [anxious] for nothing”.
2 Timothy 1:6-8 says, “Wherefore I put thee in remembrance that thou stir up the gift of God, which is in thee by the putting on of my hands. For God hath not given us the spirit of fear; but of power, and of love, and of a sound mind. Be not thou therefore ashamed of the testimony of our Lord, nor of me his prisoner: but be thou partaker of the afflictions of the gospel according to the power of God.”
Timothy was a minister of the gospel who had a gift of the Spirit that had been bestowed upon him by the putting on of Paul’s hands. Every believer has a gift from God’s spirit which is to be used to edify the body of Christ and to do the work of God (Ephesians 4:7-13; 1 Corinthians 12:4-11). Paul told Timothy, and God tells us to stir up the gift He has given and not to allow fear to dictate our actions. We have the Spirit of power, the Spirit of love, the Spirit of a sound mind. We need not to cower in the face of any situation! Whatever things befall us, the Lord is with us always.
Jesus said, “If any man will come after me, let him take up his cross and follow me.” If any of us is not willing to risk his life in obedience to every command of Christ, he is not truly Christ’s disciple. The spirit of fear intoxicates the mind and causes people to do things that bring shame to themselves and the Lord. Fear of retribution caused Peter to deny Christ three times. It would be arrogant for any of us to think we are immune to the same sinful trap.
Self – The Chief of All Spiritual Intoxicants
Have you ever heard “You can’t really love others until you love yourself”? It seems that everyone is obsessed with finding themselves, expressing themselves, loving themselves, doing what’s best for themselves first, etc. When the world becomes unified in a mantra, we ought to be extremely cautious about adopting it. The mantra of self-first in all things is completely ungodly. Many verses deal with the dangers of self, but one passage of scripture in particular makes it clear, from the mouth of Jesus himself, that no one should be his own top priority.
“Jesus said unto him, Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind. This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like unto it, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself. On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.” Matt. 22:37-40
Selfishness is one of the primary and most effective ways in which a Christian can become spiritually intoxicated. This particular spirit is also manifested in another way, namely, Pride. God says He resists the proud but gives grace to the humble. A goal in the life of every believer should be to get closer to God. If the believer is consumed with himself and given over to pride, God is going to actively resist him. This is a situation to avoid at all costs.
Conversely, the Bible tells us, “Humble yourselves therefore under the mighty hand of God, that he may exalt you in due time.” The best thing anyone can do for himself is to be humble, to love God first, and to love others too.
Now that we know of the need for soberness, and we know some of the spiritual intoxicants, we can confront how to become sober. The first thing that needs to happen is to recognize who among us should be sober minded. Is there any category of Christian that is exempt from the biblical mandate to be sober?
Paul told Titus, “But speak thou the things which become sound doctrine: That the aged men be sober, grave, temperate, sound in faith, in charity, in patience. The aged women likewise, that they be in behaviour as becometh holiness, not false accusers, not given to much wine, teachers of good things; That they may teach the young women to be sober, to love their husbands, to love their children, To be discreet, chaste, keepers at home, good, obedient to their own husbands, that the word of God be not blasphemed. Young men likewise exhort to be sober minded.”Titus 2:1-6
In case anyone might miss it, the people who are commanded to be sober minded have been underlined. God wants all believers of every age, male and female, to be serious about life. There is no excuse for any of us to take this life and the things of God lightly.
The next step in spiritual sobriety is to realize that we need God’s help to have God’s perspective. This help comes to us through the filling of His Holy Spirit. Some folks want to debate the idea of whether a believer is able not be filled with the Spirit, but Paul’s command to the Ephesians makes it clear that being filled with the Spirit is something that a Christian must allow in his life.
“And be not drunk with wine, wherein is excess; but be filled with the Spirit.”Ephesians 5:18
To be filled with the Spirit, one’s life must first be emptied of sin. The Bible compares people to vessels. Christians are vessels for God. If God’s vessels are full of sin, He cannot fill them with His Spirit. If He cannot fill His vessels with His Spirit, He cannot use them as He desires.
In the coming year, God’s people must be serious about living for Him and reaching the lost with the light of His glorious gospel. To do this, our attitudes must change – our minds must change. We must become sober minded. First Peter 4:7-13 says exactly what we need to hear as we wrap up this year and begin the next.
“But the end of all things is at hand: be ye therefore sober, and watch unto prayer. And above all things have fervent charity among yourselves: for charity shall cover the multitude of sins. Use hospitality one to another without grudging. As every man hath received the gift, even so minister the same one to another, as good stewards of the manifold grace of God.
If any man speak, let him speak as the oracles of God; if any man minister, let him do it as of the ability which God giveth: that God in all things may be glorified through Jesus Christ, to whom be praise and dominion for ever and ever. Amen. Beloved, think it not strange concerning the fiery trial which is to try you, as though some strange thing happened unto you: But rejoice, inasmuch as ye are partakers of Christ’s sufferings; that, when his glory shall be revealed, ye may be glad also with exceeding joy.”1 Peter 4:7-13