King Nebuchadnezzar, who ruled the New Babylonian empire, was the most powerful monarch of his dynasty. In 586 B.C. his army invaded Judah. They conquered the land, devastated Jerusalem, looted and burned the original temple that had been built by Solomon, and took several people into captivity. Among the prisoners was a young teenage boy whose name was Daniel.
Soon after Daniel had arrived in Babylon, Nebuchadnezzar instructed his ministers to select handsome, healthy and intelligent young men from among the captives and bring them to the palace in order to teach them Babylonian culture and traditions, so that they could be of use in his service. Daniel was one of those who were chosen.
Right off, Daniel faced a problem. Nebuchadnezzar had dictated that the new trainees were to be served the same food and wine that was served on the royal table. While this would have flattered most young men, Daniel was aghast. He was a God fearing man and to eat this rich food, which had probably been offered to idols, would have disobeyed God's laws. To drink wine was even less acceptable. Daniel resolved to consume neither, and asked the chief steward, who had taken a liking to him, if he could have simple vegetables and water instead.
The chief steward went into a panic, knowing that the King would have his head if the young man's health suffered. However, he let Daniel persuade him to do a trial run, and after ten days he was relieved to see that Daniel looked healthier and better nourished than any of the young men who were on the royal diet.
The moral of this little story isn't to turn vegetarian — though I wouldn't try to dissuade you if you were so inclined — but to remain faithful to God when faced with temptation, regardless of the consequences to yourself. This isn't easy, and not just because the cost of obedience is sometimes high to pay — Daniel was prepared to lose his life — but because temptation is not often recognized as invitation to sin. Let us take a couple of verses from Paul's letter to the Galatians to illustrate this.
Now the works of the flesh are obvious: fornication, impurity, licentiousness, idolatry, sorcery, enmities, strife, jealousy, anger, quarrels, dissensions, factions, envy, drunkenness, carousing, and things like these. I am warning you, as I warned you before: those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God. (Galatians 5:19-21)
What was evident to Paul and most of the Galatians clearly doesn't seem very obvious to us now, because most of engage in at least a few of the activities mentioned above without realizing how despicable these acts are to God. Drunkenness is a prime example. Drinking has become so culturally accepted among Christians that people fail to understand that drunkenness is so abhorrent to God, it actually disqualifies one from entrance to heaven!
Do not buy into the justifications that the devil provides you, one of which is that it is drunkenness that is sinful, not drinking. We need never worry about getting drunk if we don't have a drink, do we? So just say no to alcohol — and drugs, sexual immorality and anything else that offends God. You might very well lose a few friends, but if they are tying to get you to sin they are perhaps better lost anyway. Besides, they are really not a high price to pay when compared to eternal union with the Father.
If there is one single time in our life when we are in the strongest position to say no to sin it is the very first time temptation comes our way. (Youth, take note.) Once the devil gets his foot through the door, it doesn't take much for him to get all the way in!
Understand, however, that it is rarely obvious when the devil tries to get his foot in. He is — to give the devil his due — very clever, and will often use friends or people we hold in trust and/or esteem to get past our defences. As Peter advises (1 Peter 5:8) we have to be alert at all times.
There are occasions when, for a variety of reasons, you might turn tempter yourself, persuading others to have a drink, or take a fix, or get into bed with you. Be warned that the punishment you face is great.
"Woe to the world because of stumbling blocks! Occasions for stumbling are bound to come, but woe to the one by whom the stumbling block comes! (Matthew 18:7)
Most of us, however, have long since passed the stage where we had the choice to say no the first time. We have said yes so often, our sins have become habits that seem impossible to break. What do we do? The answer is found in the same chapter, a verse down.
“If your hand or your foot causes you to stumble, cut it off and throw it away; it is better for you to enter life maimed or lame than to have two hands or two feet and to be thrown into the eternal fire. And if your eye causes you to stumble, tear it out and throw it away; it is better for you to enter life with one eye than to have two eyes and to be thrown into the hell of fire." (Matthew 18:8-9)
When we are asked to cut off whatever causes us to sin, we are not, of course, asked to literally sever an offending limb, but to cut off all sources of temptation. These metaphorical amputations that we are asked to perform are no less painful than chopping off an arm or plucking out an eye. If, for instance, we wish to stop drinking, we might have to sever all relationships with people whose company might encourage us to drink. These might include very close friends whom we have been around for years. This isn't going to be easy, but often the rot is so deep within us, the sickness cannot be cured by mere treatment and an amputation is the best course. Do it with boldness. Do it for God.
May the Spirit be with you.