Holy Smokes?

The 2012 elections brought about a first for modern-day America: the legalization of marijuana for recreational use in the states of Colorado and Washington. While these newly-enacted state laws remain in violation of federal law and policy – which still classify marijuana as a dangerous “Schedule I” narcotic with no medicinal value – it is now safe and legal for Colorado and Washington residents to possess, use and even grow marijuana without any fear of criminal charges or arrest.

A hazy issue
This new development in the progression of marijuana legislation has, in many cases, brought about more questions than answers. For example, will police officers, military personnel and other public servants now permitted to use marijuana while off-duty? Will open marijuana use be permitted and accepted – just like alcohol – in places such as bars, concerts and sporting events? What effect will this legislation have on drug addiction, the drug trade, and the criminal justice system in the states in question as well as our nation as a whole? For Christians, the question that begs to be answered is, now that there is no legal prohibition on marijuana use, should the practice be permitted and accepted in Christian circles? While the mandate in Romans 13 to obey all governing authorities previously made the answer a cut-and-dry “no,” residents and visitors of these legalized states are now left with foggier questions of right and wrong. Just in case you or someone you know is planning to go “up in smoke” on their next visit to the Mile High City, let’s take a biblical look at the issue of Christians and recreational marijuana use.

No different from alcohol?
For decades, marijuana proponents have heralded its medicinal value as well as its relative safety in comparison to the effects of heavy drinking. The claim is that marijuana is actually far less dangerous than alcohol, and there are some valid arguments to be made there. However, when considering the biblical permissibility of recreational pot use, there is an important distinction to be made. When it comes to alcohol, depending on a person’s tolerance, many people can consume one or more drinks without becoming even slightly intoxicated or drunk. While the Bible clearly forbids drunkenness in both the old and new testaments (see Proverbs 23:29-35 and Ephesians 5:18, among many others), drinking in moderation is not explicitly prohibited anywhere in scripture. As such, many Christians enjoy their freedom to enjoy alcohol responsibly.

The difference with marijuana is that, apart from heavy users who have built up a strong tolerance, a marijuana user almost always becomes intoxicated (or “high”) from the very first hit. As such, it is difficult – if not impossible – for a user to enjoy a little marijuana for the taste and social experience without instantly becoming impaired under its influence. In Ephesians 5:18, when Paul instructs Christians to “not be drunk with wine,” the spirit of his message is to not allow yourself to be intoxicated by anything that you put into your body. This presents a problem for the Christian who desires to legally partake of marijuana, but also to abide by Paul’s instruction to remain sober-minded.

Bear with the weak
Just as with alcohol, marijuana is often consumed in a social setting with a group of others. Because of this, a Christian must also take Paul’s exhortations in 1 Corinthians 8 into consideration. In this area of scripture, Paul is discussing using Christian freedom with wisdom. In verse 9, he says, “But you must be careful so that your freedom does not cause others with a weaker conscience to stumble.” And in verse 12 we read, “And when you sin against other believers by encouraging them to do something they believe is wrong, you are sinning against Christ.” Even if: 1) you are in a state where marijuana use is legal, 2) you can personally partake of marijuana without being intoxicated, and 3) you are confident that enjoying your freedom to use marijuana is not sinful according to the Bible, you still must take into consideration the conscience of who you are enjoying your freedom with or in front of. Most people will become heavily impaired when smoking even the smallest amount of marijuana and, by you encouraging them to partake through your own indulgence, you are most likely leading them into sin.

Free to love and to serve
You may be someone who has absolutely no desire to ever use marijuana, and therefore believe that there is no personal application for you here. However, these principles apply to every area in a believer’s life where decisions are being weighed as wise or unwise. Thanks to Jesus, we have boundless freedom in the new covenant of the gospel and have been freed from the obligation to obey any list of rules and regulations. Yet, in our liberated state, we would all do well to mediate on Paul’s words in Galatians 5:13, “For you have been called to live in freedom, my brothers and sisters. But don’t use your freedom to satisfy your sinful nature. Instead, use your freedom to serve one another in love.” Could legal marijuana use, or many other debatable things for that matter, be allowed by law and not expressly prohibited in scripture? Sure. But if it indulges your sinful nature, and does so at the expense of offending or misleading another, you probably want to reconsider. As 1 Corinthians 10:31 says, “So whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God.” Let God’s glory be your litmus test and the proverbial – and in this case, literal – smoke will clear.

Justin is a Staff Writer for the Good News. Email him at [email protected] or follow him on Twitter at @thejustinyoung.

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