Christians and the Recreational Use of MarijuanaOctober 25, 2022
A few years ago, when I was preaching through Proverbs, I address the question of whether or not Christians should make use of marijuana for recreational purposes. Last week, Joe Carter of the Gospel Coalition wrote an excellent article explaining why his answer is No. I urge you to read it here.
Below is the summation of the reasons why I agree with Carter. These comments are taken from my sermon on the subject.
As most of you know, this past November (2013) the citizens of Colorado approved Amendment 64 that allows “the personal use and regulation of marijuana” for adults 21 years and older. Although marijuana is still illegal under federal law, its legal sale commenced on January 1, 2014, in Colorado. This has led to countless discussions and debates among Christians as to whether the use of marijuana is a sin. Again, I’m not talking about its use in cases of extreme medical emergencies where it can be shown that marijuana under the direction of a physician can be beneficial in the healing process. We are talking about the recreational use of marijuana when the primary intent is to get “high” or “stoned.”
Does the Bible address the use of marijuana? Yes and No! Some believe it is explicitly endorsed in Genesis 1:29 where God said to Adam: “Behold, I have given you every plant yielding seed that is on the face of all the earth, and every tree with seed in its fruit. You shall have them for food.”
But how many people ingest marijuana as food? This passage gives no support for the practice of smoking marijuana for a recreational high. I know of no food that we consume by smoking. As Joe Carter has written, “Presumably, no one adds marijuana to brownies because it improves their flavor. The reason to add this particular plant to foodstuffs is because of its effect on senses other than taste” (“Is Recreational Marijuana Use a Sin,” January 6, 2014, The Gospel Coalition Blog).
So, aside from this passage in Genesis marijuana is nowhere mentioned in Scripture. The question we then need to ask and answer is this: Do we find in the Bible something that is analogous to the recreational use of marijuana? The answer is Yes: intoxication by drinking alcohol.
But what constitutes “intoxication”? If the Bible permits the use of alcohol in moderation, might it not also permit the use of marijuana in moderation? We know that a person can consume small quantities of alcohol without any intention of getting drunk. Can a person similarly consume small quantities of marijuana without any intention of becoming intoxicated? To answer that we must define “intoxication”.
Joe Carter is helpful here. He explains that “for alcohol, the unit of measure is the ‘standard drink,’ that is any drink that contains about 14 grams of pure alcohol (about 0.6 fluid ounces or 1.2 tablespoons). A standard drink is conventionally defined as the alcohol content of 12 ounces of 5 percent-alcohol beer or 5 ounces of 12 percent-alcohol wine or an ounce and half (a shot) of 40 percent-alcohol (80-proof) spirits (hard liquor). In most U.S. states, the legally defined level of intoxication typically occurs, depending on pacing, after four drinks for an average-sized woman or five for an average-sized man.”
But it takes only four puffs of a marijuana cigarette to induce a state of intoxication. If your intent for ingesting marijuana in any form isn’t for the intoxicating effect, why do you bother? What benefits from it are you seeking? And if your intent in the recreational use of marijuana is indeed some level of intoxication, your action is sinful.
But what about caffeine? People drink coffee and Coca-Cola and certain energy drinks to achieve a physical effect. That’s true, but there’s a significant difference. As John Piper has pointed out, “Marijuana temporarily impairs the reliable processing of surrounding reality. Caffeine ordinarily sharpens that processing. Most coffee drinkers hope to stay awake, do their jobs more reliably, and drive more safely. It is certainly possible to abuse caffeine, but, as a natural stimulant, it is most commonly used not as an escape from reality, but as an effort to interact responsibly with reality.” Thus, “unlike caffeine, marijuana is not generally thought of as an empowering drug that enables you to be a more alert dad, or a more aware mother, or a more competent employee. Rather, for most users, it is a recreational escape, which produces diminished accuracy of observation, memory, and reasoning. And it may have lasting negative effects on the mind’s ability to do what God created it to do” (“Don’t Let Your Mind go to Pot,” January 9, 2014, www.desiringgod.org).
In light of this, I would argue that several things justify the conclusion that the recreational use of marijuana with the intent to get “high” is sinful, even if it were to occur in a state where it is technically legal.
First, we read in 1 Corinthians 6:19-20 – “Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, whom you have from God? You are not your own, for you were bought with a price. So glorify God in your body.” Contrary to what non-Christians think about themselves, you, Christian man and Christian woman, you do not have ultimate authority over your body to do with it what you please. Your body belongs to Christ! Your body is the dwelling place of the Holy Spirit! Your body is to be used to honor and glorify God!
So, if you should choose to drink to excess or smoke marijuana for a high you need to ask: “Does this decision make Jesus look good?” We should also ask this about the quality of TV shows we watch, or what we see on the Internet, or the kind of music we listen to, or the rating of movies we attend, or how much we eat.
Second, we read in 1 Corinthians 6:13 that the body is meant “for the Lord, and the Lord for the body.” Our bodies are designed by creation and redeemed by the blood of Christ so that they might be instruments for his use and his glory. Therefore, we must strive not to dull or diminish or weaken our God-given physical and mental capacities to glorify and serve God. We must strive to see clearly and think clearly and decide clearly and speak clearly and remember clearly. Our minds are designed by God to know him and love him and grow in our affections for him. We should avoid anything that undermines our minds in this regard. As Piper put it, “be ruthlessly clear-headed.”
Third, what sort of witness for Jesus do we give when we join with the world in the recreational use of a drug whose purpose is to induce a state of passivity and stupor and diminished accuracy in mental observation and memory and basic reasoning powers? Not a good one, in my opinion.
Fourth, in cases such as this I often think we are asking the wrong question. We ask: “What’s wrong with it?” “Why shouldn’t I?” “How far can I go and still not sin?” Perhaps we should ask: “Will it promote the cause of Christ?” “Will this activity lead me and others to treasure Jesus above all else?” “Will it help me fight the fight of faith with greater success?” “Will it sharpen and intensify my knowledge of Christ and my commitment to glorify him in all things?” Asking those questions may well elicit a different answer from the one we typically hear.