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Brad Paisley sings a funny sung about alcohol that begins with these words:
I can make anybody pretty.
I can make you believe any lie.
I can make you pick a fight with somebody twice your size.
Actually, now that I read those lyrics, they’re not so much funny as just plain sad. Drunkenness makes people believe and do really stupid things.
Romans 12.3 doesn’t address the baleful consequences of alcohol consumption. In fact, it doesn’t mention alcohol at all. But it talks about “sober judgment,” and the easiest way to think about sober judgment is by contrast with “beer goggles.”
Perhaps you’ve never heard of beer goggles. I hadn’t either until friends explained that they’re what you put on when you drink too much. To the young man with beer goggles, every girl looks pretty, no matter how homely; every idea sounds like a good one, no matter how stupid; and every course of action is doable, no matter how dangerous. Looking at the world through beer-goggled eyes is a fool’s errand, but lots of young men and women (not to mention some older ones) still do it. And boy, do they suffer the consequences.
What Paul recommends—or, rather, commands—is sobriety. As he writes in Romans 12.3, “For by the grace given me I say to every one of you: Do not think of yourself more highly than you ought, but rather think of yourself with sober judgment, in accordance with the measure of faith God has given you.”
Sobriety is not the same thing as alcohol-free, although being free of alcohol is a good place to start. Some people wear beer goggles because they drink too much beer. But some people believe that anybody is pretty, any lie is true, and any fight can be won even when no alcohol has touched their lips. Sobriety, you see, is the spiritual and moral virtue of reality-centeredness long before it is a measurement of blood alcohol level.
So, the first thing truly sober people do is take a realistic assessment of themselves. “Do not think of yourself more highly than you ought” is the negative aspect of this assessment. When the serpent tempted Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden, he seduced them into disregarding this negative. “You will be like God,” he said in Genesis 3.5. Adam and Eve put their beer goggles on and we’ve been wandering around like drunken sinners ever since. Listen, there’s only one God, and you’re not him. Neither am I. Sobriety starts with this basic fact.
But there’s a positive aspect to this assessment too. Paul writes about thinking of yourself “in accordance with the measure of faith God has given you.” In verses 4-8, he lists a wide variety of spiritual gifts that God has bestowed on his people. You and I may not be God, but we’re not nobodies either. Rather, in Christ, we’re somebodies whom God values enough to save and use for his best purposes.