One thing we’ve learned over the years is “Just Say No” doesn’t really work. Everyone knows the harmful effects of illegal drugs. We know the dangers of over-consumption of alcohol. We know how damaging cigarette smoke can be on our bodies. And yet we just can’t say “No.”

Paul knew that “Just Say No” was a lousy way to prevent sinful activities.

Since you died with Christ to the elemental spiritual forces of this world, why, as though you still belonged to the world, do you submit to its rules: “Do not handle! Do not taste! Do not touch!”? These rules, which have to do with things that are all destined to perish with use, are based on merely human commands and teachings. Such regulations indeed have an appearance of wisdom, with their self-imposed worship, their false humility and their harsh treatment of the body, but they lack any value in restraining sensual indulgence. (Colossians 2:20-23, emphasis added)

Zero-tolerance policies and “Just Say No,” in Paul’s words, “lack any value in restraining sensual indulgence.”  We cannot will temptation away. That’s why diets don’t often work. If we could, through sheer will power, say “No” to that pizza or chocolate ice cream, then we wouldn’t have an obesity epidemic on our hands. And if people could just say “No” to drugs and alcohol abuse, then we wouldn’t need the DEA or random police check points on New Year’s Eve. It simply doesn’t work that way.

What we need is a reason to say “No.” And we lack that in America. Our nation, and indeed our world, is in moral chaos. It has been since the beginning. There is no universal right or wrong. There is no one set of principles guiding the human race, save for the principle of self-gratification. We are impulsive, impatient, and we celebrate letting go of our inhibitions. When immediate self-pleasure becomes the driving principle in our lives (from fast food to video games to sex), then there is no reason to say “No” to illegal drugs. The damage comes later but the pleasure comes NOW.

You, my brothers and sisters, were called to be free. But do not use your freedom to indulge the flesh; rather, serve one another humbly in love. For the entire law is fulfilled in keeping this one command: “Love your neighbor as yourself.” If you bite and devour each other, watch out or you will be destroyed by each other.

So I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh. For the flesh desires what is contrary to the Spirit, and the Spirit what is contrary to the flesh. They are in conflict with each other, so that you are not to do whatever you want. But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the law. (Galatians 5:13-18, emphasis added)

We are set free from the law because of Christ, yet that does not give us license to do whatever we want. And Paul gives a WHY: because you live by the Spirit. The flesh and Spirit are in constant struggle against one another. Even Jesus knew this struggle full well. “Watch and pray so that you will not fall into temptation. The spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak” (Matthew 26:41).

Paul goes on in Galatians to describe the “works of the flesh.” Notice how many of these can be (and often are) associated with our drug culture and alcohol abuse.

When you follow the desires of your sinful nature, the results are very clear: sexual immorality, impurity, lustful pleasures, idolatry, sorcery, hostility, quarreling, jealousy, outbursts of anger, selfish ambition, dissension, division, envy, drunkenness, wild parties, and other sins like these. Let me tell you again, as I have before, that anyone living that sort of life will not inherit the Kingdom of God. (Galatians 5:19-21, NLT)

How many families have been ripped apart because of an alcoholic’s outbursts of anger? How many relationships have been ruined because of a drug addict’s hostility, quarreling, and selfishness? How many women have been forever damaged because they were taken advantage of at a “wild party”?

This does not sound like the kind of life I want. Secrecy, jealousy, dissension, fighting. I don’t want any part in that. In fact, I don’t want any part with any person or company that promotes this kind of lifestyle. You will never see a Budweiser commercial featuring an abusive husband. You will never see a lung cancer patient in a Camel add. You will never see the real story from the people pushing these products.

And maybe we don’t want to.

Have nothing to do with the fruitless deeds of darkness, but rather expose them. It is shameful even to mention what the disobedient do in secret. But everything exposed by the light becomes visible—and everything that is illuminated becomes a light. This is why it is said:

Wake up, sleeper,
rise from the dead,
and Christ will shine on you.”

Be very careful, then, how you live—not as unwise but as wise, making the most of every opportunity,because the days are evil. (Ephesians 5:11-16)

One argument for the use of drugs/alcohol/whatever is the “It’s my body, my business” argument. I mean, I’m not hurting anyone else in the process, right? It’s just a little harmless fun, isn’t it?

Maybe we can shed a little light on that one, too.

Who has woe? Who has sorrow?
Who has strife? Who has complaints?
Who has needless bruises? Who has bloodshot eyes?
Those who linger over wine,
who go to sample bowls of mixed wine.
Do not gaze at wine when it is red,
when it sparkles in the cup,
when it goes down smoothly!
In the end it bites like a snake
and poisons like a viper.
Your eyes will see strange sights,
and your mind will imagine confusing things.
You will be like one sleeping on the high seas,
lying on top of the rigging.
“They hit me,” you will say, “but I’m not hurt!
They beat me, but I don’t feel it!
When will I wake up
so I can find another drink?” (Proverbs 23:29-35)

He’s talking specifically about alcohol in this section, but many of the symptoms and behaviors are fitting with drug use, too. He’s essentially warning that this lifestyle will destroy your body and your mind. Not only that, but these kind of things aren’t happening in the privacy of the subject’s own home. He’s in a place where people will take advantage of him and use him as a punching bag because he is under the influence.

But hey, it’s your body. Do whatever you want, right?


For you created my inmost being;
you knit me together in my mother’s womb.
I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made;
your works are wonderful,
I know that full well.
My frame was not hidden from you
when I was made in the secret place,
when I was woven together in the depths of the earth.
Your eyes saw my unformed body;
all the days ordained for me were written in your book
before one of them came to be. (Psalm 139:13-16)

You are not your own; you were bought at a price. Therefore honor God with your bodies. (1 Corinthians 6:19-20)

Even if you can manage to use and abuse drugs and alcohol without physically or emotionally harming another human being, you cannot do so without damaging the image of God in which you were made. Destroying our bodies for the thrill of it does nothing to glorify God. Getting high distorts God’s image inside you. What’s more, there is nothing loving, selfless, humble, or worshipful in doing these things.

But there is hope. There is always hope as long as you still draw breath. God can cleanse you. God can restore his image in you. He can help you overcome your addictions and your temptations. He can restore your relationships. He can make all things new.

But you’ve got to learn the reason to say no, and the reason is Christ.