Is it Okay to Use Recreational Drugs?

When I became a Christian while a sophomore in college, recreational use of drugs was illegal everywhere at all times. It seemed obvious to me that engaging in illegal activity of whatever sort would be contrary to my commitment to Christ. Though I could easily add other reasons for abstaining from the use of illicit drugs, the legal status of these drugs made the choice clear. Not surprisingly, I heard no arguments to the contrary from other believers. But the legal landscape regarding recreational drug use has shifted dramatically to an increasingly permissive status. As of this writing, twenty-three states have legalized or decriminalized recreational use of marijuana, while two have done so for psychedelic and other mind-altering drugs.  Does this permissive legal approach change how Christians should think about such drug use?

Shifting Views on Recreational Drug Use

In past years, those who promoted the use of marijuana and psychedelic drugs were fringe personalities unknown to most people. The not-so-subtle promotion of LSD and other drugs within certain genres of music notwithstanding, recreational drug use was a subculture in America that was held in disdain by much of the population. Today, however, MVP NFL quarterbacks, members of the British royal family, and numerous Hollywood celebrities openly promote the use of psychedelic drugs, as do a growing number of leaders in the tech industries of Silicon Valley. Members of the US Congress are calling for a nationwide change in drug regulations to legalize recreational marijuana use. There are also those who profess to be Christians making the case that marijuana use is acceptable—even God’s gift to mankind.

A survey conducted by the PEW Research Center in 2022 found that 59 percent of Americans thought marijuana should be legalized for both medical and recreational use, while 30 percent felt it should be legalized for medical use only.  Such surveys reveal that advocates for recreational drug use are changing public opinion. Christians, especially those young in the faith, can be impacted when influential and powerful people seek to drive how society thinks about issues. Their views are also shaped by the societal trends that surround them. I increasingly hear professing Christians question whether recreational drug use is wrong, while others outright advocate for its use. Are they right? Should believers follow the trends of the age and rethink their views on the use of intoxicating substances?

The Call to Be Sober

While legal status is not irrelevant, it is not the most important consideration in determining whether Christians should ingest drugs to achieve an altered state of consciousness. Among the most significant reasons we should not participate in such drug use is the resounding command from Scripture to be ready for the Lord’s return. The promise of our Savior’s return provides believers hope for troubled times and motivation to persevere in godliness (see John 14:1-4 and Matthew 24:46). The apostle Paul especially viewed the return of Jesus as a reason to be sober at all times.  1 Thessalonians 5:1–8 is among the passages that provide a clarion call to be prepared for that day:

Now concerning the times and the seasons, brothers, you have no need to have anything written to you. For you yourselves are fully aware that the day of the Lord will come like a thief in the night. While people are saying, “There is peace and security,” then sudden destruction will come upon them as labor pains come upon a pregnant woman, and they will not escape. But you are not in darkness, brothers, for that day to surprise you like a thief. For you are all children of light, children of the day. We are not of the night or of the darkness. So then let us not sleep, as others do, but let us keep awake and be sober. For those who sleep, sleep at night, and those who get drunk, are drunk at night. But since we belong to the day, let us be sober, having put on the breastplate of faith and love, and for a helmet the hope of salvation.                                                                 

1 Thessalonians 5:1–8

Even the most cursory reading of the New Testament reveals that Christians are to be like watchmen, waiting for their Lord’s return. The coming day of judgment is a reality that should impact how we live day to day. In the passage above, Paul reminds us that followers of Jesus are to live differently than those still in bondage to the prince of this world. They live in darkness. They participate in nighttime revelries that they wrongly assume are hidden by the darkness. But the Lord knows and will reveal it all on the day of his return.

Children of Light

In contrast, believers are children of light and children of the day. They live their lives openly, not looking for places or times in which they can hide ungodly deeds. They live their lives knowing that “no creature is hidden from his sight, but all are naked and exposed to the eyes of him to whom we must give account” (Hebrews 4:13). As those whose debts have been nailed to the cross (Colossians 2:14), believers strive to put to death earthly passions (Colossians 3:5). Hence, faithful followers of Jesus should be characterized by living sober lives—alert and in control of their mental faculties. They are to live with a seriousness of purpose that is in stark contrast to those who seek escape or thrills by using mind-altering substances. Christians live as those who know they will one day give an account (Matthew 12:36; Romans 14:12; Hebrews 4:13).

In the New Testament, these principles were explained in connection with the excessive use of alcohol (Ephesians 5:18; 1 Timothy 3:8). A Christian using drugs or alcohol to achieve an intoxicated state ignores the command to be ready for Jesus’s return (Matthews 24:44). Being drunk or high impairs your ability to guard against the snares of the devil and the temptations all around us. It makes us susceptible to the allure of fleeting pleasures that often lead to ruin. And it renders us unable to bear credible witness to the Savior, who will one day break through the clouds for all to see.

So let us not fall prey to the compromising call of the world. Let us not chase after the vapor of intoxicating pleasure. Instead, let us be sober—awaiting the glorious return of Jesus.

Recreational Drug Use Frontcover

Recreational Drug Use: A Biblical Perspective

Changing laws and shifting public opinion have increasingly made recreational drug use acceptable. What guidance does the Bible give for thinking through this issue? What underlying motivations or heart issues lie behind drug use, and what biblical principles apply?  

About the author

Craig Svensson

Craig K. Svensson, PharmD, PhD, is Dean Emeritus of Pharmacy and Professor of Medicinal Chemistry and Molecular Pharmacology at Purdue University, as well as Adjunct Professor of Pharmacology & Toxicology at the Indiana University School of Medicine. An elected Fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science and the American Association of Pharmaceutical Scientists, he is the author of over 100 scientific publications and three books, as well as the minibook Recreational Drug Use: A Biblical Perspective and is a contributor to The Christian Counselor’s Medical Desk Reference, 2nd Edition.

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