Friday, November 20, 2020

The Christian and Marijuana

[Disclaimer: this post is NOT intended to disparage the medically helpful use of non-THC cannabinoid products, nor the careful and temporary use of medically-indicated antidepressant or anti-anxiety drugs prescribed by a physician.]

As the recreational and medical use of marijuana is legalized across America, I am concerned that believers are justifying the use of pot because “it is no longer illegal.” Though it remains a controlled substance on federal lists, the feds don’t seem to be on a crusade against states where marijuana use is now legal at the state level.

Between the general cultural lessening of the stigma regarding drug use/abuse, and the change in its legal status, some professing Christians believe that the use of psycho-active substances such as marijuana is a legitimate lifestyle choice. The most common justification I hear is, “it helps me relax,” or “it helps me deal with stress.”

There are, in my opinion, many good reasons Christians should abstain from all psycho-active substances unless specifically prescribed by a physician. There’s a medical case against it (especially regarding teens and marijuana, in terms of the impairment of brain development), there’s a psychological case against it (loss of motivation and ambition, and the development of psychological dependency), and there’s certainly a social case against it (marijuana is a gateway drug and is demonstrably associated with irresponsible behavior). Great caution should be exercised even when a physician does prescribe a drug—the over-prescription of psycho-active drugs is a recognized problem in the typical American practice of medicine.

There is also a likely Scriptural case against such drug use at the lexical level. The Greek term φάρμακον (pharmakon, from which we get the English terms pharmacy and pharmaceuticals), and its related words, is translated with the English term sorcery or sorcerer in Galatians 5:20, Revelation 9:21, 18:23, 21:8, and 22:15. The Dictionary of New Testament Theology indicates this word group was typically associated with the use of substances involved in the practice of magic: medicines, herbs, potions, and poisons. The New Testament consistently associates the word with negative and prohibited practices. Galatians 5:20 includes sorcery in the list of the “deeds of the flesh,” saying that “those who practice such things will not inherit the kingdom of God” (5:21).

Modern users of marijuana may not be consciously engaging in classical “magic” practices in their use of the drug, but that neglects to consider the general shift away from superstitions in our post-enlightenment culture. For example, moderns don’t necessarily believe in animistic gods as supernatural beings—but we still practice idolatry by worshiping something other than God (sex, money, etc.). The worship no longer takes on the appearance of the cultic practices of the pre-modern era, but it is worship all the same and therefore idolatry all the same. By the same token, moderns using marijuana are not consciously practicing magic, but they are pursuing the benefits, the highs, the alteration of consciousness that ancient magic practices promised, and as such there is virtually no distinction between modern and ancient usage of drugs.

But none of those arguments are the strongest arguments against the use of marijuana by believers. When a believer uses the drug for the euphoria of the high it is no different from drunkenness, which is roundly condemned by Scripture. When a believer uses the drug to relax or escape the pressures of stress and difficulty, he is endorsing the assumption that stresses, difficulties, and trials are bad, are a moral evil, and therefore should be eliminated or avoided.

But that’s not how the Scripture treats stresses, trials, and troubles. Instead, the Bible presents these dynamics as tools in the hands of God that make us more like Christ. Peter says the trials work the “proof of our faith, being more precious than gold,” and ultimately are found to “result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ” (1 Peter 1:7). Somehow I don’t think that dealing with trials by toking on a joint produces the same glory, honor, and praise toward Jesus Christ.

Peter also says that God’s divine power has granted us “everything pertaining to life and godliness through the knowledge of Him who called us by His own glory and excellence” (2 Peter 1:3). I don’t think he meant that God’s power plus pot accomplishes the glory of Christ. If we need marijuana to cope with life, then we are obviously demonstrating to the world that God’s divine power is frankly inadequate.

Paul says that he boasts in weakness, distresses, difficulties for Christ’s sake, because in his weakness Christ’s power is perfected in him (2 Corinthians 12:9-10). I don’t think Paul dealt with his troubles with Christ plus pot.

In my opinion this is the greatest argument against the use of marijuana. The stresses, trials, troubles of life are designed to produce the image of Christ in our character. When we can only deal with those things by getting high, we are confessing that what Jesus has done for us is insufficient to deal with “real life.”

Is the inadequacy of Christ really the message you want to proclaim?


  1. Thank you for your work on this topic Pastor Chris. There are so many perception points this can be approached from, and I believe you have chosen an appropriate and valid Biblical case regarding non-medical use of cannabis.
    I propose 4 separate but entwined thoughts on the mindset and state of a recreational cannabis user. There are no doctrinal statements or scientific ponderings intended by the following. Simply an eye into the mind of a person who struggled with and submitted to cannabis use for much of his life.
    1. Someone who is high has given some degree of control over their mind to being influenced by someone/something other than God. There should be little to no argument that the physical-world effects of that influence are demonstrated through the loss of facilities. In my experience, the effects would include (but not limited to) tendency to panic/anxiety; inability to mentally focus on a set goal which also affects deductive reasoning; self-centered irritability; decreased sensitivity to the difference between right/wrong (i.e., righteousness/rebellion); perceptual alterations; fear and depression are subject to unreasonable levels. There may be aspects of being recreationally high that are spoken of in a positive manner, but most (if not all) reasons center around self-amusement or relaxation. If cannabis is a priority in your life, you must deduce that shallow self-pursuits is also a priority, if not THE priority in your life. This is idolatry defined and the opposite of the example Jesus lived as an example for us.
    2. Even small amounts of cannabis consumption lead to conviction deficiencies, especially in the areas of self-discipline and drunkenness. While your facilities experience increased absence of conviction, you are now more vulnerable to act on more temptations and to consume more cannabis. This further subtracts from control over your own facilities and you descend to another level of apathy toward conviction of sin. This can and often does expose your mind to everything you have ever perverted in a rebellious act towards God (new sin in your life is also at arm’s length when your physical brain is altered). Even long held personal beliefs about which you have strong convictions, now have a more blurred line because of your altered state.
    3. The spiritual interacting with physical is always at work in your life. Two realities under the sovereignty of God, which He uses to work good in our lives and together for His glory. When you indulge in pleasures which are devoted exclusively to self, the negative implications and consequences of these two realities are now on an expedited downward progression as you tear through hurdles between you and sin. As I see it, these hurdles were put in place by God as you practice obedience and are enabled by God to overcome particular sins in your life as a part of the sanctification process. In the moments between being high, you can witness the damage resulting from your submission and compromise to sins that you should already have victory over. The less time you have between being high, the less time you have to evaluate the damage done. Sooner or later, you no longer care and/or lose hope because of your inability to pull yourself out of sin.
    4. Reasons become excuses when you strip away shallow reasoning and apply Biblical wisdom. Cannabis does not help with deep rooted stress. It magnifies it! Contentment is never achieved no matter how much you consume and leaves you with guilt. It is as if your idol mocks and accuses you after you accept it as a viable option. There are many legal and more healthy ways to relax or battle insomnia without the psycho-active effects of cannabis. Whatever reason you (or I) have ever used for dependence or just occasional use of cannabis is a superficial covering that attempts to hide the reality of self-worship. Self worship eventually becomes self-loathing leaving men and women alone with and loyal to their idol, leaving a sordid tale of disappointment and heartbreak in their trail.
    Quit Now! It isn’t worth it!

  2. This is a terrific commentary on the collateral damage caused by marijuana use. Thanks for adding it to the post. As a biblical counselor I have seen the havoc wreaked within families by the use of this drug, and I have observed its gateway effects into multiplied new patterns of sin. You have done an excellent job of fleshing that out. Thanks again.