If someone is described as “sober,” in our present parlance, he or she would be regarded as “not much fun.” That person might be regarded as being serious and cautious, not fun-loving or funny.
Of course, talk of “sobriety” in our culture also reflects a widespread struggle with substance abuse. But if we are to understand the New Testament’s use of “be sober,” it is certainly not referring merely to a dependence on alcohol. It would also include being drunk with any number of things, alcohol included. Certainly we can find ourselves likewise “under the influence” of a mood, a passion, a desire, an agenda, etc. And when any of these things makes me forget my “first principles,” then I have lost my ‘sobriety’, and I am in danger of falling away from my calling and convictions.
So let’s back up for a moment, and get this straight. A sober person is not one who hates fun, and who cannot smile or crack a joke. He need not be a negative person who sees everything in the dimmest of lights. We should not expect him to be carrying signs that say “Woe is me” or “The End is Near.”
Lawyers think like lawyers. Maintenance men think differently, but with a stamp on their thought processes that reflects their training and their daily concerns for the ongoing operation of systems and equipment. Mechanics may be problem solvers, and engineers, well, they have a way of thinking but I’m not sure what it is. Pastors probably have a mind-stamp as well (insert joke here).
My point is that we are taught to think in a way that serves our calling, and we are generally pretty good at sticking to that mindset. Except when it comes to faith. In that case, we have not done so well in integrating the “first principles” of our faith into every area of our lives, so that we approach family and finances, work and play, with this amazing truth that we have been saved by grace and that our aim is but to believe and value the grace-gifts that are given.
We easily revert to a ‘works’ or ‘points’ mindset that supposes that God will love us more on our good days than our bad; that in some way we earn God’s favor, and are thus in a position to lose it.
But when the Gospel writers and preachers of the New Testament tell us to “be sober,” they are simply telling us to stick with a Biblical understanding of the Gospel, that we are not saved by our good deeds, but rather, by God’s good grace, which sent Jesus to be our Sacrifice and our Savior. He, when sober, is my First Principle.