Our society has a specific use for the term sober. Upon hearing the word sober I would guess that for most of you your first thought would go to substance abuse. Sober is used to describe a person who is free from alcohol or drugs. This is certainly an appropriate use of the term. A sober mind is one that is unimpeded by outside influence. In the context of our society's normal use of the word, sober is used to describe someone whose mind is unimpeded by alcohol or drugs.
The word sober is found several times in New Testament scripture. One example, Titus 2:11-12, says the following:
For the grace of God that brings salvation has appeared to all men, teaching us that, denying ungodliness and worldly lust, we should live soberly, righteously, and godly in the present age...
When Paul was inspired to write these words, it is unlikely he was thinking only of substance abuse (if he was thinking of substance abuse at all). While it would certainly apply, I think Paul was speaking much more broadly than this. There are a lot of different things that can cloud our minds, that can get in the way of making good rational decisions. It could be sin, or temptation. More specifically, it can be selfishness, prejudice, or pride. It could be any number of emotions: fear, anger, jealousy or even love. Emotions can cloud the mind and wreak havoc on being able to think clearly.
That is where this term sober comes in. How it is used here in Titus, and in several other passages, is to describe people whose minds are unclouded. Sane and moderate minds. People who are circumspect: they are aware of their surroundings, not necessarily in a physical sense but they perceive what is happening and consider the impact of their actions. They perceive temptation and view it for what it is. They can identify and look past their own selfishness, their pride, or jealousy or envy. They are calm, dispassionate and not inappropriately swayed by their emotions. They are self-controlled, curbing their own desires and impulses. They battle the outside influences of the world, the weakness of their flesh and the fragility of their mind to make good godly decisions.
The language Paul uses in Titus 2:12 indicates that sobriety should be an active part of our Christian lifestyle: that “we should live soberly, righteously and godly in the present age.” It is not simply an action but a lifestyle. Just look at the words that follow sobriety: righteously, godly. Those are words we tend to more closely associate with a Christian. Those are lifestyles as well. Righteousness and godliness are not established in one single act on a given day. To live righteously is to devote yourself to doing what is right in the eyes of God. To be godly, we must be committed to living how God has commanded. They require our continual attention and our continual effort. Sobriety is the same. It is a way of life that demands our continual attention and effort. It requires that we are mindful of what we think, what we do, what we say, and how we react.
However, the world around us does not encourage sober behavior. In contrast, we are continually encouraged to follow our heart and give ourselves to sin. Temptation is our constant companion goading us to not stop and consider the consequences of our actions or our words. Even the way man, and presumably Satan as the source, has constructed the world encourages impulsive behavior: ads pointing us to things we do not need exposure to or social media inspiring absent-minded, reactionary quips, just to name a couple of an endless number of examples.
Combating these temptations requires us to engage our mind. In 1 Peter 1:13, we are told to “gird up the loins of your mind, be sober…” The idiom Peter uses here is like the more common idiom of today, "lace up your boots." He is instructing us to put our mind at work and be sober. As Christians, we cannot afford to speak or act brashly or have our minds clouded by emotion and temptation. 1 Peter 5:8 tells us to “Be sober, be vigilant; because your adversary the devil walks about like a roaring lion, seeking whom he may devour.” Brash thoughts, actions and words will invite sin into our lives and put us in a place to be devoured by Satan.
In practicality, this means we need to be self-reflective before we act. What external or internal influences are impacting my decisions? Are the words I am about to speak or write out of anger, fear or jealousy, or are they truly out of genuine love? What will be the consequences of my actions? At what cost does this moment of fleeting worldly satisfaction come? While these may not be the exact questions to ask for any given scenario our aim should always be the same: to live soberly.