Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Should Christians Get Tattoos?

A question often asked is, is it permissible for a Christian to get a tattoo? This is a pertinent question today, especially with the rise in the popularity of tattoos in the western culture. According to a 2008 Harris poll 14% of all adults in the United states have a tattoo. The number rises significantly among young adults where 32% of those in the 25-29 age group have a tattoo. Of course, Christians are not as concerned about the trends and views of culture as about God's will for their life.

Is there a direct statement in Scripture on the subject? Not really. Some quote Leviticus 19:28: "Ye shall not make cuttings in your flesh for the dead, nor print any mark upon you: I am the LORD." The problem with using this verse is a failure to recognize that the ceremonial laws have been fulfilled in Christ. Most people who choose to use this verse to defend their position against tattoos break many of the other prohibitions in the same chapter. For example, Verse 19 forbids wearing clothes made from thread from diverse materials. That means you can't wear cotton/polyester blends. Verse 19 also prohibits the planting of hybrid crops of which almost all of our food comes today. Verse 28, however, does speak against behaving as the idolatrous pagans which might be applied to tattoos.

So then tattoos are OK? Not so fast. There are other principles that should govern our behavior and the exercise of our liberty. Let me give a few:

1. As Christians we should do everything with the purpose of glorifying God. "Whether therefore ye eat, or drink, or whatsoever ye do, do all to the glory of God" (1 Corinthians 10:31). We should always ask ourselves, "Why am I doing this?" The motive for tattoos is usually to draw attention to self. It is the glorification of self - the desire to be cool in the eyes of others. Remember, your body is not your own. It belongs to Christ. How would He have you to treat it? Will Christ be exalted in you?

2. Is it profitable to you spiritually? "All things are lawful, but not all things are profitable. All thins are lawful, but not all things edify" (1 Corinthians 10:23 NASB). Will getting a tattoo help you as you seek to be more and more like Christ?

3. What effect will it have upon others? Will it be helpful as you seek to help weaker Christians grow to maturity. Will it be helpful as you seek to reach lost people for Christ? Your tattoo may not offend some but most people will see you as worldly. Are you willing to deny yourself that you might reach others with the Gospel? A tattoo will close far more doors than it will open. "Wherefore come out from among them and be ye separate, saith the Lord, and touch not the unclean thing; and I will receive you" (2 Corinthians 6:17).

4. Look around you at mature believers who demonstrate holiness and spiritual wisdom. Are these the people who are interested in getting tattoos? This should tell you something. Seek to emulate those who are holy. What is your identity? Who are you trying to imitate? We must seek to be more and more like Christ.

We are called to be holy and separate. We are called to bear the image of Christ. There are far more important things in this life than getting a tattoo.


Lori said...

I have 3 tattoos. I love the Lord with all my heart! I would give ANYTHING to have them gone. Thank you for posting this. I wish someone had spoken to me when I was young and foolish...other than to quote Leviticus.

Dale Crawford said...

Thank you Lori for your comment. We all have much baggage we bring with us when God saves us. Our past sins bring us great grief. This is the nature of true repentance. But we find God so gracious and full of pity.

William said...

Wow. I am at a loss for words; or more appropriately, there are so many words swarming my head that I can't get them organized.

From the Museum of Idolatry we get this:

a lady moving to your area... said...

I think you have to be careful about this sort of thing... women wear make-up to look nice to others... which could be “the glorification of self" manicures, new hats for men could fall under this category, my goodness I could go all night listing these sorts of things, ... ear rings (which would require holes put into your skin and would be a LOT like a tattoo) or any jewelry for that matter that is wore to make yourself feel good or pretty….
My sister had breast cancer and lost both breasts… wouldn’t her getting plastic surgery to replace her breasts be the same type of thing…. After all… she was just glorifying her body for herself. Not so much to draw attention for herself… but she sure wanted to look better to other people…
"A tattoo will close far more doors than it will open."
I don’t agree with this… It depends on where you are. I’ve lived from one side of the US to the other and cultures are different even the next state over from La… Sometimes people want to know you are like them before they will listen to anything you say... Do as the Romans…. Paul understood this idea …
I think it is a freedom in Christ like many other things.
They all tie into the same thing, The reason behind it all.
If you follow that logic than you better not buy any new clothes… it is much better to get second hand and give the difference to the poor… That new hair cut…. What’s the point… why are you getting it? How about decorations for your home? What a waste of money and really, is God pleased with your stewardess?
There are so many things that people are dogmatic about that they shouldn’t be. Tattoos are one of them.

Dale Crawford said...

Thank you "Lady Moving" for your post. It is truly a matter of the heart - motive is important. Our motive in all things should be to exalt and magnify God (1Cor. 10:31). If you can truly confess that your motive in getting a tatoo (or anything else) is to glorify God may God bless your desire.
Soli Deo Gloria.

Chad said...

This is a great conversation for Christians to have and points to some of the many benefits of being part of a local body of believers where such things can be discussed and pondered. I am thankful for being a part of a covenant community at Trinity Baptist Church where such things can be considered without giving offense to one another. I would love to have 50 people with tattoos join us if it meant that God had brought genuine, battle tested worshippers to our congregation.

When I was seventeen, I had an ear pierced and it is still visible today. It only took rejecting my father’s counsel and lying about my age (to avoid parental consent) to get one. Further, I failed to seek the counsel of the Pastors that God had placed in a position of authority over our local church. Each of these actions pointed to evidence that I had a heart that was in rebellion to God and His Law. By God’s grace I am not who I once was and He has given me the desire to obey Him. Our Christian liberty does not abrogate the Law of God, but rather it is established by it. The Law is a revelation of the holy character of God and if we are to be holy like He is holy, we must strive to obey His Law. So my decision to have an ear pierced was the result of a lack of conformity to and transgression of the Law of God.

In the case of the Christian believer who is truly considering getting a tattoo out of a desire to glorify God and has concluded that it would not violate the Law of God or his/her Christian liberty, perhaps a good question would be “Is this a wise thing to do?” It is a good saying to “take time to do that which time cannot undo.” Tattoo’s certainly fall in this category. Before making such a weighty decision, it is good to seek wise counsel first. God has uniquely gifted and equipped the church with wise and discerning pastors, men, and women who can be a source of great wisdom in considering what will bring God the most glory. Proverbs 11:14 says, “Where there is no guidance the people fall, but in abundance of counselors there is victory.”

A few practical questions to ponder before making a final decision about getting a tattoo could be: What if God later calls me to move to a place where tattoos are a cultural hindrance? What if the culture changes when I am 75 years old and I still have tattoos? Knowing that 1 Cor. 7 teaches that my wife/husband has authority over my body, should I get a tattoo that my current or future spouse will detest? Will this tattoo highlight a particular body part? What will the tattoo be or say and can I convey the same message with a t-shirt? Is this tattooing a means of presenting my body a living and holy sacrifice unto God (Rom. 12:1) or is it a means of being conformed to this world (Rom. 12:2)? When sharing the Gospel, would a tattoo be an expression of whom I used to be or who I am now in Christ?

If one has already proceeded with getting a tattoo without careful consideration (similar to my ear peircing) and is later convicted that it was not done out of a pure heart, we can still rest and trust in God's sovereign will and be assured that He is able to use even our follies for His glory! Praise God for his tender mercies!

kathleen said...

I am a born again Christian and I am thinking about getting a tattoo and i believe and love god with all my heart. I've done research, i've talked to people about this and one of my friends who is a christian said that God will love me not matter if i have tattoos or not.

Ralph said...

I think the key point for a follower of Jesus is this: "Do you not know that your bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God? You are not your own; 20 you were bought at a price. Therefore honor God with your bodies."

The Apostle Paul was clear: Our bodies do NOT belong to us, they are temples of God. Would you do graffiti...even very beautiful, artistic, graffiti, on the walls of your Church? If not, than you should not permanently mark...what is NOT yours, your body.

We do know God did not like tattoos among his people...and I suspect He hasn't changed, and still doesn't like the permanent defacement (graffiti) of His temples today.