"Sometimes we want to derive meaning and value from certain symbols and customs in the world because of an esteem need. We want our outward appearance to tell people who we are inside. If identity is your need, then what story will you tell by a tattoo?"
First off, I do not believe this to be a “Can we get tattoos?” or “Is it sin?” issue, but rather the matter is more of a “Should YOU get a tattoo?” and “Is it sin for YOU?” issue. Please read the following chapters in connection with this article, as they will help you apply liberty successfully to your own life: Romans 14, 1 Corinthians 6, 8, 9 and 10.
Christian liberty in the context of Romans Chapter 14, and 1 Corinthians 6, 8, 9 and 10 allows me to engage in activities that are not described as sin in precept or principle and do not convict my conscience as being sinful for me. The expressed law of God (precept) and the implied law of God (principle) are not up for debate in determining Christian liberties and thus not considered among a Christian’s liberties for the writing of this article. For instance when, Ephesians 5:18 reads, “Be not drunk with wine wherein is excess but rather be filled with the Spirit…,” it is error to interpret this verse to mean we have a green light for being drunk with cognac or high on mollies because neither is wine. The principle of the scripture is a stern warning to avoid drunkenness or intoxication. And we are given license to excessively ingest the Spirit to fullness, to the very limits of our capacity, to be satisfied with the Spirit alone.
Scripture admonishes that we not fulfill the works of the flesh. Galatians 5:16 – 21 reads, “But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not carry out the desire of the flesh. For the flesh sets its desire against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh; for these are in opposition to one another, so that you may not do the things that you please. But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the Law. Now the deeds of the flesh are evident, which are: immorality, impurity, sensuality, idolatry, sorcery, enmities, strife, jealousy, outbursts of anger, disputes, dissensions, factions, envying, drunkenness, carousing, and things like these, of which I forewarn you, just as I have forewarned you, that those who practice such things will not inherit the kingdom of God.”
As it pertains to the issue of tattoos, Christians are not to resemble the world. God meant this for Israel then and for the Church today. In Leviticus 19, God was instructing Israel not to imitate the pagan customs of the nations surrounding them, and to be separate and pure. Among the specific laws mentioned were laws that prohibited shaving or trimming their beards, blending fabrics, cutting themselves in memorial to the dead, and getting tattoos. The specific laws mentioned here are ceremonial and are not binding on the Church today. However, the principle and intent of God behind the laws delivered in Leviticus 19 is not to conform to the image of the world, which is also found in Romans 12 and John 15.
In deciding on whether or not to get a tattoo, please consider the following:
1. Your age. If you are a minor living with your parents or with guardians, then you should submit to their authority to govern what you can and cannot do. Ephesians 6 commands children to obey their parents so that it may go well with them. Ephesians 6 references the fifth commandment from Exodus 20 and asserts it as doctrine for the church today.
2. Am I of two minds on deciding to do this? Am I feeling convicted? Do not override your conscience! You may already have your answer on the issue and to push yourself into a yes, or to interpret another’s liberty as your own can become sin. Romans 14:23 helps us to understand the dangers of doing what we know condemns us. An increase in faith through an increase in knowledge may eliminate the conflict at a later date. Judge wisely.
3. Am I comfortable publicly promoting something that condemns the conscience of other Christians or places a stumbling block before them? A public display of a tattoo may cause another Christian to stumble through grumblings, disputing, or overriding their conscience convictions to engage their desires. For this reason, Paul declares that he will avoid promoting liberties that cause others to stumble (1 Corinthians 8). The Bible instructs us in 1 Thessalonians 5 to flee even the appearance of evil.
4. Will this bind me by becoming a fetish that I habitually support? Some people refuse to drink because their conscience has convicted them that they would be unable to avoid drunkenness. In Corinthians 6:12, Paul asserts that though all things are lawful for him he will not come under the power of (be mastered by) anything. If we aren't careful, we can allow liberties to become controlling or distracting influences that inhibit our walk with God. When this happens, liberties become weights that keep us from running (Hebrews 12 and 1 Corinthians 6). First Corinthians 6:13 tells us that our bodies are created for the Lord’s use, so we should not get tattoos if we are impressed by the Holy Spirit that they might become weights for us.
5. What’s my motivation?
a. Vanity - According to James 2, we should not love the world or the things in it. To love the world is to love a system. It is to love the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes and the pride of life. Do you desire to imitate persons, customs or systems that are ungodly or contrary to God? Will the tattoo be a matter of vanity for you?
b. Sense of identity or simple reminder? – Sometimes we want to derive meaning and value from certain symbols and customs in the world because of an esteem need. We want our outward appearance to tell people who we are inside. If identity is your need, then what story will you tell by a tattoo? Will you be known by the tattoos or by your walk? If you desire to witness via tattoos, then remember that it is only the engrafted word of God that saves us. To put our faith in a symbol’s ability to convey the message that God’s word is meant to convey is error. James 1 tells us that only God’s word can save. Your identity and worth are now based on your relationship with Jesus Christ – His sacrifice for you and what He says in His word about you. Please consider the following verses that assert our identity in Christ:
• Psalm 139:13-16
• 1 Peter 2:9
• Ephesians 1:4-5
• Colossians 2:13-14
• Galatians 4:6-7
• 1 Thessalonians 1:4-6
• Ephesians 2:19
• Matthew 5:13
• 2 Corinthians 1:21-22
• 1 John 3:1
• Matthew 5:14
• 1 Corinthians 3:16
• 2 Corinthians 5:17-21
• 1 Peter 2:5
You don’t need the esteem boost from a symbol any more than you need the symbol to witness and tell your testimony. We overcome by the Blood of Christ and our declared testimony! It is in Him that we live, move and have our being!
In closing, examine your house rules, personal conscience convictions, spiritual ramifications, and motivations to make the best choice for you. Again a tattoo in itself is not sin; however, realize that it could be for you based on the guidelines for analysis given to us in the Bible. God is preparing us to be judges and interpreters of His word, so in accepting or declining to indulge in liberties we also learn how to apply the principles of God’s word in areas where there is not an expressed command. Ultimately, God is your master and therefore the appropriate judge of your loyalty and service to Him.