Is it sin to get a tattoo? This is a loaded question and the Internet is filled with bad answers. Most of the answers I’ve read on the subject either toss out a few Bible verses without any context or express mere opinions that have no root in Scripture at all.
But is it sin to get a tattoo? Well, why do you want one? What’s your motivation for getting a tattoo? Do you want one because you think it will enhance your looks? Do you want a tattoo because people will talk about it and you? Do want one because you think it brings out a particular feature in your personality? Does it help you better express yourself without you having to brag? And most importantly: Do you think it’s a sin to get a tattoo?
Answering yes to any of these questions should put to rest the question. Scripture informs us that our daily lives need to be focused on changing our heart and soul through our love for Jesus, and not obsessing about our appearances. Pride is pervasive in our world. It takes all sorts of forms and worms into our hearts through a million ways. It comes in by self-righteousness, ambition and even the seemingly trivial desire to get a tattoo.
We can talk all day about whether Leviticus 19:28 was rendered obsolete by the death of Christ and through Christian freedom. It was, but that doesn’t answer the question. We need to remember that the Law was replaced by the One who embodied the Law and he nailed it to the tree to free us from its demands that leads to eternal death and hell. Jesus was the Law in Flesh and access to him comes only through faith in him. And when it comes to faith, we don’t find it by puffing ourselves up. This is why the Scriptures urge us to consider that “everything that does not come from faith is sin” (Romans 14:23). When Paul wrote these wonderful words, he did so contending with the ultimate questions of that day that surrounded the controversies about whether or not men should be circumcised and whether or not eating certain foods were sinful. His ultimate answer: everything that doesn’t come from faith in sin, including tattoos if your motivation to get one is to overhaul your identity. Our motivations matter in every decision we make.
So if getting a tattoo is done for reasons of self-esteem or to blend in with the world, you sin and you shouldn’t get a tattoo. And remember that faith is also loving Jesus enough that you obey his command to love your fellow brothers and sisters, and looking out for the interest of others. If getting a tattoo is going to cause your brother or sister in the Lord to stumble and lose sight of Jesus (and these brothers and sisters also include mom and dad if they are believers) then you shouldn’t get a tattoo.
So is it a sin to get a tattoo?
I don’t find tattoos all that desirable, but I also don’t find them innately offensive. I have a friend who lives in Japan who has kanji characters tattooed down his spine. I cringe every time I think of how close the needle was to his spinal column and extra pain he endured given his tattoo was applied to such a sensitive part of his body. But I don’t condemn my friend for his tattoo – I find it irrelevant for the most part.
What I do find offensive about tattoos are what they are symbolic of in the world. Tattoos are status symbols. They’re also symbols for rebellion, false bravado and even death. Most people who want them want to be accepted by friends or family and to be thought of as tough or brave or independent or self-sufficient. People get them because they want to express themselves and change their identities, but very rarely do people get tattoos as means to infiltrate some people group to share the Gospel. With a Gospel that urges us to become as dependent little children, I’m hard pressed to see their benefit for the Kingdom of God. After all, how many tattoos of a crucified or risen Christ do you see out on the street? Yes, we have freedom in Christ, but how does your tattoo further the cause of Christ’s Gospel in a lost world? Who gets the glory? How is Christ honored? And will the world see your joy for Jesus when they look at your tattoo? Or will they just see another narcissistic expression illustrating your self-love?
Just something to think about before the ink and needle.