I have some tattoos.
To put it less delicately, I have designs winding their circuitous way up my arms and around my shoulders, an elder god’s tentacles devouring my left forearm, the Joker’s blood-smeared catchphrase on my right, and I’m not even done yet.
I also have faith in Jesus Christ, and would like to desire nothing in this life more than to know Him, to grow closer to Him as my Lord and shine His light in what I do and who I become.
Are these contrary traits? Is there an inconsistency between my flesh and my faith? Is it wrong for a Bible-believing Christian to have tattoos? A lot of people might say so, calling up Leviticus 19:28 with better memory and less Google than me. The verse, part of the book-spanning law God gave to Moses throughout Israel’s Exodus from Egypt, states: “‘Do not cut your bodies for the dead or put tattoo marks on yourselves.'”
If we read the verse and stop there, of course it would seem an open-and-shut case for every Christian to swear cleanskin until the embrace of soil and stone, but God gave us two things we should remember to use in unison: the Bible, and our brains. Lock and key. Let’s think about context.
What was the purpose of the Law? By Christian understanding, the Law was given to emphasize the unattainability of perfection. Humans are sinful, and acquiring sinlessness is as humanly impossible as adhering to the plethora of meticulosities listed throughout the Old Testament. None of the laws given were ever meant to be trusted in for salvation, but were presented as a magnifying mirror for us to understand our desperate and inescapable dependence on God’s help.
What did God’s help look like, you ask? Like a crucified man from Nazareth with divinity in His eyes and our sins absorbed into His skin, giving us that unattainable perfection. Dying our spiritual death so we could live His spiritual life.
The cross is where we are supposed to place our faith. If the tattoo-forbidding Law is a diagnosis of our illness, the cross of Christ is a prescription for our cure.
When we put our faith in Jesus, we are saying we trust our salvation to Him. We admit there is nothing we can do, no effort we can make to be good enough that will save us from the God-severed sin within us. We accept freedom from the Law’s hollow strictures.
When we say we believe in Jesus but then say no tattoos, hearkening back to Leviticus as a mandatory code of life, we drain the cross of its power in our lives. We make Christ’s sacrifice meaningless, because we are choosing to still live under the Law instead of the mercy it was always pointing to.
As Paul wrote in his epistle to the Romans, “What shall we say then? Shall we go on sinning [because we are free in Christ]?” Absolutely not. This isn’t to say we are to reject the Law and everything in it. The Law is how we know ourselves in relation to God. It is a gentle reminder, summed up by the 10 Commandments, to walk with our hearts on God first and foremost. If we actively love and desire closeness with God, the Holy Spirit will work the heart of the Law into our lives.
For the follower of Christ, there is no commandment to the superficialities of the Law. As Jesus said in Matthew 22:36-40 (thanks, Google!): “‘[The greatest commandment is] “love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.” This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: “Love your neighbor as yourself.” All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.'”
Love God and trust your salvation to Him. It’s as simple as that. Of course, with every decision, bring it to God in prayer first. If God doesn’t want you specifically to get tattooed, ask and listen and He will let you know. But there is no active Biblical rule forbidding followers of Christ from tattoos (unless you want to devote your skin to Lucifer or, even worse, The Big Bang Theory…in which case you need to go repent of your sins and be baptized immediately).
With all that said, who wants to go get a tattoo with me? I might know of a place or two.