Pastor John, last time, in episode 240, you promised to offer us your six reasons why you would counsel a Christian against getting a tattoo. So, what are those reasons?
Well, let’s make sure, Tony, that I am not saying that getting a tattoo is intrinsically sinful or evil. I am not going to go there, because I don’t see the warrant for it in Scripture. I don’t think it is. I don’t think that is a way we should go about making decisions like this.
Adorn to the Glory of God
I tried to give biblical guidelines yesterday for how to think about tattoos, as well as jewelry and makeup and hairdos and clothing, which all belong to the same category, and the Bible is clear. Following Jesus makes a difference on how you dress and how you do everything — “whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God” (1 Corinthians 10:31).
“To get an adornment that will be with you forever is a high-level commitment to adornment.”
So with everything from episode 240 in mind — and I hope people will go there, not just here; if you are tuning in to this one and you haven’t listened to that one, please let it all stand together — I will give you my reasons, six of them, for why I would counsel against getting a tattoo. Some of these are just from my own personal sense of wisdom. Others may be a little more closely related to Scripture, but let every man judge and “hold fast to what is good” (Romans 12:9).
1. Tattoos focus on external adornment.
In view of Paul’s counsel against adornment — being minimally external and maximally internal — and in view of his counsel that the adornment or the hair not signify excessive preoccupation with looks, I would say tattoos do signify a fairly high preoccupation with looks, because to choose to get an adornment that will be with you forever is a high-level commitment to adornment. I think probably too high. That is number one.
2. Tattoos are permanent.
Tattoos are permanent — unless you pay big bucks with significant pain to have them removed. Most people who get tattoos, I think, aren’t thinking about that pain, thinking about that money. They are thinking, “Okay, this is forever.”
Thus, tattoos are like putting on lipstick you can never take off. They are like applying eye shadow that you will wear day and night forever. They are like a necklace that grows into your skin and stays there permanently. They are like a twist you put in your hair and can never ever remove no matter how the styles change. I think it is foolish to do with a tattoo what you would not do with any of your other skin adornments. That is number two.
3. You and the culture will change.
You will not look the same in twenty years or have the same tastes. The lightning bolt on your neck is going to look like a ridiculous splotch on the folds of your wrinkled skin. Tattooing is a naïve way of thinking that what you like now you are going to like in twenty or thirty years. You won’t.
In fifteen years you will have different tastes. The culture will be different. What is cool now will look silly and trendy and dated someday. You will grow. That moment of youthful identity-seeking will be branded forever like an indelible reminder of immaturity in your skin. Not wise.
4. Tattoos taint the skin.
Tattoos do not make you prettier or more handsome. Now, here I know this is opinion — and just hear my opinion. Take it or leave it. Tattoos are, in general, ugly. They are discolorations of pretty skin, and they get uglier as time goes by. Even the colors that they try to make, they are not pretty colors. You are very limited in what you can do with that tattoo. It is kind of a grayish-blue.
Men find women’s skin attractive to see and to touch. Tattoos do not make that skin more desirable or attractive. That is one man’s view, and you can take it or you can leave it. At the gym that I go to, I pity the women with tattoos. From twenty feet away, they look like they are burned and disfigured. It is very, very sad. So think long and think hard when you have beautiful skin. Men like it. Don’t mess it up.
5. Tattoos do not offer timeless Christian branding.
The best motive I can think of for a tattoo is a kind of self-imposed Christian branding, some Christian symbol or words that say, “I belong to Jesus.” My problem with that motive is that there is a much better way to brand yourself biblically — namely, with love (John 13:35). “Let your light so shine before men that they may see your good works” (Matthew 5:16).
“There is a much better way to brand yourself biblically — namely, with love.”
Tattoo branding is too easy. And it may not be the note you want to strike in ten years. You may think, “I have picked out the perfect, timeless symbol” or “I have picked out the perfect verse to put on my arm,” or whatever. No, you don’t know that. You will change and the note you want to strike may be a different note in 25 years.
6. Tattoos are missionally limiting.
You may get a tattoo now because you are trying to reach tattooed people with the gospel, but that same tattoo may be a huge stumbling block among Muslim peoples God is going to take you to in fifteen years. You don’t know what the future holds.
Think Twice on Tattoos
So, in sum, here is the conclusion. Marking the skin is not intrinsically evil. I will never cut off anyone from fellowship in Christ because they have a tattoo or one hundred tattoos. I will never cut them off in Christ. But I doubt that the decisions that many Christians are making today to get tattoos are thought through as carefully and biblically as is wise. And I have recorded this. I hope it is part of what they take into consideration. I hope it helps them think wisely.