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Tattoos and Salvation

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Question #1:  When they were tattooing themselves in the Bible, were they putting the ashes of their loved ones in their skin? I have heard that this was what gave the look of a tattoo. Any info would be greatly appreciated. Thanks.

Response #1:  This is a new one on me. There is much fascination with tattooing and the Bible. Inasmuch as tattoos are only mentioned in scripture briefly in the Old Testament, and only by way of prohibition (see Lev.19:26-29), it is understandable why there would be no mention of methods for creating tattoos (including what you reference in your e-mail). The context of Leviticus chapter 19 is one of pagan idolatry, so on the one hand no custom, however outlandish can be ruled out. However, this theory you mention is certainly not present in nor referenced in the Bible. Given that outside of the Bible there are few written records dealing with the pagan cults of that period which give this kind of cult detail (roughly 1400-400 B.C.), it is likely that even if you find this theory in print somewhere, it is based upon speculation (check a good Bible encyclopedia for possible additional information - I checked the Interpreter's Dictionary and there is nothing like this there).

The one exception to the above, the one biblical mention of tattooing which is yet to come, certainly puts tattoos in a bad light. That is the future tattooing of antichrist's name/number on the hand and foreheads of the population of the world who rejects God and His Son, our Savior Jesus Christ (cf. Rev.13:16-18; 14:9-11; 16:2; 19:20; 20:4). Contrast this to the mark on the foreheads of the 144,000 who are God's special servants during the Tribulation (Rev.7:3-8; 14:1; cf. Ezek.9:4), and to the "name of God" we shall have upon us at the resurrection (Rev.3:12; 14:1; 22:4).

This says a lot about tattoos - namely, there is a big difference between what we do ourselves contrary to God's commands in the service of the devil, and what God ultimately will do for us in marking us Himself as His special possessions for all eternity in the Body of Jesus Christ.

Here some links that address these issues:

Are Tattoos Biblical?

Are Tattoos and Body-Piercing Legitimate for Christians?

Christianity and Culture:  Tattoos.

Christians and Body-Piercing.

The Christian Walk, the End, and Tattoos.

The Genesis Serpent, Using "it" to refer to the baby Jesus, and more on Tattoos.

Hope this is of some help.

In Him who has sealed us as His own in Jesus Christ.

Bob Luginbill

Question #2: 

I know this subject has been run into the ground, but I want something directed toward me if you have the time. A bit of background, I was raised in a church setting. I went Sunday morning and evening, and weds. I was saved and baptized at an early age, but did it again, because I believe I was too young to understand the first time. I was just doing what I thought I was supposed to. Later on I rebelled, big time. Drugs and alcohol overtook me. I lived this life for a while, and tried to get my life straight a few times, but it didn't work. I got two tattoos while in this state of my life. I have been clean for some time now, and have just started getting my life right with God. I still have a terrible time with the flesh. Especially lust. Now on to my question. Would I be condemned if I got a tattoo of say a cross with Jesus on it? Not visible, because I don't want it to show off, I want to remind myself of my real purpose in life when I start doing something wrong. Any suggestions? Thanks.

Response #2: 

I want to be very careful how I answer you here. You ask, tongue in cheek I hope, whether condemnation will follow if you get that tattoo. Scripture is clear that condemnation and salvation don't pivot around individual actions like this, but rather upon the attitude a person has to Jesus Christ. Those who are His faithful followers are saved while those who could care less about Him are not. I read into your e-mail that part of your motivation is somehow to redress the previous action of getting two tattoos that now contradict your new life in Christ. That is very understandable. But we are told as Christians to accept the state we are in when we are saved (1Cor.7:17-24), and I would say that applies to all manner of things which really can't be undone and that it also applies to those who are coming back to Jesus Christ and may have regrets about some of the unchangeable things they have done while wandering from Him.

One thing I have learned on a personal level is that mistakes of the past are often not capable of being redressed or fixed or obliterated. As Christians, we learn that our slates have been wiped clean by God, and we glory in that good news. That doesn't mean, however, that we don't remember things we did in the past with regret, or that consequences of our prior actions are immediately wiped out along with our guilt - very often we have to live with consequences for the rest of our lives (a bad marriage, a criminal record, a self-inflicted health injury, a wasted education, on and on - welcome to the human race). The question is, now that we are followers of Christ, will we do what our Master is calling us to do or not? Let me be clear - NONE of us comes to Jesus with a blank slate; we all have sins that are forgiven, we are all imperfect, and we all have consequences of these misdeeds in our lives before coming to Him which we have to deal with, to cope with, to remember less than fondly.

O Lord, if you kept a record of our iniquities, who could stand [before you]?
Psalm 130:3

And it is a very, very common and human reaction to want to blot out the past, because our guilt and our shame are emotional things. More often than not, some things can rankle us terribly even when, theologically speaking, they may not as bad as other things we have done. But whatever the prior action we are upset about, it is, in my opinion, best to remember what the apostle Paul said, a man who had much to remember and to rue, persecutor of the Church of Christ that he was before being saved:

But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.
Philippians 3:13-14  NIV

In my view, this is really the point. We are not here to continually beat ourselves up about the past, nor to focus overly on our own present situation. We are here to follow our Lord, to do whatever service He has called us to do in His vineyard, growing spiritually day by day, and helping other to do likewise, and consigning our past mistakes to the dustbin.

I can't tell "you yea or nay" on this specific question (check the link on Are tattoos biblical? for what scripture does say on the subject). I can tell you that if you are seeking God's will on this, that is a good thing, and that if you search the scriptures and take the matter to Him in prayer, your knocking on the door will be answered.

For if what we do is really His will, then it doesn't matter what anyone else thinks, even if everyone disapproves (1Cor.4:1-5), and if what we are doing is not His will, then it doesn't matter if everyone else approves.

May God give you knowledge and wisdom and the strength to do His will in all things.

Yours in Him through whom we can indeed do all the things He calls us to do.

Bob L.

Question #3: 

Long story short, a friend of mine has a crazy ex-boyfriend. He actually has a tattoo that says Jesus Saves and he was a Christian, emphasis on was. But he's going into the Marines and at the moment he's into binge drinking. Somehow I ended up thinking that you were in the Marines and came out ok, so I was just curious if you were actually a Christian beforehand. Basically, we were just looking for some shred of hope that he might actually turn his life back around in the Marines. He's so far gone that he actually wanted to get the aforementioned tattoo removed. Sorry to put you on the spot, but we were just curious.

Thanks, I really appreciate it.

Response #3: 

I was a Christian when I went into the Marines, but, like your friend, I wasn't particularly committed and my walk was nothing to brag about, to say the least. Indeed, it was in the USMC that God got my attention and provided me with some good Christian friends and substantive Bible teaching. It took some serious shocks to turn me back to Him, but when I finally did get back on the right road, I was zealous to learn all I could about the Bible and, I hoped, be able to help others in the same or in a similar way to how I had been helped. That's the reason I went into Classics, feeling that a sound knowledge of Greek and Hebrew et al. were essential for any serious study of scripture. That's the reason I do this ministry.

In my experience, the service in general and the Marines in particular are not bad places for "prodigal sons" to find themselves. As far as your friend is concerned, it is certainly true that there is plenty of opportunity in service for "trouble". But in the course of serving there are usually moments that make a person look at himself very closely (it took a couple of these for me).

In the history of the Church, there have been countless believers who turned away from Christ, and many who, like the prodigal son, went to a "far country" before coming back into the fold. Which way things turn out is entirely a matter of the heart of the individual concerned - and which of us can see that clearly into another's heart?

God is patient, God is loving, God is forgiving. He doesn't want any to perish, but wants all to come to repentance (Ezek.18:23; Matt.18:14; Jn.12:47; 1Tim.2:4; 2Tim.2:24-26; 2Pet.3:9). But we have to choose for Him and stand by that choice. I don't know anything about this situation you describe except what you have shared here, but it doesn't sound to me as if the removing of that tattoo is a good sign.

Personally, I am not in favor of tattoos, but to remove something that says "Jesus saves" does seem, in this case at least, like a renunciation of those words, and that is not a hopeful development (Lk.12:19). The only thing that we can do is to pray for your friend - and I promise to say a prayer for him - but even that has definite, scriptural limits in these cases (1Jn.5:16). But as I say, only God really knows the heart - others, like Peter, have indeed turned around from what would look to all the world like an irreversible repudiation of our Lord, and have gone on to be great servants of Christ (Lk.22:60-62).

In Him who is the "Yes" to all our questions, our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.

Bob L.

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