Against Holiness

This is probably one of the most disappointing posts I’ve written in a while. I started to call it “Against Tattoos” because the subject of tattoos among Christians on Facebook is what got me started. But after the exchange, I really wanted to just crawl in a hole and pray the Lord return, quickly.

What got me into trouble was the suggestion that because of the Law of God, we might not want, as Christians to actually get… uhm… well, tattoos. For the first 2,000 years of the church, tattoos were never debated. There were no great councils that battled over this issue. It was just understood: tattoos represented pagan worship and pagan gods. This didn’t mean those who had them could not come to Christ and be redeemed from the lawless lives. But no one started advocating getting tattoos so that they could fit in with the culture. (Seems like there has been a lot of ink, pardon the pun, spilt over changing the culture for Jesus over the last 25 years or so… how is getting tattoos changing the culture I wonder?)

Somehow, in the twenty-first century, we have come to the conclusion that putting ink into the skin of our bodies is somehow acceptable and even lauded. In fact, to bring up the fact that it is listed as a sin in the Old Testament brings our screams of “legalism!”

My suggestion on Facebook was simply that our bodies do not belong to us, we are bought at a price and belong to Jesus Christ. Since this is true, why would mark up something that does not belong to us, especially given that it was one of the sins in which Jesus died on the cross for?

This brought out some real derision toward the Law and even some good questions. One man, who was not asking because he wanted to know, but asked simply to throw a monkey wrench into my argument, pointed out that in the same passage against tattoos, there is the admonition not to cut your hair or your beard. That is a tough one. But… I wonder. Could marking your bodies with permanent ink be just slightly different then… shaving? One could also make the argument that since Paul didn’t say anything about shaving in the New Testament, that it didn’t apply. Remember, the Greeks and Romans were known for shaving and cutting their hair.

But the argument could also be made that Paul didn’t say anything about tattoos either. I still believe just the admonition that our bodies do not belong to us, would be enough to help us see that it is not a practice that Christians should take up. I know, some will try to make the case that it will help us reach those who have tattoos, never mind the stumbling that it will cause those in the body already. In fact, that is what one man claimed. A man said he was a pastor and found that there were more people opposed to him in the body of Christ because he had tattoos than those outside the body of Christ. Hhm? I wonder why that was?

After I pointed out that since he was causing those in the body to stumble, he should repent of his damnable practice and have them removed (it’s damnable in the sense that it was sin enough for Christ to die on the cross for and is enough to damn someone to hell, although not those in Christ).

This was his response:

On the contrary Timothy I am still very proud of my ink. I will add more. I can talk to the people you are apparently afraid of because of there tattoos. You apparently have a serious problem with anything outside of your scope of belief. So I guess if I ever saw you in public you would look a lot like Levi or Moses since you follow the laws of God so closely to the written word. I refuse to believe that the God of the universe cannot be relevant to today’s society instead of the narrow minded approach of believing we still serve a God in a dirt hut wearing robes and rags instead of a Creative God who seems to enjoy watching us evolve and change and enjoy the things he created for us. Do you walk everywhere or do you drive a car. Do you stone your wife if she speaks out of turn? These are all laws you could follow if yiu believe in condemning all who believe that God can love us all regardless of our choices and sins. Tattoos are not sin unless you are a member of the tribe of Levi and follow Levis laws. I am sure you do because you seem to be such an authority on the whole subject. God will bless you in spite of the ignorance you are spewing on this wall. I said my piece and will pray that God teaches you tolerance and that people are it influenced by your beliefs that are so obviously anger filled and not well planned. If i gave the impression I regretted my tattoos you read into that on your own. I never implied that. I love them and the history behind they are not sad little scars as someone called them. And i would rather speak to an atheist with an open mind than a Christian with a closed mind any day of the week. The atheist will listen. The Christian like yourself seems hellbent or heaven bent on condemning because it makes there sin seem smaller. We all sin. You think i wear mine on my skin. If that is true then my sin was laid bear for all to see instead of being closeted hate filled super Christian with a vendetta not a purpose. God bless and thank you for reminding of why Christians catch so much negative flak.

Well, then… pride aside, I see nothing wrong with his response there. He seemed quite prideful… I removed myself from the conversation after that. Never try to reason with anyone about anything on Facebook or the internet.

But the real problem in all this is that what is really at stake is the lack of holiness, or a rejection of holiness. I certainly agree that we do not return to the Law for any level of righteousness. That would be to say that the righteousness of Christ is not enough, and that we need to add our own to it, if that were possible. As one dear friend said, the people on Facebook or the internet don’t know enough about holiness, God’s Law, or anything else biblical to even have this conversation. They know their emotions, and a tad about evangelism. After that… they are empty.

Part of my point is that the Law is useful in that it helps us learn how to live holy unto the LORD. Not all the Laws will be helpful in how we live, especially given that many are set aside and were used for the nation that God was working through during that time. But where a principle could be applied in our daily lives, like not getting tattoos, then it is useful. We are to be set apart for the LORD. Our lives are to look different than the life of the tattooed atheist. People should be able to see, hear and realize there is a difference between us and them.

So much of the church has spent so much time trying to identify with the world that it’s really hard to tell the difference any longer. Might we make a mental note to change that? Should we not be different than those who reject God? Should we not live differently than the pagans?

It seems to me that we are to be holy because God is holy. We are to live differently than the world. How that is fleshed out (I know, bad choice of words), is for each of us to seek God’s will for our lives. We do that by reading Scripture and seeing what it says about certain things and then we obey and live according to His word.

Just some thoughts on this. I’m sure the pastor I quoted is far more holy than I am. He’s reaching out to the tattooed atheist crowd after all. And… because I think God’s word has something to say on how we live, I’m a legalist. Heaven help us if I were to bring up something really relevant like the admonitions not to fornicate.

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6 thoughts on “Against Holiness

  1. tim

    Someone responded to Tim, “Do you walk everywhere or do you drive a car. Do you stone your wife if she speaks out of turn? These are all laws you could follow if yiu believe in condemning all who believe that God can love us all regardless of our choices and sins. Tattoos are not sin unless you are a member of the tribe of Levi and follow Levis laws.”

    Not sure who said this, but he/she is wrong. Bu that happens a lot. And the cutting or “marring the edges of the beard” are in reference to Canaanite practices that disfigure and put designs in the hair and bead, kinda like tattoos.

    God’s law is in no way removed or taken away. I only wish my brothers and sisters in Messiah Yeshua would not be hostile toward the written word, as Yeshua (Jesus) is the Living Word, the exact same Word that many Christians are either indifferent toward or hostile toward.

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  2. Timothy, I liked the “ink has been spilled” pun. Nice. And I”m largely in agreement with what you said here. I need to point out …

    Paul didn’t say anything about shaving … or tattoos. Don’t go that way. If “it’s not mentioned in the New Testament” is the definition of “it’s no longer applicable”, then the cutting of hair and the prohibition of tattoos is no longer applicable. I pointed out some time ago in my blog that the command regarding shaving the head (and tattoos) was a command revolving around idolatrous practices, specifically around the “for the dead” concept. The command, then, was not “Don’t cut your hair”, but “Don’t cut your hair for the dead.” And “Don’t tattoo your body for the dead.” And I would argue that both, as idolatrous practices, are still forbidden today.

    Now, if this is true, then I would think it highly unlikely that very many people you or I know are actually getting ink applied to their skin “for the dead”. And perhaps, in the spirit of “Christian liberty”, I’d wish to be silent on the matter. I would not argue that it is, on the face of it, an absolute sin. It could be (if it’s done as an idolatrous practice), but not necessarily a sin.

    Now, that being said, I am trying to figure out why. Why do it? Why mark it up? What did God fail to give them that they felt they needed? And what is the perception when they get it? I mean, ask just about anyone what the standard term is for that tattoo many women like to get on their lower back and you will hear that it is a “tramp stamp”. Is that really what Christian women want? Just about anyone will admit that tattoos “make you look bad” which, of course, is a reference to “bad” as “good” but also “bad” as in “a bad boy”. A little devilish. A little rebellious. Is that really how Christians wish to be perceived?

    But at the lowest level, here’s what baffles me. The practice is … questionable. As you point out, it was always considered bad. It has only recently been “declassified” as sin. It carries with it echoes of idolatry and reverberates with rebellion. It hints that God didn’t quite make their bodies good enough and they are certainly willing to make a permanent improvement on it. So my question is, along the lines of yours, why not be holy? Why not stand out as pure? I mean, let’s say that you get to heaven and you find out that God did not intend it to be banned among believers. What then? “Oh, man! I was too holy. I did too much for God.” Really? If it is questionable and potentially sinful, why not “come out from among them and be holy”? Is that too much to do for God?

    (And, seriously, why does “I think it might be a sin” require “you’re afraid of it” and “you can’t minister to a particular segment of society”? When does “tolerance” become “embrace their every whim”? Where do they get that kind of “logic”? And I am appalled at so-called Christians who hold that opposing sin requires a “closeted hate filled super Christian with a vendetta”. Lay that accusation at the feet of Jesus when He pronounces woes on the cities of Israel that rejected Him. Sigh.)

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    1. Stan, very good reply. Thanks. I do appreciate the way you took his comment apart.

      Also, you said why do it at all? What is to gain by doing it? I might add, isn’t the gospel sufficient enough to reach the tattooed atheist without us joining them in their practice?

      Some good thoughts.

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    2. tim

      I always get a kick out of people when they tell me (and I understand your context) that if it’s not repeated in the NT, then it doesn’t apply. When people tell me that, then I gleefully reply that I’m relieved due to the fact that I’m having sex with my female family members. Of course the reply is that incest is sin. However, that can’t be, because incest isn’t mentioned in the NT.
      Logic….it gets ’em every time.

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      1. Yes, that is clever. But it’s really not hard to stump most people today when it comes to the Bible. I think all that is required is to read, study and know the Bible and the LORD behind it. That gives the best edge against stupidity. 🙂

        Another thought: I wish that the pastor quoted above could actually see how little he thinks of the gospel. He really has no confidence at all with the gospel and feels that if you really want to reach the tattooed atheist, then you must become a tattooed atheist, which seems like at that point, whatever gospel he is reaching them with, its probably not the gospel of Christ.

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  3. tim

    I still don’t understand why people want to excuse tattoos in light of the fact that God said don’t do it. Leviticus 19:28 makes it clear. I know that a lot of people don’t believe the Torah applies to Christians, but I wonder what they say about the words of Yeshua (Jesus) when he said that man shall not live by bread alone but upon every word from God. I wonder also what they would say about Matthew 5:17–didn’t come to do away with the Law, or I John 2:6–those who claim to believe in him must live as he lived. Pretty undeniable…
    I still have people tell me that kashrut has been done away with, and that we’re free to eat anything. The argument about Peter’s vision is always brought up, and I reply that human sacrifice is ok also, since God told Abraham to sacrifice Isaac. Oh, the strange things we do to twist and mutilate God’s word.
    When are you coming to Lufkin? I forgot. Do you have a place to stay?

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