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What does the Bible say about tattoos, flesh tunnel earrings and disputable cultural practices?

In the Old Testament, there are Scriptures that forbid cutting oneself, tattoos and mutilating the flesh, (Leviticus 19:28). Therefore, many Christians believe that God must have good reasons for forbidding these practices and it would not be clever to ignore any warning from a loving God. However, some scholars argue that the historical context is open to debate and the subject becomes ‘disputable.’

In the New Covenant, we are under grace not the law, but Paul explains in 1 Corinthians 5 that grace can be abused. In verse 6, he even has to rebuke people who have become proud that they have so much liberty under grace that they have partaken of sexual sin and were boasting about it! A little yeast leavens the whole batch was Paul’s warning. The same is true today. We often look around to find other people, especially Christian leaders, whose lifestyles can justify our behaviour. If it’s ok for them, it must be ok for me? We especially look to find people with an anointing and who are behaving like we want to, because we hope that we too can do the same, (2 Peter 2:18).

We must remember that we are following Christ, not other people! Every Christian who is on-fire for God has always discovered that God requires more of us, than He does from believers who are drifting in their faith. He won’t allow us to get away with things that other believers deem ‘acceptable.’

It is important to understand that an anointing on someone’s life does not indicate that God is blessing every decision that they make, because the gifts and callings of God are irrevocable, (Romans 11:29). With that warning in mind, a preacher could actually be very far away from God, but still have an anointing due to God’s grace. As we are the bride of Christ, we must constantly ask ourselves: Are we wedded to Christ, or do our actions and beliefs wed us to the world? Are we preparing ourselves for Him, or giving ourselves to the world?

Before we give the seal of approval to something the Bible does not specifically address, we must consider ‘the ways of God’ to address the issue. As an example, the Bible does not address the question of smoking, but Christians recognise that we cannot defile God’s temple. ‘Do you not know that your body is the temple of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God? You are not your own; you were bought at a price. Therefore honor God with your body’ (1 Corinthians 6:19-20).

Banks today have been accused of finding legal means to neglect the spirit of the law, yet we Christians can do the same thing. We know what God requires of us, but we still look for loopholes that we think let us off the hook, even though we know we are ignoring the spirit of God’s original intention. Does this mean that we must always follow a strict code of do’s and don’ts? Paul deals with this in Romans. He explains that we follow the spirit of the law, because the Spirit of God is living within us. God is drawing us to holiness. We are not forced, but the Holy Spirit within us draws us by His grace into holy living. Under the law we could not obey, but because of the Holy Spirit within us we want to obey.

What about tattoos then? If we could travel back to Solomon’s Temple, we would never enter into the Holy of Holies and engrave the holy articles with nice words! The priests feared God and would not misuse His temple. All the temples from Bible times have been destroyed and God used their destruction to teach us that He wants to abide in us, (Jeremiah 7:11-14). We are the temple of God. ‘Do you not know that you are the temple of God and that the Spirit of God dwells in you? If anyone defiles the temple of God, God will destroy him. For the temple of God is holy, which temple you are. Let no one deceive himself...’ (1 Corinthians 3:16-17). Our bodies and our spirits belong to God Himself! We are the temple of the Holy Spirit and therefore, before we begin to engrave something onto God’s temple, we must ask the owner what He wants, for we are His, (1 Corinthians 6:19-20).

After we have recognised that our bodies are the temple of the Holy Spirit, we must then realise that everything ‘questionable’ or ‘disputable’ has a spiritual genesis. Ephesians 6:12 reminds us that that everything on earth has a spiritual foundation. The Bible specifically warns that we must test the spirits to see if they are from God, (1 John 4:1). Therefore we should ask: Did this disputable thing begin with people who loved God, or with people who did not know God? Then we must ask another challenging question: Did this practice begin with people filled with the Holy Spirit, or with people filled by another spirit? Then we must challenge ourselves again by asking: Was this practice introduced into our culture by people on-fire with God, or by people who knew about Christ and rejected Him to live a life of sin? Who pioneered this aspect of our culture? Did those who embrace a spirit of rebellion make this thing fashionable?

The Bible warns that there are many cultural practices that we as Christians cannot partake in. ‘Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in them. For all that is in the world – the lusts of the flesh, the lust of the eyes and the pride of life – is not from the Father, but is of the world. And the world is passing away and the lust of it; but he who does the will of God abides forever’ (1 John 2: 15-16).

In Africa, when the people first became Christians, they had to look at their culture and ask - What parts of our culture come from worship of demons and what is neutral? In the West, this happened over one thousand years ago, so most people have forgotten all that our ancestors had to renounce. Many preachers in Africa now denounce tattoos, fleshies (flesh tunnel earrings) and many other examples of ‘cultural norms’ which were once part of their former culture. When they received the Holy Spirit, He showed them that the practices of cutting, tattooing and distorted their flesh all began when they worshipped false gods. The spiritual source of this culture was idolatry.

(In the West, earrings for men culturally grew out of the rebellion of the 1960s and 70s and became fashionable in the 1980s and 90s through numerous pop stars and sports stars. Biblically, earrings for men are a symbol of slavery, bondage and idol worship, see Genesis 35:2-5, Exodus 21:5-6, Exodus 32:1-4, Deuteronomy 15:15-17 and Judges 8:23-27).

In accordance with Ephesians 6:12, by renouncing these gods and spirits, they removed the dark spiritual strongholds over their lives that had been oppressing them. According to Jesus in Matthew 12:43, when a spirit is cast out (and the people receive the Holy Spirit instead), the demonic spirits go looking for a new home. Could it be possible that the old spirits that have been bound in parts of Africa are now moving towards the West looking for new people to oppress? As the West has rejected the Holy Spirit, have they received another spirit instead? Christians too are not immune in this spiritual battle: Whilst we may confess Christian truth with our mouths, could it be that we are living our lives in agreement with the powers of darkness as we embrace the activities which they have introduced into our culture?

The human body was designed by God to be temple of the Holy Spirit; therefore Satan has been working overtime to deface that living body. As tattoos, studs, mutilations and others practices have their genesis in pagan worship, can we as Christians really ask for God’s blessing on such activities? The Bible states that we are created in the image of God. It also states that God has redeemed our bodies and that our bodies are for Him, therefore Satan wants to do His utmost to mess with that perfect design of God, (1 Corinthians 6:20).

In some countries, Western Christians on a short-term mission (STM) working with a host church in Africa, Asia or Oceania may want to know why members of your STM team have gone back to their ancestral tribal past with body piercing and tattoos (see Leviticus 19:28 and 1 Corinthians 6:19-20), which the missionaries told them to give up because of their roots in pagan culture and practice!

Tattoos, flesh piercing and cuttings (mutilation / self-harm) in the Scriptures are linked with men involved in occult practice and devotion to the dead! Not something to get involved with! See 1 Kings 18:22-28, Jeremiah 16:6, Mark 5:1-5 and Leviticus 21:5 and Deuteronomy 14:1-2. (Please note: With Leviticus 21:5 the issue is not about hair as Samson's hair was long and the apostle Paul once shaved his hair as he had made a vow - the issue is cuttings in the flesh). The Beast (of the End Times) will mark his own on their hand or forehead with the number of man, which is known as the mark of the Beast! See Revelation 13:16-18, 14:9-11, 16:1-2 and 19:20-21. Christians have been sealed with the Spirit as a deposit denoting we are children of God (2 Corinthians 1:21-22 - compare 1 John 1:12-13), therefore glorify God in your body which is God’s temple! (Romans 12:1 and 1 Corinthians 6:19-20).

There are many opinions in the world about this subject and we will always be able to find a voice to tell us what we want to hear. Even our friends may tell us not to get too serious about the things that matter to God. However, a true friend is one who will tell us the truth, even it if hurts to hear it. Jesus is the best friend anyone can have and He is also the Way, the Truth and the Life, (John 14:6). Jesus is the One who has paid the price to redeem our bodies for heaven, therefore why would we want to take what He is preparing for heaven and change it?

There are many matters in our culture that could be labelled as debateable for Christians. Nonetheless, in these disputable matters we get two choices. Either we become too lax and say, “Anything goes,” or we will stay on the side of caution and guard our relationship with God stating, “My relationship with Jesus is too sacred. It’s better to be safe than to be sorry.”

In every area of our lives, Christians are either influencing the world towards Christ, or they are being influenced away from Him. Before we try to find an excuse to partake in any disputable practice, we must ask ourselves: If Jesus was stood here would He bless us? Could we ask Him to bless our actions, or would He weep at our compromise? The question should not be: Can I get away with it? But, do I love this Jesus more than this?

Earrings can be taken out, fleshies can also be removed but the damage to the earlobe may not be repairable. Tattoos are now much easier to remove, if you feel this is the right course of action. Many people have marked their bodies before becoming a Christian and there is no condemnation in Christ to those who walk uprightly. Each of us in the light of the Holy Spirit should ask God to search our hearts and we should examine our ways and lifestyle. God is holy, and we are called to be holy and Christ like, different and seperate from the world, living for Jesus Christ.

‘He who covers his sins will not prosper, but whoever confesses and forsakes them will have mercy. Happy is the man who is always reverent, but he who hardens his heart will fall into calamity’ (Proverbs 28:13-14).

Recommended Book: Discipleship For Everyday Living: Christian Growth

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