by Londa Stefanovsky
To some, it's a form of intricate artwork. Others may look at them as wild acts of rebellion. Many may consider them to be a tool in witnessing for Christ. In any case, these pictures or images are indefinitely worth thousands of words.
The purpose of this article is not to place judgment on any individuals who have such markings on their body. After all, who am I to judge you? However, it is hoped that each person who takes the time to read this would think about the issue individually within their hearts and be able to back up what they believe about tattoos and why.
Some would attest that a tattoo is the ultimate expression of an individual's personality. Every image carved into the blank canvas of a person's skin stands for or symbolizes something. Each story told by someone's tattoo is unique to the next. From dragons to butterflies…from crosses to chains…from snakes to spiritual things…tattoos of all shapes and sizes are seen on people everywhere we look. Have you noticed it lately?
Getting a tattoo has not become "the thing to do" or "the latest trend" overnight. At first, this was seemingly thought to be the case. The influence and prominence of tattoos has gradually climbed over a period of the past 30 years, according to two area owners/managers of tattoo studios in the northeast part of Ohio. Is it possible that we have noticed more tattoos on people from every different stage of life imaginable because we have somehow become more observant over the years? Maybe. In speaking about this, the notion of tattooing our bodies is not something that only Non-Christians are doing. Christians have also jumped on this bandwagon of tattooing various symbols of faith on their bodies as well.
Whether your beliefs are liberal or conservative, or regardless of if you would see a tattoo as wild or stylish; degrading or intriguing; rebellious or cool; one cannot deny the influence that it exhibits among many people of our world today.
However, in thinking about Christians tattooing their bodies, in some ways this almost sounds like an oxymoron. Think about it. Being a Christian and having a tattoo don't usually go hand in hand with each other. Yet, as we look around, we see the tattoos of "religious" on many individuals today. These symbols could include doves, crosses, angels fighting demons in battle scenes, Biblical references, portraits of Jesus, crucifixion scenes, panoramic views of many stories of the Bible, among many other images.
Connection Magazine spoke with two area tattoo studios to compare statistics on a small scale. At the first studio on the East side of Cleveland, the owner had told Connection Magazine that approximately 26% of the tattoos that are done each month are of the "religious" type of nature. The owner had commented, "At least one time a day we are doing a religious or a Christian tattoo for our customers."
At the second studio on the South western side of Cleveland, the owner had commented that approximately 10% of their tattoos are of the religious type.
Customers are not usually asked questions as to why a religious tattoo or a Christian tattoo is desired. Sometimes, having a tattoo of that nature is used as a witness. Most times, according to the 2 owners interviewed, "it is a personal thing with each customer."
"If getting a tattoo is that big of a thing for you and your faith, I don't question it", one owner commented.
Connection Magazine also was made aware that there is a Christian Tattoo Association in operation out of Kalamazoo, Michigan. The Statement of Purpose for the Christian Tattoo Association is as follows: "To spread the gospel to tattoo artists and enthusiasts through the printed page, personal witness, workshops, and small group meetings at local events and national conventions" and "To promote health and safety issues in the field of tattooing and encourage moral and professional standards in the tattoo industry." The Statement of Faith for the Christian Tattoo Association is centered on two Scriptures…John 3:16-"For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life." The other Scripture in the Statement of Faith is Romans 10:9-10-"That if you confess with your mouth, Jesus is Lord, and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved."
With this issue comes the proverbial question of the hour…is it right for a Christian to have a tattoo? That answer remains unseen at this point. Some would say "Absolutely!" while others would say "Not in the least!" Let's go the Word of God, the Bible.
There are many Scriptures that come to mind especially in regards to tattoos. They are as follows. The first is Leviticus 19:28. It states, "Do not cut your bodies for the dead or put tattoo marks on yourselves. I am the Lord." It's kind of difficult to argue with a Scripture like that when it states it in black and white terms like that.
However, some would argue that because this Scripture is in the Old Testament, it would be considered "under the Law of the Old Covenant." Pastor Richard A. McCloud, of Heart Afire Fellowship in Shaker Heights, urges us to "be careful and not to look at the Old Testament too strictly. Sometimes, we might miss what God is trying to say. The Old Testament is written a bit differently than the New Testament. There is a lot of symbolism that we cannot overlook."
Look to the New Testament…In Matthew 5:17, we see that Jesus did not come to abolish the Law or the Prophets, "but to fulfill them." The power of Jesus living within us allows us not to be bound in a rut of legalism and self-righteousness by the rituals of the law, but to have the grace and the freedom to live above the law. Look at Galatians 2:15-16, 21. Verses 15-16 state, "We who are Jews by birth and not Gentile sinners know that a man is not justified by observing the law, but by faith in Jesus Christ. So we, too have put our faith in Christ Jesus that we may be justified by faith in Christ and not by observing the law, because by observing the law no one will be justified." Now, jump down to verse 21: "I do not set aside the grace of God, for if righteousness could be gained through the law, Christ died for nothing!"
There are those that state that having a tattoo of Christ carved on their body would be somehow seemingly justified by Galatians 6:17 which states, "Finally, let no one cause me trouble, for I bear on my body the marks of Jesus." With this we need to be careful of how we approach that. We must remember that no tattoo, regardless of what image it is, could ever attempt to compare and resemble with the marks that Jesus bore for us on the cross of Calvary.
With any Scripture that we look at together, we must be careful of "correctly handling the word of truth" as 2 Timothy 2:15 admonishes us to do so. Otherwise, we are guilty of taking things out of their original, intended context, which could sometimes give those Scriptures a meaning to justify our own closed-minded beliefs. In Titus 3:9, we are also warned about this, "But avoid foolish controversies and genealogies and arguments and quarrels about the law, because they are unprofitable and useless." Reverend Larry Albanese of First Assembly of God Church in Warren also added, "This should not become an issue that divides members of the body of Christ. It's not a doctrinal issue-it's an individual heart issue."
Here is another Scripture to think about in regards to getting a tattoo…I Corinthians 10:23. It states as follows: "Everything is permissible-but not everything is beneficial. Everything is permissible-but not everything is constructive." This verse can possibly serve as an encompassing umbrella in which many things, habits, or practices, including tattoos, can fall under when referencing them with regards to our walk with the Lord. Those things that are permissible to some may not be to others. These permissible matters are sometimes more gray than black and white. And, with these matters, there is always some sort of risk involved.
For example, with tattoos, one must be made aware that there are certain medical conditions associated with them. Recently, the European commission has been attempting to make people aware of the risks of tattooing. Health standards in regards to methods of sterilization, disinfecting, cleanliness, and waste removal must be abided by. The European commission stated in the online issue of Guardian Unlimited, "When health standards are disregarded-and it said they often were-people anxious to decorate and personalize their body with dye or metal [referring to body piercings] had paid dearly for bad practices." The European commission had also added, "These practices can bring about viral infections such as hepatitis, HIV, bacterial and fungal infections, allergic reactions such as skin irritation, and malignant lesions such as melanoma, leprosy, and other devastating diseases." In addition, other problems associated with body art include toxic shock syndrome, tetanus, venereal ulcers, tuberculosis, and a host of other skin diseases.
"Everything is permissible-but not everything is beneficial."
In regards to the whole nature of this issue, we also cannot overlook what I Corinthians 6:19-20 states, "Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received form God? You are not your own; and you were bought at a price. Therefore honor God with your body."
There are those that would attest that getting a tattoo on one's body is a "worldly act." In 2 Corinthians 6:17, we are warned, "Therefore come out from them and be separate." We have also heard the phrase "in the world, but not of it" reiterated many times before. In this context, this could be taken by some as meaning that either a) we are not to have anything with the world or b) while we are living in this world, our lives are supposed to be radically different than those who don't know Christ around us. Which is right? (Did you pick "b" as your answer? Hope so!)
As one pastor commented, "We are to be separate. We are to be different. We don't live according to the worlds' standards and cultures. As Christians, we are not to embrace the things that the world embraces (such as tattoos!). The message that we proclaim must not be compromised."
Getting back to the Scriptures, one cannot deny that we, as brothers and sisters in the Lord, have freedom in Christ. We are not bound or justified by self-righteousness in our efforts of keeping the law. Let's look at Romans 8:1-2: "Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, because through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit of life set me free from the law of sin and death."
Pastor Rick George of Riverside Christian Assembly in Akron commented, "God has given us His grace. What is that grace? It's the true power of God instilled within us so that we may have the power to walk free in Christ. That power gives us the ability to grow in the grace and knowledge of Christ." "However," he added, "we must remember to keep in mind that the freedom that we have in Christ does not give us the liberty to freely sin more simply because grace abounds."
We also see in John 8:36, "So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed." Be sure to check out Galatians 5:1 as well. It states, "It is for freedom that Christ has set us free." However, with the freedom that Christ has given us, we must be careful not to use our freedom in such a way that others would stumble in their walk with Christ as a result of it. We are warned of this principle in I Corinthians 8:9 which reads, "Be careful, however, that the exercise of your freedom does not become a stumbling block to the weak."
For three individuals that have used that freedom for the greater glory of God, the testimonies that are expressed and told by the tattoos on their bodies speak of Christ's love operating in them, thus being a means of pushing them and others to a deeper relationship with God. Here are their stories.
Having grown up in a Christian home, Angela Hurt (formerly of Fairlawn, Ohio) had been taught about God's grace. However the denomination that she and her family were a part of was very "law driven." People were more apt to judge others for their actions rather than to love and forgive them as Christ did for his church. Those that weren't "perfect" were automatically classified as sinners that she would not associate with.
"I truly believed that anyone who smoked or drank or was promiscuous or had tattoos…anything that was not a 'symbol' of righteousness, I assumed that they were sinners. And, instead of thinking, 'they need God or they need me to show them God's love, I immediately would judge them and want NO part of a relationship with them," she commented.
Angela was called by God to move to Los Angeles to work in the entertainment (motion picture) industry. It was in L.A. that God had showed her the areas of her life that needed improvement. She obtained a job in a restaurant were she was the only righteous person who had any church background at all. It was at that time she had to make a choice.
"I could judge all of them for their sins and not reach them, or I could show them God's love and teach them His ways," she stated, "God gave me the opportunity to talk to them about Him and to show them a side of Christianity that they had never seen…It's the side that says 'Come as you are to God and let Him do the rest.'"
During this time in her life, God was revealing to Angela things about her own spiritual growth…in making it very clear that she could no longer be the person that she had been before. Through the friendship with a young woman named Tamora, who had many tattoos, God had showed Angela a deeper truth.
"Had I come into the friendship closed minded and judgmental of all of Tamora's tattoos, I would have never gotten to know her and discover that she had a great heart for the things of God," she explained.
After a couple of months, in developing her friendship with Tamora, and seeing what God had longed to show her, Angela soon found herself sitting in a chair at a tattoo parlor getting a little flower carved into her middle toe. The tattoo was at a place that would not be hidden…it was a place where it would be seen by everyone simply because more often than not, Angela is one that would be wearing sandals most of the time.
"I got a tattoo, and here is what is amazing," she commented, "When I left that parlor, something had changed-Not only was I marked on the outside, but now in my heart, I knew that I could never again judge someone for the way they looked on the outside. It is what's in their heart that matters. I had a tattoo, and I still loved the Lord with my whole heart and loved His people" she exclaimed.
Lastly, Angela also stated that, "people might dress inappropriately, and some might behave in ways that are not righteous…but what if that is their cry for help?"
The tattooed flower on her toe reminds her that "God's people aren't only those who wear suits and ties, or those who have buns in their hair or wear pantyhose, or those that are always modest and behave 'perfectly'…Sometimes, God's people live outside that box that the Church has created, and sometimes God's people live in the world." Angela also stated that, "it's our job to find them, reach out, and bring them home."
The testimony behind the tattoos of Steve Richardson, of Cleveland, is a bit different, but the story told is still just as equally powerful.
For about 12 years, Steve ran with the crowds of various outlaw motorcycle clubs. It was during this time in his life (in his late teens and twenties), that Steve had gotten the vast majority of his 37 tattoos located on his arms, shoulders, and chest. The tattoos obtained during that time were those that truly reflected evil, darkness, violence, and death. The graphic images included dragons fighting with snakes on skull heads, demonic images or animals blowing fire, and many others.
"You could just imagine the lifestyle that I am referring to when I talk about being with that kind of crowd!" he stated.
Steve explained that when a person is living outside in the world, those images are desired because those people don't know of the joy that comes with knowing Christ. However, after one accepts Christ into their heart, those images are not desired or needed anymore because of the change that Christ's love brings.
After Steve accepted Christ, the images tattooed on his body then were those that express the true joy that he's experienced in his walk and relationship with Jesus. Now his new tattoos are of flowers, birds, and his children's names.
"A person's tattoo is a story. It tells about a man's whole life. It reflects an individual's personality at certain points in their life. My tattoos serve as a reminder of what my life was like then versus what my life is like now," he commented.
Steve has seen how God has used both his testimony of his tattoos and Scripture to win others for Christ. "Romans 8:28 definitely applies to my life-"And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose." What was once bad, God has turned around for good.
"Because of where I've been, and with the life that I lived before I knew Christ, I am able to relate to bikers' lifestyles. This allows me an advantage in witnessing. I can walk up to them unafraid and unashamed to share Christ with them. I can go up to them and express how I've been in the streets just like they have. I know where they are coming from, where they are, and where they are going," he added.
Over the years, Steve has dealt with judgment for his tattoos from both Christians and non-Christians in the business world and even at his own church. It has not always been easy.
"When you look at the expression of a person's face when they see my tattoos, it tells a thousand words. You can tell that they are very intimidated, and now, most times I just ignore it. They don't get to know me for who I really am!" he expressed.
Steve has not gotten a tattoo in the past 6 or 7 years. The reason why he has stopped was due to the conviction that the Holy Spirit had brought upon him.
"I felt the Lord leading me to stop getting tattoos because I felt that I was not being a steward of the body that the Lord gave me. After that, I knew that it was enough and that I didn't need to get anymore tattoos from that point on," he stated.
When asked if Steve had any regrets about getting the tattoos, he expressed that he did not have any regrets, although with one of his tattoos (of a heart, peace sign, and a marijuana leaf), he has made attempts to cover that one up simply because he would not want his children to see it on his body, question it, and embrace it in their own life.
There were two bits of advice that Steve had wanted to share in regards to the issue of tattoos: 1) "Know that a tattoo will be with you for the rest of your life. Know what you are getting tattooed on your body. 2) You better make sure that your life is living up to the testimony of the tattoo that is carved on your body."
Having been delivered from drug use about 20 years ago, by Jesus Christ, Tony Sambenedetto of Parma Heights was influenced by his unspeakable zeal and passion for the Lord, to get his one and only tattoo. It is that of a cross with two swords on his forearm. The banners on his tattoo say "Jesus Lives."
"I wanted to make a bold stand to say that Jesus is my Savior," he commented.
God has used Tony with has tattoo to make a stand for Christ. It has given Tony the chance to witness to other people. However, while his tattoo does get the attention of some, it is ultimately through his own life that Tony would like to make that stand.
"My life is a witness," he stated. "They should see Christ's love through me. It's not about religion. It's about my relationship with Christ."
Tony explained that God may use anything to get his people-including those with tattoos.
"It's kind of neat…people see me and sometimes they think, 'That is someone who is real. If God can save him, maybe He can save me too.'"
Some people have judged Tony for his tattoo. During his younger days, sometimes it did hurt his feelings. Now, it doesn't seem to bother him too much anymore.
"God had really worked on my heart to show me I do not need to be intimidated by men. As I have become older, I have definitely become wiser in that regard too. After all, Jesus is my judge…and now whether or not I'll be judged by him for having a tattoo-I don't know at this point."
Despite the windows of opportunity for witnessing, Tony had expressed some regret with having his tattoo on his body. After getting saved, he began to read in the Bible in Leviticus 23 and seeing how the Bible advises us not to do have tattoos.
"I don't nor will I ever regret the message that it says. But do I regret getting it in the first place? Yes. I would not find myself ever getting another one," he stated, "In fact, when I wrestled with getting another tattoo, I felt God was saying no, but my flesh was saying yes. The day I was going to go and get it done, my car broke down-I guess that was God's way of telling me that He didn't want me to do it-And, you know what? I am totally ok with that."
To anyone thinking of getting a tattoo, Tony urges one to really pray and search his or her own heart before God. He went on to explain how most people always want to hear what God has for them and what God wants to speak to them, however, the moment that God says no to something they want or the moment God asks people to do something that would ruffle their feathers, many don't want to hear it. We are all guilty of this.
"You need to ask God-'Is this really what you want me to do?' And, if you are in a struggle with your flesh wanting it, but the Spirit of God telling you no, can you stop yourself from going through with the act of disobedience to God?
"Don't ever get a tattoo because of peer pressure. Peer pressure is what made me a drug addict. Don't get a tattoo as a fake "tough-guy" front or mask either. Make sure, really seek God… a tattoo is with you forever."
One thing that was reiterated to Connection Magazine time and time again regarding the issue of tattoos, and whether or not it is right for a Christian to have them, was that the issue is a matter of the individual's heart.
What is the Holy Spirit telling you in your heart? What is God speaking to you on this subject? Of course with the Scriptures touched on throughout this article, there are some things expressed in the Word of God that we are not to compromise or take lightly. We need to be careful of not taking the Word out of its rightful context. We must be careful of not judging those around us. Your life in Christ is the biggest testimony and the greatest witness that can ever be told and shown to those around you. Does the love of God shine through you and through the way you life your life? Or, are you quick to be talking the talk about living for God, but not measuring up with the walk of your life? The seriousness of God's calling on our lives is something that we need to recognize and take to heart. One song says it best, "The heart of the matter-is the matter of the heart." God is more concerned with your heart, and the depth of your personal relationship with Him. With that in mind, today may you be challenged and encouraged by one more verse which is as follows: "The Lord does not look at the things man looks at. Man looks at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart." (I Samuel 16:7)