Is it a sin to get a tattoo of a cross?
In earlier culture, getting tattoos were generally viewed as a sign of rebellion.
They were used in the identification of certain rebellious sects and dark groups.
Having a tattoo was taken as a taboo within Christian folds.
In today’s culture, however, this stringent view is wearing off, and tattoos are more embraced and popular than ever.
It is now more affiliated with fashion and art.
The spectrum of reasons people get tattooed has widened in today’s world, leading to a significant rise in the number of people with tattoos across all age groups in recent years, and this number keeps climbing.
Even among Christians, there is an increase in the debate of whether or not getting tattoos of a Christian symbol, such as the cross or a Bible verse, should be regarded as a sin as much as getting tattooed weird-looking and demonic symbols such as skulls or horned figures.
Can we say getting a cross tattoo is a sin?
Are there exceptions to the rule we can hold unto where having a tattoo can be permitted as a Christian?
What does the Bible say?
Leviticus 19:28 is a famous scripture regarding this topic and the only place where the Bible directly refers to tattoos.
The King James Version reads thus:
“Ye shall not make any cuttings in your flesh for the dead, nor print any marks upon you: I am the LORD.”
In this passage, the LORD gave the people of Israel a list of things they were prohibited from doing as His chosen people.
He starts by saying in verse two, “…Ye shall be holy: for I the LORD your God am holy.”
God demanded that they were different from the cultures of the people around them, who were all pagans, and be consecrated unto Him as a holy nation.
Many of the things He listed they abstained from were the common pagan practices of the nations around them.
God viewed engaging in any of those practices as bringing defilement upon them and stating clearly that the nations were being driven from their lands as punishment due to their constant engagement in these practices (Leviticus 20:23).
However, does this rule now apply to the New Testament believer?
Is getting a tattoo still affiliated with pagan practices?
And what if the tattoos are Christian tattoos?
Does that also count as a sin?
Due to the silence in the New Testament regarding tattoos, there is no direct yes or no answer to these questions. However, we can pull from the Scriptures to aid our convictions on this topic.
A freedom or a necessity?
“All things are lawful for me, but all things are not expedient: all things are lawful for me, but all things edify not.” (1 Corinthians 10:23).
We are no longer under the Mosaic laws because Christ became a fulfillment of the laws for us.
We now have liberty in Christ Jesus (2 Corinthians 3:17).
This liberty we enjoy, however, doesn’t make all things necessary for us to engage in.
In Galatians 5:13, Paul admonishes us not to use our liberty as an “occasion for the flesh.” The apostle Peter reiterates this in 1 Peter 2:16, urging us not to use our liberty as a cloak to carry out evil.
The question you should ask is not whether or not getting a tattoo is a sin.
According to the apostles Paul and Peter, the question should be, is this beneficial to others, and would it bring about edification to myself and others?
The Bible tells us that those strong in faith should also consider those weaker and seek to do what would bring about the edification of others (Romans 15:1-3).
It is possible to engage in liberty that would bring about a stumbling block to your neighbor (1 Corinthians 8:9-11).
Paul’s reaction to being a stumbling block is avoidance of that thing entirely for the benefit of other believers who have a weaker conscience because anything done to cause a wound to their weak conscience is a sin against Christ (1 Corinthians 8:12-13).
Examine if having a tattoo is necessary in your walk with Christ.
If getting a tattoo of any kind would cause the fall of a fellow believer around you, it is best not to get one.
The Bible says that rebellion equals witchcraft (1 Samuel 15:23).
When you weigh your motives behind getting a tattoo.
It is hinging on being rebellious in any way.
You may need to change your heart.
We are to give honor to and obey our fathers and mothers (Ephesians 6:1-4, Mark 7:9-13, Matthew 19:19), and if they have reservations regarding having tattoos when you are still their responsibility as a minor, disobeying them can be counted as a sin.
Also, as we have learned earlier, it is best not to get one even if you are no longer a minor under their care if getting a tattoo will cause a stumbling block for your parents or siblings.
Attention or Adornment
The saying, “God doesn’t look at the outward appearance but what is on the inside,” has been used as justification by many Christians to engage in various things.
God, indeed, takes great interest in the inner state of a person.
In 1 Samuel 16:7, God tells the prophet Samuel that He doesn’t see things as humans do and looks at the heart.
In Matthew 23:27, Jesus points out the deception of the scribes and Pharisees who adorned a beautiful outward appearance, whereas, within them, they were nothing more than tombs full of uncleanliness.
However, does this mean it is OK to have tattoos as a form of art?
Though God places great interest in the inward state of people, He is also interested in our bodies.
The Bible tells us that a believer’s body is the temple of the Holy Spirit, which has been bought and now belongs to God (1 Corinthians 3:16, 1 Corinthians 6:19-20).
Anything done in and on the body should glorify God.
The focus of a Christian must not be to gain acceptance or draw vain attention to himself/herself but to draw attention to God (Matthew 5:16).
If getting a tattoo is to stand out or to adorn oneself with art, this is a wrong motivation that focuses on self rather than God.
We are admonished to seek to adorn our inner man with meekness rather than our outward appearance (1 Peter 3:3).
You must consider what type of attention you garner for yourself by getting a tattoo.
Would it aid in drawing people to Christ, or would it be a distraction and a stumbling block?
Finding the answer
In answering whether or not it is a sin to get a tattoo of a Christian nature, such as the cross, we have to first consider the motive for getting the tattoo.
Next, from a biblical stance, the necessity of it should also be weighed.
Finally, such desire should be tabled before God if one’s conscience doesn’t condemn him/her from getting a tattoo.
The Bible says that the steps of the righteous are ordered by the Lord (Psalms 37:23).
Therefore, the Christian getting a tattoo must be fully convinced that this is God’s will for them (Romans 14:5).
If these three are not satisfactorily checked, getting a tattoo may be counted as a sin.
With all these said, it is essential to state that a Christian who had tattoos done before they were saved does not make them any less a child of God.
Everyone in Christ is a new creature having old things passed away (2 Corinthians 5:17).
Every heart is bare before God (Proverbs 15:3, Psalms 94:11).
He knows those whose hearts are focused on Him. Therefore, He can tell when motives are in the wrong direction no matter what is used to justify them.
We are not to judge those who already have tattoos, as only God can tell the state of their hearts (Romans 14:4).
In summary, Christians need to pray to God for wisdom regarding any step they want to take if it is in His will for their life at that point.
Getting a tattoo, even if it is a tattoo of the cross, has to be gotten with great conviction.
Whatever is done without faith is sin (Romans 14:23), so if your conscience wrestles with you over getting a tattoo, that is a clear sign to stay clear.
Also, if it will not benefit others, what is the essence?
It can be argued that having tattoos could aid in opening doors of opportunities for evangelism to specific groups of people, which is no doubt a possibility.
This, however, should not push a Christian who does not have a tattoo to get one. God has many of His people whom He uses to reach those groups.
These people were once in the world but now are in Christ with tattoos.
Having a tattoo or not doesn’t guarantee the conversion of anyone to Christ. Therefore, Christians must continually seek God’s wisdom and direction and not rely on their own understanding of things.