Can A Christian Get a Tattoo, Smoke, Wear Make-Up, and Listen to Non-Christian Music?

I’ve taken the liberty of shortening this question from the way in which it was submitted to me.

This kind of question is one that nearly all Christians wrestle with – to some degree or another.  In our walk with Jesus we often see other Christians reaching different conclusions about the way they choose to live, and this causes us to consider the differences.  Another way of asking the same question is: What are the rules of being a Christian?

First, let me point out what Jesus said in Mark 7:15: There is nothing that enters a man from outside which can defile him; but the things which come out of him, those are the things that defile a man.

The context of this passage is important.  Particularly in Mark’s Gospel, we see Jesus being continually harassed by those who believed a person can be defiled if they touched certain things, ate certain foods, or didn’t perform certain rituals in prescribed ways.  In  Mark 7 we find the religious leaders bringing an accusation to Jesus regarding His disciples.  They had witnessed the disciples eating without washing their hands in a manner prescribed by the Rabbis.  This tradition was not part of the Law of Moses, but was something that the scribes recommended because the food a Jew was eating may have come in contact with a Gentile, and was now “unclean.

In the passage from Mark, Jesus plainly declared that a person is not defiled by what they come in contact with – but that a person would be defiled by what is in their heart.  In fact, in verse 19 of the same chapter, we read that Jesus  declared all foods clean.

I believe Paul picked up this same point when he told the Corinthians that “all things are lawful to me…” (6:12).   Also, in Colossians 2:20-23, Paul writes that since we have died with Christ to this world, we should not continually live in subjection to the regulations of “do not touch, do not taste, do not handle…”

Based on passages like these, it is quite clear to me that the Christian life is not a life lived by rules of do not do this, or do not do that.  That is because – as Jesus said – defilement does not come from without.  In other words, we are not made unholy before God because of what we come in contact with.  We can’t get “unholy cooties.”

In Christ there is liberty – not bondage.  We should not live our life in fear of keeping the rules, or avoiding contact with something or someone that might “defile” us.  As a matter of fact, the only rule that Jesus gave us is that we are to love one another (John 13:34).

I believe that we are not defiled by eating certain foods, just as we are not made holy by avoiding other foods.  Likewise, we are not defiled by drinking alcohol, or abstaining from it.  We are not made unholy by getting a tattoo; nor are we sanctified by refraining from tattoos.  We simply cannot be defiled by those “outside” things.  Nor are we made holy by a set of rules.  Defilement, as Jesus put it, comes from “within.”  It is a matter of the heart.  A woman whose heart is rebellious against God gets no benefit from wearing a long dress and avoiding make-up.  Likewise, a man who will drive 20 miles out of his way to avoid a restaurant that sells alcohol, but has a heart against God is simply a sinner who is just wasting gas.

Now, having said all of that, I feel that I must answer something that is very important to this subject: that is, what does it means to be a Christian?

It is my opinion that many modern-day Christians do not fully understand what it means to be a Christian.  The name “Christian” was given to the disciples of Jesus (Acts 11:26).  So, a Christian is just another name for a disciple, or follower of Jesus.  But what does it mean to be a follower of Jesus?

I believe that a disciple – or follower – of Jesus means today what it meant 2,000 years ago.  A disciple of Jesus is a person who commits themselves to following Jesus, and seeking His will for their life.  To “accept Christ” means to accept His terms for our life.  It means to no longer seek our own good – but to seek the good of the King for whom we live.

Jesus gave us one commandment: to love one another (John 13:34).  All of our activities, pursuits, hobbies, work, and interests must conform to this one commandment.  If we Christians involve ourselves in activities that are not loving, then we can know that we must cease from those things.  If one has a loving heart, and his or her pursuits are loving, then I believe we are walking in the true faith.

Christians should know that we do not sin by those things outside of our body (like tattoos, music, and alcohol, for example).  However, if those things lead us to sin, or they cause others around us to stumble, then they are un-loving and are sin to us.  While I served as a Pastor I would never order an alcoholic beverage in a restaurant – not because I thought it made me unholy – but because I was concerned that someone around me might be caused to stumble if I did.  I gladly exchanged my liberty so that someone around me might not falter.

Our liberty in Christ should never be considered a license to commit sin.  Just because we are free to do something does not mean that it is good to do it.  I should finish quoting the verse by Paul in 1 Cor. 6:12, “All things are lawful for me, but all things are not helpful.”

In summary, I believe that Christians are people who are seeking “first the kingdom of God.”  Christians have great liberty in Christ, and are not bound by rules and regulations.  That liberty, however, is tempered by the Commandment of Love.  If we are loving Jesus, and loving our brother, then we are good.