To Tat or Not To Tat?

His shirt came off. Chest shaven. Feeling a bit tense about getting his first tattoo, Axel leaned back as the artist got things ready. “Am I actually doing this?” Axel thought to himself.  It’s not like this was some rash decision; something he decided to do on a whim.  Axel had always been known to be a thinker, a processor. He might take a long time to make a decision, but when he makes up his mind, he goes for it!  All in!

Axel’s friend, Elijah was there to witness this historic tat. First, the artist made sure the area on Axel’s chest was clean and perfectly shaven. Then, he positioned the stencil of the tattoo on his chest. Mirror check. Thumbs up from Axel and Elijah. Back to the table and the artist got his ink machine ready. “Lie still, please.”

Ink is injected into the dermis by tiny needles. It stings, but for some, the pain is part of the experience of getting a tattoo. Elijah took photos of the tattoo going on. Conversation ensued. “What’s my mom going to say?”  “Dude, she’s going to think you are crazy! You know it’s going to be on your chest till the day you die!”

A couple of hours later the tattoo was complete. Axel checked it out in the mirror. His skin tender. “Now, keep this plastic over the tattoo for the rest of today. Don’t get it wet. Buy some of that tattoo ointment and it will heal well.”  Axel e-dropped the tattoo artist the funds and he and Elijah drove off to a local coffee shop to process what just happened.

Most Warriors Don’t Have a Tattoo

Studies show that about 36% of Warriors (age 18-30) have a tattoo.  64% don’t.  Of those with tattoos, 70% are hidden by clothing. The cultural trend of getting a tattoo, however, is increasing. In the USA about 45 million have at least one tattoo; that’s about 15% of the population. Even of older adults (ages 50-64), about 11% have a tattoo.

So, Why Get a Tattoo?

Before we can answer that question, we must first take a look at the Bible. Yes, if you claim to be a Christ-follower, He has total authority over your body. We are called to glorify God in/with our bodies. Some look at Leviticus 19:28 and claim that no piercings or marks (tattoos) should be on our bodies. This was part of the Old Testament law. Some claim we need to uphold the law, while others claim Jesus’ death and resurrection fulfilled the law and we now live under grace. The truth is the Bible has nothing clearly to say about the practice of injecting ink under the skin to form permanent pictures, patterns, or messages—a.k.a. tattooing.  Will Honeycutt. Professor of contemporary issues and apologetics at Liberty University

What’s Your Motive to or not to get a Tattoo?

It’s all about your heart. Motives. The core of your identity. Can you get a tattoo and honor God? Or, not and still honor God? For Axel, it was part of his story, his journey with God. After suffering a serious accident and reconstructive surgery, where even the doctors had little hope he’d survive, God showed up with a miracle!  With tons of rehab and resolve, Axel was back in his stride. His faith was stronger than ever.  For him, a tattoo was part of his story. Part of God writing his manhood journey in Axel’s life.

What Should You Do?

Perhaps you are a “No way, Jose’!” kind of guy. There is no reason for you to get a tattoo. It’s just not in your cards and you don’t see how getting one would ever be part of God’s will for your life.  That’s awesome, man! Live by your faith. Romans 14 says that the faith we have we need to be firm in it before God.    “Each one should be fully convinced in his own mind.” Romans 14:5b ESV.  The worst thing you could do is get a tattoo because it’s what all your friends are doing. 

But, what if you are toying with the idea of getting one?  Should you? There are a lot of factors that race through a guy’s mind when considering a tattoo. The reality is, without thorough processing, you could end up with ink in a place you later regret with an image you have no idea what you were thinking of at the time.

Key Questions When Considering a Tattoo

Linked in the Resource section of the Mentoring Warriors website is a Tattoo Consideration list. It’s not a foolproof replacement for you processing your own convictions, but it raises a key question you may not have thought of before. 

1. Who owns your body? You or God?  If you are a Christ-follower, you don’t own your body. You cannot do as you please. “Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, whom you have from God? You are not your own, for you were bought with a price. So glorify God in your body.:  1 Corinthians 6:19-20 ESV.  The goal is whatever you ingest, put on, or otherwise do with your earthly body, needs to reflect glory to God.  I know of a warrior-guy who got “Bondservant of Christ” in Greek tattooed on his forearm. It’s his visual reminder of who he belongs to. Another guy got his family crest tattooed on his shoulder. Loyalty to God and family.

2. Motive.  Will Honeycutt, in his article (see link below)  talks about motives. Are you getting one out of rebellion or out of faith? Romans 14 is a chapter filled with wisdom on how to handle issues like this.  Either you are doing it out of faith, or rebellion, and the Lord will ask for an account of every choice you make. Axel’s motives were clearly rooted in his walk with Jesus.  He wasn’t flaunting his male sexuality. He had it modestly displayed on his chest, undershirt 99% of the time except when he showered or was at the beach. It is very wise to search your motives for getting a tattoo.  Ask yourself, “Will my motives for getting one now stay with me 10 years, 25 years, 50 years from now?

3. What about your wife?  “But, I’m not married. Still single. Can’t God and I work this out? Afterall, what’s a wife got to do with it?”  Actually, everything. For the wife does not have authority over her own body, but the husband does. Likewise, the husband does not have authority over his own body, but the wife does.” 1 Corinthians 7:4 ESV.  In this passage, Paul is talking about sexuality. He’s explaining that the moment you say “I do” you no longer have authority over your own body.  Meaning, as a single guy, your body is under the authority of God. When married, your wife and God now have authority over your body, and vice versa with hers. Therefore, if married, you should do nothing to your body that your wife does not approve of, such as getting a tattoo.

One young warrior wanted to get this awesome-looking tattoo across his chest. Being 19, he was ready to get inked. His dad took him to dinner and talked through this idea that if he got a tattoo now (which he could under God), then his future wife (who hadn’t even met yet), would be deprived of that involvement in his decision. Out of respect for his dad and for the Lord, he’s held off for six years now.  “Perhaps someday, when I am married, and my wife agrees, I’ll get the tattoo. Who knows, it might have a better meaning for me then than now.”

We could go on about this topic, but getting a tattoo is far more than getting inked. Check out the Resource link to the Tattoo Consideration Guide and read more of Will Honeycutt’s article.

Warrior On!

David Riffel is the Founder and Executive Director of Having gone through his warrior years (18-30) essentially without a mentor, God has placed in him a heart for warriors, to come alongside them in various ways as they figure out life. David’s newly released book, Mentoring Warriors: Coming Alongside Young Men 18-30, outlines principles for mentoring and gives advice for warriors in six key areas of life: self-management, life skills, education/career, relationships, faith, and identity.

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