This is one of those questions that comes up all the time among Christians of any age. Especially as teens, we find ourselves trying to express personalities and our originality by getting a tattoo or a piercing or dying our hair bright blue, but our parents say, "No way." What's the reason? And what are we supposed to do?
Your parents probably have their own explanation as to why they do or do not believe that altering appearances is okay. You'll have to ask them for those reasons. We can address what the Bible says here. But first, we want to make sure you are aware of this: your parents have the final say on this issue, no matter what you read here. If you are living under their roof and their care, you must respect their decisions (Ephesians 6:1). What you do when you're an adult and moved out is between you and God.
There are verses in the Old Testament that include laws for the Israelites to follow in order to show that they were separate from the rest of the world. Verses like Leviticus 19:28, "Do not cut your bodies for the dead or put tattoo marks on yourselves. I am the LORD."
At that time in history, some religious cults would perform various practices (see Leviticus 19:26-27), including making marks on their skin to honor the dead or show faithfulness to their gods. Obviously, God did not want the Israelites to ever be mistaken for those groups because of something they did. That's totally legit.
Believers today are no longer required to follow Old Testament laws (Romans 10:4; Galatians 3:23-25; Ephesians 2:15). We are saved by grace through Christ's sacrifice for our sin, not by following rules (Romans 6:14). However, even though the Bible does not specifically talk about tattoos and Christians today, there are a few other factors we need to consider first.
First Corinthians 10:31 says, "So whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God." Will your tattoo or body piercing glorify God or go against Him? What is your motivation for wanting to get one done (2 Corinthians 13:5)? Is your heart in a place of godly peace or rebellion (Proverbs 30:17)? Is the question of whether or not to do it causing bad things to happen in your life (1 Thessalonians 5:22)?
If getting a tattoo or piercing or dying your hair is going to cause problems or hinder your ability to be more like Christ, then you should seriously re-consider that decision. This is a matter between you and God. Ask Him if it would be a good choice for you and how He can use it in your life.
There is a lesson in Romans 14 about how we should not do anything that would cause another believer to stumble. The story goes that Christian Group A did not want to eat meat that was sacrificed to idols, but Christian Group B thought, "What's the big deal? I don't believe in that god, and I am not letting a good steak go to waste." The author says that Christian Group B should not eat that sacrificed meat in front of Christian Group A because, to them, that meat was sinful to eat.
If your friend isn't supposed to watch horror movies, don't invite him over to watch Ninja Axe Murderer Massacre. That would be a temptation to go against his parents' wishes. If a friend's parents have explicitly said that she cannot dye her hair whatsoever, but your parents are like, "Sure, why not?" you should still consider your poor friend. Will she become jealous of you? Is she going to be resentful toward her parents? Basically, will your actions directly cause her to sin?
"For the kingdom of God is not a matter of eating and drinking but of righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit. Whoever thus serves Christ is acceptable to God and approved by men. So then let us pursue what makes for peace and for mutual upbuilding." (Romans 14:17-19)
The final question is this: "Will doing __________________ create peace and encouragement or will it cause problems for me and those around me?"
If you are a believer in Christ, your body and soul have been cleaned up and made all shiny and new by Jesus's sacrifice. Because this redemption was a gift from God, you belong to Him now. (Don't worry, it's not as scary as it sounds; God loves us more than we love ourselves and only wants the best for us. He'll take care of you.)
As we said before, when you are an adult living away from home, this will become a matter between you and God. Ask Him if it would be a good choice for you and how He can use it in your life. If your body belongs to Him (1 Corinthians 6:19-20), you should make this decision together.
First things first, if you live at home, your parents have the final say (Ephesians 6:1). That said, Old Testament tattoo laws (Leviticus 19:28) don't appy to believers today (Romans 10:4; Galatians 3:23-25; Ephesians 2:15). We are saved by grace through Christ's sacrifice, not by following rules (Romans 6:14). Follow 1 Corinthians 10:31 and consider your motivations for body modification. If doing so is going to cause problems with others or hinder your ability to be more like Christ, then you should seriously re-consider. This is a matter between you and God. Ask Him if it would be a good choice for you and how He can use it in your life.
Cat is the webmaster and editor of 412teens.org and regularly teaches local young writers at her workshops. She also contributes at GotQuestions.org, Blogos.org, and GQkidz.org. When Catiana is not writing or hanging out with teens, she loves spending time with her two kids, four socially awkward cats, and one curly-tailed dog.