I have a general topic this evening, which is the idea of the cool, and then a particular practice that we may treat as something of a lab—that practice being the biblical attitude toward tattoos.
A Secular Justification
I want to set certain things aside right at the first. I am talking about coolness as an important cultural category. I am not talking about it as a term of generic approval. “These snow tires at Les Schwab were a really good deal.” “Cool.” The cultural category I have in mind is that which uses it as a term of approval or acceptance at the most fundamental level available.
Consequently, I want to define the idea of cool as a type of secular justification. As is inescapable with all forms of attempted counterfeit justification, an attempt to have it be by faith alone is also necessary. What elements that surround justification are present?
Are sunglasses a thing indifferent? Sure, as Calvin would say (Institutes 3.19). “I admit it, provided they are used indifferently.” But if there is an attitude, if there is ostentatious display, if there is spin on it, a little English, then the biblical name for this is worldliness.
“Love not the world, neither the things that are in the world. If any man love the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh, and the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life, is not of the Father, but is of the world. And the world passeth away, and the lust thereof: but he that doeth the will of God abideth for ever” (1 John 2:15-17).
Calvin again: “And we have never been forbidden to laugh, or to be filled, or to join new possessions to old or ancestral ones, or to delight in musical harmony, or to drink wine . . . away with vanity and arrogance—in order that men may with a clean conscience cleanly use God’s gifts” (Institutes 3.19).
As Christians, we are justified by faith alone, certainly, but this is by faith alone in Christ alone. We are not permitted to put only faith in Christ, and also only faith in someone or something else. That is faith alone, but not Christ alone.
“But I say, that the things which the Gentiles sacrifice, they sacrifice to devils, and not to God: and I would not that ye should have fellowship with devils. Ye cannot drink the cup of the Lord, and the cup of devils: ye cannot be partakers of the Lord’s table, and of the table of devils. Do we provoke the Lord to jealousy? are we stronger than he?” (1 Cor. 10:20-22)
So excluding actions explicitly prohibited by God, worldliness is defined by attitude, and not by whether the item is on an index prohibitum. All things are lawful, but not all things are necessary.
The Right Question:
Someone secure in their Christian identity, when enticed by the latest worldly thing, will ask, “Why?” This is in sharp contrast to the question asked by unthinking teenagers everywhere, which is, “Why not?”
The next thing to remember is that there is no place in the world where we can go in order to opt out of that basic choice. Whatever we do, whether we eat or drink, we are to do it to the glory of God (1 Cor. 10:31). And remember, in sorting this out we are not permitted to read the Bible only. We must also read the culture accurately. We have to read the menu at God’s restaurant, and we also have to read the menu at the devil’s restaurant.
A New Tattoo:
“Ye shall not make any cuttings in your flesh for the dead, nor print any marks upon you: I am the LORD” (Lev. 19:28).
Let’s begin with some incidental remarks about tattoos, before moving on to an application of this idea of the justified cool.
Our Baptism Is Sufficient:
In the old covenant, only one cutting was permitted, and that was the required cutting of circumcision (Gen. 17:10). In the new covenant, with the replacement of circumcision with baptism (Col. 2:11), that number is lowered to zero. You have a mark on your body already—you have been baptized. Piercings are a sign of subordination (as with a godly wife in Ez. 16:12), or with slavery (Dt. 15:16-17). Make-up and other decorative adornings are temporary and are certainly lawful as long as they are not overdone (1 Tim. 2:9). Markings on houses, cars, and tee-shirts are also lawful (Dt. 11:18). But your body was purchased, which means you are not to rent out, lease or sell ad space on it.
To mark your body with any other “ultimate commitment” marks is to reveal that in your mind and heart you believe that your baptism needs supplements. In other words, you are either getting a worldly tattoo, or you are getting an “I love Jesus” tattoo. If the former, we are told not to seek justification in the world by the world. This is part of the world’s system of marking her sons, and we are not to be worldly. But if you want to show your radical dedication to Christ, what exactly did you think was deficient with your baptism?