Should I Remove My Tattoos?

It is not uncommon to find Christians with tattoos.

As much as you will find every possible position on every possible issue, you will find Christians in support of tattoos. While I think having tattoos is not the best option for Christians, I do not think it is so important an issue as to divide Christians.

Even though the biblical evidence with other implications suggests to us we should avoid tattoos, and Christians should think before they ink, what should you do if you regret your ink? Should you remove your tattoo?


My first consideration is that the biblical evidence is not so conclusive as to preclude fair objection. And in keeping with our value of being biblical: asserting what the Bible clearly asserts and refraining from asserting what the Bible does not clearly assert, I would not overreach and treat tattoos as something so terrible that Christians need to undo them. At the same time, if you have reasons for removing your tattoo, it is also something you may do.

Remember your tattoo is only skin deep. Many sins of the heart are truly pernicious and bring us to our knees for God’s Spirit to root them out. But a tattoo is a matter of the skin – literally. If we overreact to tattoos, we canal into the danger of minding the superficial and ignoring the weightier matters of our faith, like when Jesus cautions against cleaning the outside of the cup and not the inside. While I think Scripture and reason bring us to a largely negative view of tattoos, I remind most of us have more compelling sin issues than tattoos. The removal of an existing tattoo should never take priority over the removal of a besetting sin in our life.

Many mistakes in life cannot be undone. For example: losing your virginity before marriage, marital infidelity, perverse unjustified divorce, experimenting with harmful drugs, hurting people we love, foolhardiness that leaves you permanently crippled, etc. The tattoo is something you do to yourself, and possibly to the disappointment of people who love you. And in the grand scheme of things, it is not a terrible mistake. In some ways, a tattoo can be easily undone in a way that other mistakes in our life cannot be easily undone.

When I say “easily undone” I am not underestimating the pain and cost of a tattoo removal which usually leaves a scar behind. In effect, you will probably be replacing a tattoo with a scar. I am not sure how much undoing that really is.

In certain cultures, like the Maoris, tattooing is common, even face tattoos. It is unlikely that a Maori Christian can come to a point when he will say his tattoos are not good. When people are so invested into something, they are extraordinary if they can break from their investment. I would not make a big issue about it; in all likelihood, you will not find me engaged in conversation with a Maori Christian about his tattoos. It is too minor an issue to expend excessive energy over it. It does not concern our salvation, and it concerns only one or two texts in Scripture.

My take on the removal of tattoos is that it gives you only a small advantage and unless there are other reasons, the fact that Scripture and reason suggest we should not have tattoos, is not reason enough to remove them. However, there can be other reasons why a Christian may want to remove a tattoo.

(1) You want the removed tattoo as a reminder not to act impulsively in the future. (2) You don’t want a visible tattoo to influence other Christians to make the same mistake. (3) Your tattoo is sending a message that is not glorifying to God: such as a racist tattoo, a gang tattoo, promotion of violence, an ex-lover, an unchristian value, etc.

I would suggest that the presence of a tattoo in itself is not enough motivation to remove it because it actually does additional injury to your body. However, if the tattoo conveys something you now want to disavow, then there is good reason to remove it.

There are times when the undoing of a wrong act may be both unnecessary and harmful to the body. We remember the Christian view of the body is that the body is good, but the body, like the soul, has been corrupted by sin. We do not abuse the body; instead, we treat it with dignity while we wait for God to restore our body during the resurrection.

One instance of undoing a wrong is the issue of reverse gender reassignment. That is, sex change. This means a person, usually a man, chooses to go for surgery to become a woman. He then decides that it is not good and goes for surgery to become a man again. That is the reversal of a reassignment.

Sex change is not limited to the surgery. There is a prolonged period of hormone treatment to change a person’s gender characteristics ending with surgery, often multiple surgeries. Sex change does great violence to the body, and requires hormone therapy for life. When a person reverses the sex change, the whole process reboots with a second round of violence to the body. To reverse what was once violent by another violation of the body does not naturally commend itself to most people to be a God-honouring way to treat the body.

While undoing a tattoo is nothing close to undoing a sex change, there are important Christian principles in the act of trying to change something on-essential. Let’s hear what the Holy Spirit instructs us through Paul:

17Each of you should continue to live in whatever situation the Lord has placed you, and remain as you were when God first called you. This is my rule for all the churches. 18For instance, a man who was circumcised before he became a believer should not try to reverse it. And the man who was uncircumcised when he became a believer should not be circumcised now. 19For it makes no difference whether or not a man has been circumcised. The important thing is to keep God’s commandments.

20Yes, each of you should remain as you were when God called you. 21Are you a slave? Don’t let that worry you—but if you get a chance to be free, take it. 22And remember, if you were a slave when the Lord called you, you are now free in the Lord. And if you were free when the Lord called you, you are now a slave of Christ. 23God paid a high price for you, so don’t be enslaved by the world. 24Each of you, dear brothers and sisters, should remain as you were when God first called you. (1 Corinthians 7, NLT).

The powerful principles we have before us are:

1. The principle concerning the non-essential. Do not get fixated on anon-essential matter. Focus on what counts. The important thing for a child of God is to learn to obey Abba Father from that point on rather than to try and change circumstances or reverse what is done to the body.

2. The case of circumcision. In the case of Gentile converts to Judaism who underwent circumcision, the question seems to have arisen as to whether they should reverse their circumcision. (The traditional Jewish circumcision involves only a small cut, and it was possible to reverse circumcision.) Paul tells us uncircumcision is inconsequential. There is no virtue in uncircumcision as there is no virtue in circumcision.

3. The principle concerning the past. What is past is past. The redemption of Jesus Christ is good for all our major and minor follies or sins. The Christian is called to focus on the present into the future. We can focus on making right the things that are less than ideal, or we can focus on making the non-ideal situation work for us. If the Lord is willing to redeem us from a bad situation (like slavery), we gladly embrace it. But we will focus on our own obedience despite non-ideal situations.

4. The case of slavery. Some of the Christians were slaves. We would think slavery was a life situation they should try to change. Paul counsels otherwise. Even slavery does not keep us from the freedom in the Lord. Today, we are free from slavery, but Christians today remain enslaved to things of this world. Paul is surely right to point out our enslavement to the world is the bigger issue. However, “if you get a chance to be free, take it.” Paul is not saying that remaining a slave is a good thing. He is saying being a slave is not the ultimate enslavement; and our spiritual freedom in Christ is not limited by our lack of freedom in the world. In fact, being a slave can put you in a situation where you find it easier to die to the world.

The example from slavery, like the example of circumcision, calls us to the things that matter – our heart before our Father. We can work to change all the external matters and ignore the internal changes we need to make.

It is easy for Christians to fall into legalism that says everything must be pristine – which is impossible – and neglect the more significant matters of our walk with God. Shallow is always easier than deep. The removal of a tattoo that is only skin deep must be seen in light of the depth of sinfulness and rebellion on our hearts.

Remove the tattoo? Sure, if you want to do it. But that is not the point. Removing our stubborn refusal to obey God fully—that is worthy of great effort.

Pastor Peter Eng


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