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“Do not present your members to sin as instruments for unrighteousness, but present yourselves to God as those who have been brought from death to life, and your members to God as instruments for righteousness. For sin will have no dominion over you, since you are not under law but under grace. What then? Are we to sin because we are not under law but under grace? By no means!” (Romans 6:13-15).

Emergent Church Members Get Tattoos of Jesus’ Death for Lent

I must say this one has me a bit baffled (see link above)…for an opinion, that is. But what about you?

I have no personal distaste for tattoos or suspicion of those who have them, even though I don’t personally have any “ink.” Many of the most devout followers of Christ that I know have some sort of body art, although most of those graphics appeared during a former way of life that was marked by rebellion and making corresponding social statements (ironically, having a tattoo used to be very counter-cultural, but with their rise in prominence it may now be more radical NOT to have a tattoo). But that isn’t the debate here. The question: Is this a viable medium for communicating one’s faith or just another trend in the contemporary Christian community’s efforts to mimic the world’s methods of communicating what we believe (the Christian culture is usually quite late to this kind of dance)? In other words, are we just blending in and thus watering down our faith or is this one more way in which followers of Jesus can engage and redeem our culture? Since I have no definitive opinion about the initiative described in the article (believing this may be more about motives than methods), I’ll let you ponder these questions.

The point I’d like to make is a theological, not necessarily a practical or spiritual, one. What do we do with many of these Levitical laws? A section of this article addresses the dilemma:

“According to Leviticus 19:28, “Ye shall not make any cuttings in your flesh for the dead, nor print or tattoo any marks upon you: I am the Lord.”

When asked how he and his fellow parishioners reconcile this verse with their planned art exhibit, Seay told CP that the context of the verse is important, noting that verse 27 states that a man should not cut the hair on the sides of his head or the edge of his beard.

“The problem was not with tattoos, but with the fact that getting a tattoo or cutting your hair/beard was a symbol that identified you with the worshipof pagan gods,” said Seay.”

Although I would probably not promote this kind of expression, Mr. Seay does have a point. There are many Old Covenant laws we aren’t held to today (animal sacrifice being a big one) and this particular book of the Bible is replete with such rules, as are other writings in the Pentateuch (the first 5 books of the Bible which is often call the “Torah” or “The Law”). Now we have correctly kept some (earlier in Leviticus 19 we see a partial restatement of the 10 Commandments found originally in Exodus 20), conveniently kept some of them we like (take tithing, for instance), and banished others. Seay makes reference to the rule against clipping our hair and beard that we certainly don’t practice today (Leviticus 19:27). My favorite is 19:32 which tells us to “rise is the presence of the aged,” yet I see no one standing when I enter a room!

So how do we determine which of these are rules to be adopted today or just principles that help us understand God, His character, and His ways? Clearly there doesn’t seem, at least to me, to be any real consistency in many circles as to how we conclude which of these “laws” remain and which are no longer in effect in the New Covenant.

So I’d like to share my opinion. It may ruffle some feathers or it may cause some reflection – but here it is:

  • First – did Jesus affirm such practices explicitly?
  • Second – did Jesus affirm these laws implicitly? (The implication must not be forced).
  • Third – did the writers of the New Testament affirm these rules either explicitly or implicitly (again, a clear reference) and thereby confirming or elaborating on the teaching of Christ and the New Covenant?

If not, in an extremely generalistic sense, I would suggest that these Old Covenant practices are lessons and principles to help us understand Father God and be guidelines for living. They are not meant to be practiced as “rules,” but, in some cases (like the dietary laws) can be employed as positive observances, object lessons, and spiritual/physical helps. But they are not to replace the sufficiency of Christ – who is He is, what He has done, and what He taught.

So what’s my recommendation? If you feel led by God and are pure in motive, go get a tattoo for the glory of God. But don’t expect me to be standing in line…I do have an aversion to needles. Nevertheless, this side of Calvary we are not bound by the law but have the freedom of grace. As long as it is for His glory, it reflects the precepts of the New Covenant framed by Christ Himself, and is not a compromise that bows down to our culture, then go for it! But leave me to my old-fashioned ways of caring for the temple of the Holy Spirit, which is my body.

If you are of a theological mindset, the link below might be of interest to you. As related to this post, pay particular attention to the section “Law/Gospel.” – New Covenant Theology – Theopedia, an encyclopedia of Biblical Christianity


*Section 2 – Kingdom Conduct

Eleven – The Source of Righteousness

“Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I  have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them. I tell you the truth, until heaven and earth disappear, not the smallest letter, not the least stroke  of a pen, will by any means disappear from the Law until everything is accomplished. Anyone who breaks one of the least of these commandments and  teaches others to do the same will be called least in the kingdom of heaven,  but whoever practices and teaches these commands will be called great in the  kingdom of heaven. For I tell you that unless your righteousness surpasses that of the Pharisees and the teachers of the law, you will certainly not enter the  kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 5:17-20).

When faced with the awesome and noble task of living as salt and light, I  can easily fall into the trap of thinking I’ve arrived. That I’m a better Christian than so-in-so. That I no longer need improvement. In truth, however,  I along with every other believer travel a journey towards perfection: we’ll not achieve it until we breathe our last. Anything good in me—anything good in any Christ-follower—comes not through our righteousness, but the Lord’s. Our best efforts, no matter how sincere, are always as “filthy rags” (Isaiah 64:6).

The unvarnished truth? No one is righteous. Nothing about us and nothing generated on our own merit is good (Romans 3:10-11). Though the Pharisees and
devout people of Christ’s day sought holiness through ritual and ceremony and adherence to laws, Christ taught that their efforts were worthless. “Unless
your righteousness surpasses that of the Pharisees,” He said, “you will certainly not enter the kingdom of heaven.” But since righteousness proves a foundational need in participating in God’s kingdom and honoring His kingship, we must understand how one achieves it. We must grasp that the righteousness of Christ provides our only hope in satisfying the demands of holy God.

The writer of Hebrews sheds light on Christ’s role:

“In the past God spoke to our forefathers through the prophets at many times and in various ways, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed heir of all things, and through whom he made the universe. The Son is the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of his being, sustaining all things by his powerful word. After he had provided purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty in Heaven” (Hebrews 1:1-3).

Before Christ came to earth in human form, mankind had only one avenue toward pleasing God: keeping the Old Covenant law given by God to the nation of
Israel. This set of rules, which included much more than the Ten Commandments, served as the yardstick by which God measured the love and obedience of His people. James 2:10 clarifies that in order to live as holy a life as God required people must keep all of the law. Not surprisingly, this standard proved too high and the people failed. No religious rituals could bring them acceptance before God who demanded perfect obedience; they desperately needed a Messiah, or a Savior from their sins (see Hebrews 10:1-9).

When Jesus gave His life on the cross, He completely fulfilled the perfect law that humans prove incapable of keeping. While God might have chosen to do away with His righteous demands regarding idol worship, lying, murdering, and committing adultery, He chose not to abolish them. Instead, He had Jesus fulfill the holy dictates; in doing so, God accomplished the obedience necessary to satisfy His own demands and plans. In a sense, God modified the original law, making it richer and deeper and giving it a new and enhanced meaning. In a real and profound sense, Jesus became the New Covenant law of God. Through the person, teaching, and finished work of Christ, we see the completion of all the Old Testament’s revealed teaching, ethical precepts, and prophecy. In Jesus we see the implementation of a New Covenant between God and humanity. Because of Jesus’ sacrifice, all who believe in Him can embrace the good news. The unchanging law of God was fulfilled in Christ. Those who believe in and receive Him by faith are declared righteous. This is our salvation!

Unlike the showy ways that the Pharisees and teachers of the law chose to obey the Old Covenant, obedience from the heart proves a requirement in keeping
the new one. Living out kingdom principles projects a different kind of personal obedience. The outward and shallow form of righteousness found in ritualistic religion doesn’t work. God requires inwardly prompted righteousness of mind and motive compelled by a transformed heart. This kind of obedience surpasses the religion of the Pharisees and typifies those who belong to God’s kingdom. Astonishingly, the Old Testament prophets predicted this new type of obedience long before Christ’s birth: “This is the covenant I will make with the house of Israel after that time,” declares the Lord. “I will put my law in their minds and write it on their hearts. I will be their God, and they will be my people” (Jeremiah 31:33). And in Ezekiel 36:27, people were given a clue as to how this would happen, “[God] will put [his] Spirit in you and move you to follow [his] decrees and be careful to keep [his] laws.”

Jesus calls us not only to obedience but to a deeper heart-righteousness that has external manifestations. In John 3:3, Jesus said, “I tell you the truth, no one can see the kingdom of God unless he is born again.” Truly, we cannot achieve true righteousness without first surrendering to Christ. After that, we receive indwelling power that comes through the Holy Spirit. Kingdom living necessitates a radical righteousness that comes only through the God Himself. In order to see the righteous demands of God’s kingdom fulfilled in us, we must look to Jesus and rely on His Holy Spirit.

Apply It.

Meditate on Second Corinthians 5:21 and John 1:29. Righteousness comes only from Christ. Consider why you obey God’s Word. Do you do so to justify yourself before God or to show loving and thankful acknowledgement that He is worthy of your submission? Ask God to reveal any self-righteousness and to give you an obedient heart.

*This is an excerpt from Captivated by the King and His Kingdom: A Personal Encounter with the Sermon on the Mount published by Crossbooks in 2010. The links for this book are:

Amazon in book form –    

Amazon Kindle –

Barnes and Noble in book form –

Other eReader formats –

If you follow along with this category (albeit backwards) by the same name as the book, eventually, Lord willing, we will have walked through the Sermon on the Mount verse by verse in a devotional commentary approach. I pray that this series impacts you as much as it did me as I studied this passage and wrote this book. Grace to you!

“All who rely on observing the law are under a curse, for it is written: “Cursed is everyone who does not continue to do everything written in the Book of the Law.” Clearly no one is justified before God by the law, because, “The righteous will live by faith.” The law is not based on faith; on the contrary, “The man who does these things will live by them.” Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us, for it is written: “Cursed is everyone who is hung on a tree.” He redeemed us in order that the blessing given to Abraham might come to the Gentiles through Christ Jesus, so that by faith we might receive the promise of the Spirit” (Galatians 3:10-14).

The Bible is filled with blessings. We like to focus on these positive affirmations of God’s goodness towards His children. The Beatitudes in the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5:3-12) come quickly to mind as an example of God’s graciousness towards His people. But the Bible is also filled with curses and there is a curse motif that threads its way through God’s word. Although we prefer to think of God as totally beneficent we must know that He is as fully capable of cursing people as He is blessing them. The Old Testament prophets (and Jesus as well) remind us of this fact. We do well to understand this because, in the end, it is a propitiational curse from God that most blesses us.

We see God’s curse on sinful man early on in history. After Adam’s fall God pronounces curses on the Serpent, the earth itself, and God’s anathema included pain in childbirth (Genesis 3:14-18). The most significant consequence of man’s fall was his banishment from the garden and God’s presence. Later He struck a covenant with man that qualified his relationship with God. It was based upon obedience to the law of the Old Covenant. When man obeyed the law (covenant) he was blessed in every aspect of his life (see Deuteronomy 28:1-6). When he disobeyed he was cursed in a similar manner (see Deuteronomy 28:15-19). Hence the law, and man’s inability to keep it, became his greatest curse. A holy God demanded perfect obedience to His covenant we are incapable of such perfection.

In other words, the keeping of the law is only satisfactory to God if it is kept completely (James 2:10) and continually. That is why Paul says we are cursed by attempting to satisfy God’s righteous demands by obeying the law (v. 10) because such a pursuit will result only in failure (see Romans 3:9-20). We are only justified by faith and a life that is based upon faith. But faith in what? Christ’s redemption from the curse by His substitutionary atonement for our sin (our inability to keep all of the law all of the time). And He did this by becoming a curse and by absorbing our curse – the judgment and wrath of a holy God against sin and sinners. In this sense Jesus satisfied His Father’s demands. Paul sums it up this way: “Since they did not know the righteousness that comes from God and sought to establish their own, they did not submit to God’s righteousness. Christ is the end of the law so that there may be righteousness for everyone who believes” (Romans 10:3-4).

How did he do this? By hanging on the cursed tree – the cross of Calvary. Therein lays the blessing! Jesus became the curse for us as He absorbed the rightful judgment, wrath, and curse of God against sin. This is why Isaiah 53 says He was “stricken by God, smitten by Him and afflicted” (v. 4).and that “it was the Lord’s will to crush him and cause him to suffer, and though the Lord makes his life a guilt offering (v. 10). Christ’s experience of being forsaken by His Father while He hung upon the cross reminds us of His being the object of God’s anger and taking on the curse of God against sin (see Matthew 27:46).

In other words, as strange and incomprehensible as it may seem to us, it pleased God to bruise His son for those whose righteousness would be by faith in Jesus alone (v. 11). It was the plan and purpose of God to pour out His wrath upon the spotless (completely righteous) Lamb of God, Jesus, so that His chosen would experience redemption from the curse of their sin, the curse of the law. So Jesus became cursed so that we might be infinitely blessed. This is the grace that is imparted and imputed to His children and His children alone through faith. All others remain under the curse and condemnation of the law. That is why Paul boldly proclaims that he “resolved to know nothing while I was with you except Jesus Christ and him crucified” (1 Corinthians 2:2). And that is why we should join in the chorus, “Worthy is the Lamb, who was slain, to receive power and wealth and wisdom and strength and honor and glory and praise!” (Revelation 5:12).


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