Am I Destroying God’s Temple by Getting Tattoos, Smoking, Drinking, or Anything Else?

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…your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit who is in you (1 Corinthians 6:19).

One of the most interesting arguments I have heard from people who are trying to get others to adhere to their own standards of abstinence is, “Your body is a temple, and you should therefore take care of it.” They often imply that tattoos, smoking, and drinking are detrimental to the body. Since the body is a temple, it is one of the worst sins not to care for it by abstaining from certain things. After all, no one wants to desecrate or wreck God’s temple. I will consider this question by (1) logical analysis, (2) cultural analysis, and (3) biblical analysis.

Logical analysis

We can put the argument in logical form:

  1. It is a sin to pollute God’s temple.
  2. The body is His temple.
  3. Therefore, it is a sin to do anything hazardous to the body or that causes the body be adversely affected.

Since tattoos change the body, smoking can cause cancer, and alcohol is a natural depressant and sedative, these things adversely affect the body and are seen as sinful even though Scripture never refers to them as sin. Why? The body is a temple.

I will contend not against the premises but that the conclusion of this popular argument is not sound. It does not necessarily follow from the two premises in the form it is most often presented. At most, a sound argument concludes with, “Therefore, it is a sin to pollute the body,” and we are left having to explain what it means for one to pollute the body. In essence, people infer that God thinks tattoos, smoking, and drinking pollute the body. Neither the logical argument nor the Scriptures necessitate their claim. This argument is from inference, not from exposition, and is unhelpful. It causes us to add to the Scriptures what isn’t there. While using our capacity to infer can be helpful at times, it can also cause us to twist the Scriptures in order to teach the precepts of people as if they were godly doctrines.

Cultural analysis

To formulate such an argument forces one into legalism and hypocrisy. To say that the body is God’s temple, and we should therefore not do anything hazardous or that may affect it adversely, is an absurd notion because it is an impossible feat. If we were to take that religious advice and follow it to its logical end, every person would avoid every little thing that could potentially cause harm to the body. We would have to see illness as sin because it adversely affects the body. We would also loathe the work of the Holy Spirit, who adversely affects our bodies, minds, and emotions in order to change them from their natural state. Further, no Christian would ever go into the mission field or step out to reach his or her community with the Gospel because those works are dangerous. Churches, pastors, or other teachers who forward this argument usually are given over to the false, legalistic Gospel of our day. Their standards are not the standards of Scripture but are human precepts or traditions. Their religious restrictions have no value according to Scripture:

If you have died with Christ to the elementary principles of the world, why, as if you were living in the world, do you submit yourself to decrees, such as, “Do not handle, do not taste, do not touch!” (which all refer to things destined to perish with use)—in accordance with the commandments and teachings of men? These are matters which have, to be sure, the appearance of wisdom in self-made religion and self-abasement and severe treatment of the body, but are of no value against fleshly indulgence (Colossians 2:20-23).

To say that the body is God’s temple, and we should therefore not do anything hazardous or that may affect it adversely is also to give one’s self over to blatant hypocrisy. Most people who use this argument to persuade people not to have a drink or smoke or get tattoos themselves drink soda (which is worse for the body than wine), are gluttons who worship their stomachs, and do not care for their bodies by exercising. They are doing the very things for which they condemn others. But, because they have called drinking alcohol a sin and not drinking gallons of sugar, they perceive their worse state of health to be spiritually better than others even though they have taken less care of their own bodies. It is blatant hypocrisy, and many churches, pastors, and teachers boast in the fact that they are so hypocritical as they proclaim loudly, “Do not pollute God’s temple!” Their religion is false, and their gospel is of no benefit to those who listen. It is a self-condemning message through and through.

Biblical analysis

So, what does the passage actually say? What does it mean to pollute the body and so desecrate the Holy Spirit’s temple? Let’s observe the passage together:

All things are lawful for me, but not all things are profitable. All things are lawful for me, but I will not be mastered by anything. Food is for the stomach and the stomach is for food, but God will do away with both of them. Yet the body is not for immorality, but for the Lord, and the Lord is for the body. Now God has not only raised the Lord, but will also raise us up through His power. Do you not know that your bodies are members of Christ? Shall I then take away the members of Christ and make them members of a prostitute? May it never be! Or do you not know that the one who joins himself to a prostitute is one body with her? For He says, “The two shall become one flesh.” But the one who joins himself to the Lord is one spirit with Him. Flee immorality. Every other sin that a man commits is outside the body, but the immoral man sins against his own body. Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit who is in you, whom you have from God, and that you are not your own? For you have been bought with a price: therefore glorify God in your body (1 Corinthians 6:12-20).

All things are lawful for me. Paul began this passage by stating that all things are lawful. It is always interesting that so many people will take a passage built on the idea of Christian liberty, twist it, and use it in order to restrict any number of things as if all things are not lawful. In context, Paul wrote this to a congregation that is prone to look for fault. The believers in the church at Corinth would point fingers at one-another in order to point out one another’s sin, shortfalls, or insufficiencies. Because the Holy Spirit is sanctifying and justifying His people, there is no reason to seek to cast blame or to point out everything we believe to be wrong with people within the body of Christ (Cf. 6:1-11). Because the Holy Spirit is sanctifying His people, all things are lawful. If we are in Christ, we have the basic liberty to do the things we want to do without fear of God’s Law because God is writing His Law upon our hearts as we come to know Him more.

In the same stroke, Paul wrote that not all things are profitable. We will consider this as we consider the remainder of the passage.

Food was made for the stomach. Paul, as he often did, resorted to natural observation. It’s difficult to condemn anyone for eating because the stomach was made for food. God will do away with both the stomach and food; That is why we don’t worship either. The fact remains—God created the stomach for food and food for the stomach. We should, therefore, enjoy what God has given for His good purposes. All things are lawful. Let’s rest upon God’s word and think about the beauty He has given and our ability to enjoy the fruits of His labor and our own. While considering life’s vanity, Solomon instructed his sons:

Go then, eat your bread in happiness and drink your wine with a cheerful heart; for God has already approved your works (Ecclesiastes 9:7).

God is not surprised at the adverse affects of bread, alcohol, or anything else. God is a good God who has given His people good things to enjoy. He has given us the tools we need in order to enjoy His creation. Why do you think we have bodies? Why do you think we have taste-buds? Why do you think God created grapes and grains to ferment and change the body? Why do you think our skin absorbs ink and retains it rather than expelling it and healing over it as our layers of skin die and replenish? Or, do you not think God created His world and His people for each other—so we might enjoy His good things and glorify Him? How can anyone use this passage to condemn the very things Paul has encouraged? That is to use the Bible to make a claim opposite of the claim the Bible actually makes. It is to use the Bible to teach rather than teach the Bible. Scripture even instructs:

It is not for kings, O Lemuel, It is not for kings to drink wine, Or for rulers to desire strong drink, For they will drink and forget what is decreed, And pervert the rights of all the afflicted.

Give strong drink to him who is perishing, And wine to him whose life is bitter. Let him drink and forget his poverty And remember his trouble no more (Proverbs 31:4-7).

This is why one qualification for the church’s pastors is that they not be addicted to wine and why deacons must not be addicted to much wine (1 Timothy 3:3, 8). They are overseeing Christ’s church. The way much alcohol changes the body was given for those who are perishing and whose lives are bitter—that they may drink and forget and remember the troubles of life no more. In the New Testament, after the coming of the Holy Spirit, Paul recognized the functions of alcoholic beverages—enjoyment and to help forget. That is why he instructed:

And do not get drunk with wine, for that is dissipation, but be filled with the Spirit, speaking to one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody with your heart to the Lord; always giving thanks for all things in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ to God, even the Father; and be subject to one another in the fear of Christ (Ephesians 5:18-21).

As good as alcohol is to help people forget their sorrows, the Holy Spirit is a better intoxicant and comforter. He does so within the context of the community of true believers. There are only two things explicitly defined as sin with regard to alcohol in Scripture: a lifestyle of drunkenness and debauchery (Cf. Romans 13:13; 1 Corinthians 5:11) and breaking a vow of abstinence before the Lord (Cf. Numbers 6:1-5). In Ephesians, Paul did not refer to one act of getting drunk as a sin, but used it to illustrate one of the benefits of having the Holy Spirit and of being part of a healthy local church. Wine is good for forgetting our sorrows. Don’t get drunk with wine. That won’t build you up. Instead, get drunk with the Holy Spirit and be with the true church—that is how you are built up, and it produces more joy and thanksgiving in your heart than does wine!

Yet, so many people are so concerned about condemning others because they “pollute God’s temple” that they never become the better option Paul described. They are not true churches but religious clubs with their own rules they expect others to keep in order to try to be perfect.

I will not be mastered by anything. Not all things are profitable. This is why we can confidently claim that addiction to anything is sinful. God has given us good things to enjoy. He has not given those things to control us. As people submitted to Jesus Christ as Lord, He is our master—not alcohol, tattoos, cigars, television, news, video games, food, or politics (some things people easily get addicted to). 

The body is not for immorality. Here, immorality particularly refers to idolatry. Idolatry is the making of idols out of the good things God has provided. Instead of marrying Christ, we marry the things He has provided. Instead of worshipping God for all of the good things He has provided for our good and enjoyment, we worship those things. There are two ways we can worship the creature rather than the creator. The first way is the equivalent of addiction or a lifestyle of self-indulgence—for, then our eyes are fixed upon only our own desires rather than on Christ. The second way is inventing rules that restrict us from those things—for, then we are still focussed on those things rather than Christ, and our constant striving to obey the rules we or others have invented keeps our eyes fixed on the rules rather than on Christ. Our bodies were not created for idolatry. They were created to glorify God and enjoy Him fully.

The body is the Holy Spirit’s temple. Thus we have the biblical meaning simply because we have read and observed the context of this revelation. To say our bodies are the temples of the Holy Spirit is to explicitly claim we enjoy the good things God has given with the bodies He has given us and worship Him as we enjoy those things that were made for our bodies and our bodies for those things.

It is so interesting how the most common use of this verse is a misappropriation of the verse to persuade people to do exactly the opposite thing that the verse describes—effectively turning attention from Jesus Christ and causing so many to think they can become righteous by way of abstinence rather than be clothed in Christ’s righteousness alone. When it comes to the Christian life, my plea is that we focus on Jesus and have the Law written on our hearts instead of focussing on the edge of the circle wondering how much we can get away with.

According to this passage, we can correctly argue:

  1. It is a sin to pollute God’s temple.
  2. The body is His temple.
  3. Therefore, it is a sin to pollute the body.
    • We pollute the body by committing idolatry, not by somehow harming the body or enjoying the good things God has given and worshipping Him for those things.

It is not what enters into the mouth that defiles the man, but what proceeds out of the mouth, this defiles the man (Matthew 15:11; Click here to see our exposition).

There are really only two types of churches you can be a part of or teachers you can choose to sit under. 1) You can sit under teaching and be a part of a local church that makes the Gospel all about you, either by way of self-indulgence or rule-keeping. 2) You can sit under teaching and be a part of a local church that recognizes the Gospel is all about Christ and His work. In the first, you will always be either burdened or flattered, both forms of manipulation. In the second, you will experience real growth, deep encouragement, and the sanctifying work of the Holy Spirit. In the first, people might feel themselves to be spiritual, which is another form of idolatry. In the second, people are actually striving to follow Jesus. Please plug in to a healthy local church—where the Spirit of God and the body of Christ are more intoxicating, encouraging, and sanctifying than the Johnnie Walker in your cabinet.

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