When I was growing up, rarely did I see anyone with a tattoo. Today, however, tattoos of every size, shape, and color
are imprinted on men and women, young and old.
In ancient times, tattoos were often used as a form of branding or marking of slaves to show ownership by their master. And in the Levitical law, God forbade the practice of tattooing, “You shall not make any cuts on your body for the dead or tattoo yourselves: I am the LORD” Leviticus 19:28 (ESV).
But did you know that if you’re a child of God, you have a permanent tattoo? In Paul’s letter to the Christians at Ephesus, he wrote saying, “In him you also, when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and believed in him, were sealed with the promised Holy Spirit, who is the guarantee of our inheritance until we acquire possession of it, to the praise of his glory” Ephesians 1:13-14 (ESV).
The word, “sealed,” in the original Greek text, refers to sealing with a signet ring, a stamp, or a tattoo to indicate an authorized legal transaction or for ownership of a slave. But why would Paul use this kind of “slave-ownership” language for Christians?
Apart from Jesus Christ, we are held captive; we are slaves to sin and death. Paul writes, "In [Jesus] we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, in accordance with the riches of God’s grace" Ephesians 1:7. Redemption means to "buy back" as in paying a ransom to rescue a person. When Paul wrote his letter to the believers in Ephesus, he was a prisoner, held captive and under house arrest for preaching the good news of Jesus. Yet, he didn't consider himself a slave of Rome. He identified as a slave* of Christ Jesus.
In Romans 6:22, Paul wrote to the believers about their ownership status, “But now that you have been set free from sin and have become slaves of God, the fruit you get leads to sanctification and its end, eternal life” (ESV).
Paul lived when seals and tattoos were used to identify ownership of slaves to their masters. He wanted the Ephesians (and us) to understand that because of Jesus's death on the cross, and by his shed blood, they had been set free from slavery to sin and death; their ransom had been paid. They were now fully owned by God. They were sealed, "tattooed," with the promised Holy Spirit and have a guaranteed inheritance!
Those who are in Christ have God's seal of approval. We can’t see our Holy Spirit tattoo, but God does! What we can see is the fruit of our salvation: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. How are you doing at displaying God's fruit? If you’re like me, some days are better than others. Praise be to God, despite our failures, we are marked and sealed by God. We are fully owned by our Master. We can’t be “un-tattooed.” We are secure in Christ; that's a promise from God, and he does not lie!
Prayer: Dear Lord, Thank you for setting me free from sin and death, and for the assurance that I am "tattooed" with the Promised Holy Spirit. Help me to live for you in word and deed. Amen.
Teach These Ideas to Children
In chapter 9 of God’s Top Ten, Christian tattoos-seals-marks are taught. Also, check out our Fruit of the Spirit Bible lesson plans for kids.
*Many translations use the term servant instead of slave, but the Greek word is doulos, which means slave or someone who belongs to another.
Copyright 2019 Sarah Keith
Photo credit: Richard Jaimes, Unsplash.com
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