Is Smoking Sinful? Rethinking Christian Liberty and the Body as a Temple
Billows of smoke in all shapes and sizes poured out of our mouths. It was a brisk night. All of us sat around the fire, staggered here and there is lawn chairs, rocks, and logs taking in the fresh mountain air. The sound of the crackling logs and the tasty flavors of our cigars was intoxicating. This was my first time smoking. I had never really been in the crowd of kids smoking cigarets or the pungent marijuana, which in my mind smelt of putrid death, decaying and rotten. None of this ever seemed appealing.
As a young man who grew up in the church, I don’t ever recall anyone ever telling me directly that smoking was a terrible sin. I just remember embracing the sort of horror and judgmental superiority when we saw a random person, or God forbid a congregant, lighting up and puffing that tobacco.
In fact, there once was a man in our church who regularly stepped out to have a smoke during the sermon. I never knew that this was his habit until one Sunday morning. To my horror, I realized that I had to pee. I knew enough at this point about church etiquette—you don’t get up in the middle of a sermon. When I stepped out into the hall and was about to enter the restroom, I saw him. He stood outside the double-glass doors with his smoke in hand puffing away. One word came to mind: sinner.
But is smoking really a sin?
In an argument once over this very same issue, someone said that the body is the temple of the Lord and you are not to defile what houses and holds God. This sounded like a logical reason for not smoking. It was not until a mentor used this very same logic to condemn tattoos, piercings, the dying of hair, or any other such “defiling.” This was too far. Why had he not mentioned the overweight guy or those packing in all kinds of terrible foods into their bodies. These people, under this ridicules rubric, were just as much retched sinners as the chain-smoking sermon ditcher that once attended my church of youth.
Without doubt our bodies are the temple of the Holy Spirit. God dwells within the follower of Christ. But this body is not perfect. It is decaying, dying, and falling apart. It is not perfect nor is it expected to be in this fallen world. We are constantly dying and until our bodies are renewed and restored perfectly, the Holy Spirit being a forward and down-payment for this moment, our flesh will continue to be corrupted and imperfect vessels.
And while some have argued that we should not alter the body created by God, few actually mean this. We were made naked. We were made to have hair that continues to grow. Are we to suddenly become, after following this purist ideal, nudist hippie Christians? By no means. Altering the body is held within our power and we can do as we wish.
This includes doing things with our bodies that may run risk of death or illness. People have liberty to skydive, rock climb, eat fast food, drink beer, and smoke if they choose. As long as what is done is not sin for you or directly causing a known brother or sister to sin, we have liberty.
And while no doubt a massive list of dangers can be complied for why smoking is harmful, no concrete argument can or has been made demonstrating that smoking is sinful.
But whether you think it is an acceptable risk for your enjoyment or you think it is something distastful, we can and ought to show grace toward each other in love as brothers and sisters in Christ.
THEOLOGY21 is a co-op of authors dedicated to renovating theology for a new generation, taking the ancient truths of scripture and theology and speaking to the post-Christian culture of the 21st century. To keep up-to-date on all things THEOLOGY21, Give our Facebook page a “like”, follow our twitter page, add yourself to our email list, or subscribe to our feed!