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.

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  • simplyakid

    So tell me then, why are christians so willing to go out of there way to not only look down apon people who smoke, but also drive a person away from the church because of their habits?

  • This sort of behavior is obviously a tragedy. Christians are not perfect images of Christ, though that is what they are called to be. I have to say, that I was one of these Christians once as well. And I have forgiveness to ask of those that I drove away an acted selfrighteousless. Christ, however, would never turn anyone away—especially not for something like smoking. Christ wants all to come to him and he loved hanging out where the party was at, where people were feasting, drinking, and smoking. Christ was the life of the party. I hope Christians one day will follow suit.

  • Aaron B.

    I think when smoking becomes an idol, or a bonafide addiction, it can become sinful (like all other things). But I also believe that we are called to be good stewards of our bodies, presented as “living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God.” Whether or not sinful, smoking certainly isn’t healthy. That alone is enough reason to avoid it. I believe that when we take care of our earthly bodies out of respect for the One who gave them to us, He is duly honored.

  • Thanks for your insight Aaron. You are certainly right to an extent I believe. Addiction and anything taken to an extreme is certainly “missing the mark” for our lives. I love smoking a cigar and a pipe a few times a week. I am taking a break from this for a while for various reasons, but I don’t think that this occasional indulgence is in anyway sinful. In all, perhaps the answer is that we trust the conviction of the Holy Spirit within each one of us and leave room for grace in all of these things.

  • Joseph Reger

    great post.

  • Aaron

    I definitely agree. The Spirit of Truth will lead us into all truth, and His grace is sufficient.

  • Joseph Reger

    ya i dunno.. i understand cigars. there not a daily deal and they aren’t “addicting”. Ciggerates on the other hand are VERY VERY ADDICTING and alter your personality, your entire being. I smoked a pack a day for five years. AWFUL.

  • Very true my friend. Anything that is addictive and has one in its’ grips is a terrible thing. While not addicted to smoking, many get addicted to eating unhealthy food, procrastination, lazy behavior, and gambeling. These behaviors are destructive when addicted to but no doubt acceptable behaviors for those who practice them in moderation. But praise God that you were freed from an addiction to smoking. He truely is able to break all barriers and chains—a hope that we should all look to and pray for.

  • Mikhael

    In the past few years I have had to re-evaluate what I consider sinful and what I do not consider sinful. We must not be Pharisaical by adding laws where God does not speak. I use to be an American Fundamentalist of the Baptist verity and I would have considered all smoking as sinful. My changed list of sinful/not sinful would perhaps astonish or stone face drop jaw you all now since I consider myself a Patristic Fundamentalist in my understanding of what is and is not permissible according to both Old and New Testaments together in unity. Anyway, I do not consider smoking pure Tobacco sinful and I even enjoy Tobacco in a Hookah pipe now. My allowance of smoking comes from multi points in scriptures including the use of Incense which is SMOKE and which Proverbs calls a joy to men’s hearts and from Psalm 104 which says that God created Wine and Herbs for the rejoicing of Man’s heart. Tobacco being a herb that God created for man’s rejoicing. The feeling created by Wine or Incense, or Tobacco was created for the purpose of rejoicing man but we are to be careful and not to go to intoxication of them which then would be sinful. I like what the puritans said regarding Wine, The first stages of drinking wine is what they called lawfully tipsy, after that it is unlawfully drunk. I draw a line when it comes to man-made substances which are created to draw people to addiction, etc such as Cigarettes, etc which contain so many harmful chemicals..

  • Mikhael

    I should also mention that I am no longer of the Baptist persuasion but old school Reformed Covenanter with much Patristic fundamentalism..

  • Wait… so smoking pure tobacco doesn’t cause addiction? Pure tobacco smoke doesn’t contain harmful chemicals?

    Also, I don’t think that the Levites were smoking the incense. Just sayin’

  • Mikhael

    Eric, Cigarettes contain over 600 human added chemicals some that are quite dangerous and cancer causing other are added for the affect of making tobacco more additive. Pure tobacco can have health benefits when used moderately. I recommand a book for you to read, titled “The health benefits of tobacco” at
    Pure Tobacco does not cause the addictive habit like man-made cigarettes does.. Yes it can still cause addiction just like sex, soda, or any else on God’s green earth. But when used moderately it does not cause harm or addiction. Protestant Reformer Martin Luther wrote “Do not suppose that abuses are eliminated by destroying the object which is abused. Men can go wrong with wine and women. Shall we then prohibit and abolish women?”

    Also, I do not believe it is possible to be in a room filled with incense and not inhale it. Whether it is in a pipe in the mouth or in the room filled with it, it is still smoking.. So the levites were smoking and everyone that enjoyed incense at home were smoking.. And trust me they were smoking more then just Tobacco.. Some incense resins can have some pretty powerful effects on a body, even more then Tobacco. From Euphemism, to Aphrodisiacs, to Sleepiness, to Refreshing the Spirit, to Health benefits of all sorts depending on the incense used.

    Personally I get together with my Pastor every 3 to 4 months have a glass of wine, smoke our pipes and debate theology.. It is pretty much the only time I get my pipe or hookah out. And trust me, we are no modern or post-modern church.. We are probably more fundamentalist and old school then our run of the mill baptist fundamentalist… Some might even mistaken else for Amish though we are Puritans.. :)

  • Sorry Mikhael, but most of what you said just isn’t true. The only addictive compound in cigarette smoke is the nicotine, which comes from the tobacco itself. Menthol may be added to increase the time that nicotine spends in your body, but you are not taking in any less nicotine by smoking pure tobacco. Ironically, when you are smoking from your hookah pipe, you are actually breathing in more nicotine than if you had just used a cigarette. You are just as likely to develop a physical dependence by smoking pure tobacco.

    You are also not protecting yourself from harmful chemicals. Pure tobacco smoke still has carbon monoxide, heavy metals, and a myriad of carcinogens. You are still putting yourself at risk of developing lung cancer, oral cancer, and heart disease. You are still compromising your body’s ability to heal itself and fight off infection.

    Take a look at what the Mayo Clinic and the World Health Organization have to say about hookah smoke:

  • Also, there is a big difference between using incense and smoking, particularly in the amount of exposure. I may be exposed to harmful exhaust fumes by living near so many cars, but that is nothing like putting my mouth over the exhaust pipe for 5-45 minutes on multiple occasions. The incense smoke is at least diluted into the air. When you are smoking, you’re taking in all of the smoke directly plus everything that gets diluted into the air.

    And where did you get the idea that the Israelites were using psychotropic incense? That is not at all biblical. We are told what was put into the incense and that it was used for fragrance, not for euphoria or anything else.

    The LORD said to Moses: “Take fragrant spices: stacte, onycha, and galbanum; the spices and pure frankincense are to be in equal measures. Prepare expertly blended incense from these; it is to be seasoned with salt, pure and holy. Grind some of it into a fine powder and put some in front of the testimony in the tent of meeting, where I will meet with you. It must be especially holy to you. As for the incense you are making, you must not make [any] for yourselves using its formula. It is to be regarded by you as sacred to the LORD. Anyone who makes something like it to smell its fragrance must be cut off from his people.” Exodus 30:34-38

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