The Insidious Infiltration of Works on Grace

Did you ever try to resolve one problem only to walk headlong into a bigger problem?

There’s this discussion about tattoos that pops up once in a while in Christian circles. Is it a sin to get a tattoo and if it is a sin how does it impact your salvation? Unfortunately, the combatants in this battle seem to know more about tattoos than salvation. At least when it comes to explaining them. Sylvia Silverstone, in a article titled, “Can We Go to Heaven with Tattoos? Here is what the Bible Says” falls into this category.

I’ll set tattoos aside because the salvation question is far more important and far more interesting. Spoiler alert: I don’t have a tattoo. I don’t want a tattoo. I don’t believe tattoos are inherently sinful. Some of my best friends have tattoos. 🙂

What’s the point?

First and foremost, this is not an attack on Sylvia. Based on the article she seems like a pleasant person and a sister in Christ. This is more for me because I read the article and cringed at her explanation on how one gets to heaven. She might not even realize she’s doing this because it’s so easy to couch our explanations in acceptability so we, as Christians don’t come off as judgmental or theologically exclusive.

I’m writing this to show how easy it is for works to infiltrate on our understanding of grace. Any time we try to complete our salvation through good works, or suggest ‘good people’ go to heaven, we are putting works in with grace and burdening Christians with something they cannot overcome. The joy of our salvation is in knowing Jesus did it all.

What Happened?

Sylvia is the co-founder of the website, which I know nothing about. I don’t know if it’s successful, helpful, or just another WordPress site. I do know it’s a website for women and knowing what a woman is, I’m not one of them, so this site isn’t for me. The article did show up in my news feed, however, and thanks to the grabber of a title, I had to read it.

I like her discussion on tattoos. I think she covers the topic well and I agree with her. Tattoos are not inherently sinful. Unfortunately, her explanation of what it takes to get to heaven is problematic. I’m not here to call her out, attack her, or try to mansplain anything. As far as I know, she’s my sister-in-Christ and she said something I found interesting. I want to use the opportunity to clarify how works infiltrate our language when talking about grace.

All Christianity Hinges on This…

For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures, and that he appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve.

1 Corinthians 15:3-5 ESV

In Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians, he reminds the congregation of the most important point of Christianity; the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. It is the central point, the foundation on which everything else stands, the very core teaching of Christianity. It’s this sacrifice of Jesus and not our works that fulfilled the requirements of God’s Law and removed the burden of the Law from our lives. Now we live under God’s grace, forgiven of our sins, and we are free to serve Christ without fear of the condemnation of the Law.

We are saved by Grace through faith (Ephesians 2:8-10) not to keep on sinning, but to serve God. Hearing that Christ has saved us ought to fill us with joy and gratitude and, ironically, a deeper understanding of the cost of our sin. This leads us to repentance and a desire to live a life worthy of the sacrifice.

The Christians in Galatia, just like many Christians today, got this part confused and attempted to complete the work of Jesus by keeping the Law. Paul confronts them in his letter.

Let me ask you only this: Did you receive the Spirit by works of the law or by hearing with faith? Are you so foolish? Having begun by the Spirit, are you now being perfected by the flesh?

Galatians 3:2-3 ESV

Doing good is a good thing and it’s what we, as Christians, are called to do. This makes it easy to shortcut our language and say things like “be a good person,” or “accept Jesus into your heart.” But this creates bigger problems leading us down the same road as the Galatians trying to complete our salvation by works.

Doing good does not have anything to do with our salvation, or getting into heaven. We cannot complete by the flesh (works), what God began in the Spirit. Not only do they not help in our salvation, but Paul goes on to say they are detrimental.

For all who rely on works of the law are under a curse; for it is written, “Cursed be everyone who does not abide by all things written in the Book of the Law, and do them.” Now it is evident that no one is justified before God by the law, for “The righteous shall live by faith.”

Galatians 3-10-11 ESV

The Christian who attempts to aid their salvation by doing good is actually diminishing the sacrifice of Jesus. Here’s the irony, diminishing the sacrifice of Jesus is a sin Jesus forgave on the cross. Such a belief, however, puts a burden Jesus removed, back on us. This can cause some to turn from the faith and at that point you are no longer doing good.

It’s not about the tattoo

[t]he very core of the Christian teaching about how to get to Heaven is by believing in Jesus Christ and doing as much good as possible while you are still living. This is why good people who believe in Christ can go to Heaven, regardless of whether they have tattoos or not. 

Sylvia Silverstone, Can we go to heaven with tattoos?

From the first paragraph we run into a problem that goes completely counter to the “core Christian teaching.” The idea of “doing as much good as possible” is an immeasurable burden. How do I know if I’m doing as much as possible? While we might answer that question a bunch of different ways it still remains, we cannot complete what Jesus has done. To do so restores a burden which can cause some to turn away.

Tattoos cannot keep you from going to Heaven if you have truly lived a life deserving of it. Only sin and unbelief can keep you from the gates of Heaven. 

Sylvia Silverstone, Can we go to heaven with tattoos?

While not entirely untrue, we can see works still infiltrating grace. Tattoos cannot keep you from heaven, but you cannot live a life deserving of heaven, however, unbelief does keep you from heaven (Mark 16:16).

This entails that those who believe in God and have lived an honest life free of immoralities can go to Heaven, regardless of whether they have tattoos on their bodies or not.

Sylvia Silverstone, Can we go to heaven with tattoos?

Have you lived an honest life? Are you being honest about that? Are you sure you’re being honest? Are you free of immoralities? It says in John, “If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. If we say we have not sinned, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us. (1 John 1:8-10 ESV)” But it is still true, tattoos are not the issue.

The Christian religion preaches that the way to the gates of Heaven is through accepting and believing that Christ has died for their sins and rose from the dead to go to Heaven.  

Sylvia Silverstone, Can we go to heaven with tattoos?

The transactional language is difficult to get away from and I would point out the Bible does not say we get to Heaven by accepting Christ, but rather He accepts us. She’s 100% right we must believe Christ died for our sins and rose from the dead.

The next sentence made me think she’s on the right track, but she’s stuck in the mode of having to remind the world Christians believing in being good people.

Moreover, doing as much good and kindness as you can while you are still walking this earth can increase your chances of going to Heaven.

Sylvia Silverstone, Can we go to heaven with tattoos?

Doing good does not increase your chances. Christ’s death and resurrection saved you and nothing will increase or reduce the effectiveness of His death and resurrection. If you reject Christ, sure, you’re not going to heaven, but again, even a cross tattoo won’t make a difference.

Based on Christian theology, the way for people to go to Heaven is found in how they respond to the Lord’s gospel.

Sylvia Silverstone, Can we go to heaven with tattoos?

Actually, yes, she’s not wrong except be careful not to take glory from Jesus. We respond with repentance and belief because Jesus has already saved us. If we reject Christ, we will not be saved.

The gospel, which means “good news,” bears the message of salvation, which was proclaimed after Christ died on the cross for the world’s sins. 

Sylvia Silverstone, Can we go to heaven with tattoos?


At the end of the day, faith in God and acts of kindness are the things that can increase your chances of getting to Heaven.

Sylvia Silverstone, Can we go to heaven with tattoos?



Her final word on tattoos is profound.

What is said about Heaven based on biblical scriptures is that it grants new bodies that are different from the ones you used to have while you were still living. 

Sylvia Silverstone, Can we go to heaven with tattoos?

It doesn’t matter if you get a tattoo. You’re not going to have it in eternity.

You are saved by Jesus’ sacrifice, not yours. Do good because you’ve been saved.





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