Spiritual Growth and Christian Living Resources

Is Smoking a Sin?

Is Smoking a Sin?

Growing up in the church, the application of Paul’s admonition to remember that our “body is a temple of the Holy Spirit” (1 Cor. 6:19) seemed to only apply to particular behaviors deemed socially and culturally unacceptable. Being of the world meant drinking, smoking or chewing tobacco, dancing, playing cards, getting tattoos, listening to music that emphasized the second and fourth beat, and watching movies beyond PG ratings. These behavioral standards fed my perception of spirituality, allowing me to assume a superior moral position than anyone who exhibited such behaviors. These assumptions also fed a perception of Jesus in my mind, one in which Jesus looked like me: a clean-cut, tie, belt, and Christian-pun-emblazoned t-shirt wearing Christian, among but sanctimoniously separated from the “weaker brothers” struggling in worldliness.

As God worked in my life to expose my own hypocrisy, pride, and sinful struggles, I recognized that Paul’s warning is in relation to fleeing sexual immorality and is not limited to the avoidance of certain behaviors but also includes the standard of glorifying God in our bodies because we are not our own and have been bought with a price (1 Cor. 6:19-20). So while the question for many is, “Is smoking a sin?,” if our body is a temple of the Holy Spirit intended to glorify God, we also need to ask in what ways consuming smoked brisket, Diet Coke, and French fries can also be a sin, recognizing that sin is not just behavioral, but is a condition of the heart in which what comes out of our mouth is the indication of our defilement and not what goes in (Matt. 15:11). So, is smoking a sin?

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What Does the Bible Say about Taking Care of Our Bodies?

Aside from the King James Version translating Genesis 24:64 as “[Rebekah] lighted off the camel” (meaning that she dismounted), Scripture does not mention smoking or tobacco. This makes sense as Scripture also does not address social media or television because these things were unknown in Bible times. Tobacco and its use for smoking and chewing was introduced to the West in the early 1600s by explorers from the Indians of the Caribbean and America. A distinction between the Law in the old covenant and grace in the new covenant is the shift from prohibitions to provisions. Instead of relating every possible vice, behavior, or practice we need to stop or avoid, like in the Law, we are instead given the Holy Spirit to write the law on our hearts (2 Cor. 3:3), empowering us to live according to the new life and strength He provides, “glorifying God in our bodies” (1 Cor. 6:20).

The standards and expectations of the life brought failure and death because in our sinful flesh we are unable to meet those standards (Rom. 3:19-20). That was the point, to demonstrate that our strength and independence is insufficient, we need to die to ourselves and live in full and utter dependence on God and the strength He provides (Rom. 3:21-26). That is also the problem with the expectations and standards with which I was raised. These standards provided a means of comparison of myself versus others, but in only focusing on what I shouldn’t do and not what I should do, I was self-righteous in my comparisons and not rightly focused on my sinfulness in comparison to God’s standard and expectation. Any ability for morality or righteousness I have is insufficient and only leads to death (Titus 3:5). External standards of moral behavior ignore my true need for a new heart, not just a remodeled and smoke-free one.

We need to shift our focus from emphasizing what we shouldn’t do to what we should do, which is a much higher standard and is only achievable in the power of the Holy Spirit. Salvation is the death and burial of our old self and the resurrection with Christ to new life through the provision of the Holy Spirit (Rom. 6:5-6). This new self/body no longer belongs to us but is now joined to Christ and His kingdom purposes having been purchased by His blood and intended to bring Him glory in all things (1 Cor. 6:15, 19-20). We take care of our bodies because we are stewards of the image and temple of God, intending its use to be for His glory and His purpose.

Is Smoking a Sin?

Is Smoking a Sin?

If what goes into our mouth does not defile us but only the “evil thoughts, murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false witness, slander” (Matt. 15:19) because they come from our heart, is smoking a sin? Yes, I believe that smoking is a sin because it contains nicotine, a highly addictive and poisonous drug that enslaves our desires (Rom. 7:19-20; 1 Thess. 4:3-5) and impairs our freedom to steward our bodies in service and glory to God (1 Cor. 6:20) through its negative health impacts. However, we must recognize that while all sin separates us from God, necessitating both ultimate forgiveness of our sinful state and regular forgiveness to maintain relationship while being sanctified, not all sin has the same consequences.

Nicotine is one of the most addictive substances, creating rapid physiological and psychological dependence for many people. While addictions like cigarettes, painkillers, pornography, sugar, and other food may begin with a choice, the progression of dependency reduces the perception and capacity for choice with each use. It is not enough to manage our sin, limiting the spread and impact of it to our lives and relationships. Instead of being careful to not sin, we need to “be holy” (1 Peter 1:16). The questions and expectations for our decisions are bigger than whether we should do something or not because it is sin or not. Instead of asking, “Can I do this?,” we need to ask, “Will this further God’s kingdom and bring Him greater glory?” It is insufficient to regulate the degree of darkness, we must instead “walk as children of light” (Eph. 5:8), exposing the darkness through our imitation of God and the spread of His love toward others (Eph. 5:1-2).

In the same way that cigarettes leave a telltale fragrance of their presence on us, Paul suggests that Christ’s presence in us and our knowledge and relationship with Him spreads as a fragrance of life to the world (2 Cor. 2:14,16). What then will be the residual fragrance of our presence on others? Treating our bodies like a temple means more than just the avoidance of negative behaviors but is instead the infiltration of the fragrance of the Gospel to the world.

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The Function and Purpose of a Temple

If we are to treat our bodies like a temple, it is important to understand the function and purpose of a temple. A temple is viewed as the dwelling place of a deity and because of his presence it serves as the focal point for worship. In the Old Testament, the presence of God in the Tabernacle (prequel to the temple built by Solomon) was evidenced during the Exodus with a pillar of fire at night and cloud by day (Ex. 13:21). God met with His people through the mediation of the high priest with a regular blood sacrifice (Heb. 9:25-26). Christ actualized the promise of the new covenant with His death on the cross, moving the location of His presence from the tabernacle or temple in the Old Testament and the person of Christ in the incarnation, to the person of the believer through the indwelling of the Holy Spirit and the community of believers as the body of Christ in the church (Rom. 8:11; 1 Jn. 4:13).

In Judaism, the temple served as the center of religious, cultural, and national life, the centering focus for the life and people of Israel in their role as special representative of God’s love, blessing, and provision to the world. The creation story demonstrates God’s intention for mankind to function in this representative fashion, explaining how God made man in his image as male and female created to rule and fill the earth (Gen. 1:26-28). The metaphor of creation is God establishing His temple in the Garden with Adam and Eve acting as priests to the world, walking in relationship with God and purposed with His mandate to rule and populate the earth, extending this relationship outward. The Fall disrupted our relationship with God, each other, ourselves, and creation, distorting our capacity to reflect God’s glory and purpose to the world.

Through Christ and the indwelling of the Holy Spirit, the dwelling place of God shifts from a what to a who, perfecting God’s purpose in the creation mandate (Gen. 1:28) with the new creation mandate of relationship with God (Jer. 31:31; Heb. 8:10-11). With our bodies housing the presence of the Holy Spirit we are to reflect God’s glory and radiate His presence to the world through our presence and interaction in the world, representing Christ as ambassadors of the reconciliation available through the cross (2 Cor. 5:20).

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How to Treat Our Bodies Like a Temple

What does it mean for us practically to have our bodies as a temple of the Holy Spirit? Simply avoiding seemingly bad behaviors feels like a “No skateboarding, bicycle riding, rollerblading, or loitering” sign tacked to the outside of our “temple,” defining who we aren’t in place of who we are. The temple was the cultural, religious, and social center of community life, a place to go with questions, needs, struggles, and uncertainties. Jesus demonstrated the role and intent of the temple when He shifted its location from Jerusalem to Himself in John 2:21. Instead of evaluating what we shouldn’t do or be as the temple of the Holy Spirit, we must shift our focus to whom we should be, conforming to the person of Christ by imitating Him (1 Cor. 11:1; Eph. 5:1). Paul responded to questions of legalistic allowances by suggesting a higher standard and purpose, pursuing only those things that build up (1 Cor. 10:23), benefit others over yourself (1 Cor. 10:24; Phil. 2:4), and ultimately bring glory to God (1 Cor. 10:31).

To steward our body as a temple requires a reprioritization from our normal perspective. Asking whether something is allowable for us places the focus and perspective on us and our needs. We must shift our focus from ourselves to loving God with all our heart, soul, strength, and mind (Lk. 10:27) to bring Him glory as we represent Him to the world with the Holy Spirit overflowing His love to our neighbors through us (Mk. 12:31). This reprioritization means we pursue discipline in the use of our bodies, so we have margin and capacity to be used by God for His glory. We eat healthy and get sufficient sleep, so we have the energy to be God’s hands and feet to the world. We abstain from things both bad and maybe good to pursue the best.


External behaviors like smoking or drinking don’t defile the presence of the Holy Spirit within us, but these choices to gratify our mortal desires can distract us from our purpose in glorifying God and reduce our capacity in time and ability through their consequences. Caring for your body requires a comprehensive, holistic lens, recognizing the inextricable connection between physical, emotional, spiritual, psychological, and relational health. We don’t need to be careful to protect God from defilement or the contagion of sin. Our corruptible and sinful body will be replaced with an incorruptible and immortal body through the resurrection of Christ (1 Cor. 15:53).

Let us pursue holiness and use our bodies and lives to bring God glory, loving Him completely so through Him we can also love others. This pursuit comes as we refine and retrain our desires, looking to Jesus as our model and method to “lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us” (Heb. 12:1).

Photo Credit: © Getty Images/Jacob Ammentorp Lund 

Seth L. Scott, PhD, NCC, LPC-S is an associate professor of clinical mental health counseling at Columbia International University in Columbia, South Carolina and provides clinical counseling and supervision in the community through his counseling practice, Sunrise Counseling. Seth, his wife, Jen, and their two middle school children enjoy outdoor activities, reading together as a family, board games, and meeting people through Jen’s pottery business at galleries and festivals.

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