How Sinful Is Smoking?

I get emails. Here’s one I thought I’d refer to the readership for an answer:

It’s one of those things that puzzles me … , but I never hear anything about smoking or tobacco use from the Churches of Christ. I even asked our local preacher to consider a sermon on the topic – no use. It just seems strange to me that no one wants to talk about it, when there are significant numbers of Christians that are addicted to tobacco. … I have noticed that the Baptists are much more willing to call tobacco use a sin than we are. Any thoughts on that? Keep up the good work.

What do you think?

About Jay F Guin

My name is Jay Guin, and I’m a retired elder. I wrote The Holy Spirit and Revolutionary Grace about 18 years ago. I’ve spoken at the Pepperdine, Lipscomb, ACU, Harding, and Tulsa lectureships and at ElderLink. My wife’s name is Denise, and I have four sons, Chris, Jonathan, Tyler, and Philip. I have two grandchildren. And I practice law.
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0 Responses to How Sinful Is Smoking?

  1. Michael R. says:


    My experience is that it depends on where you are as to whether you get sermons against smoking or against mixed bathing.

    Growing up in the tobacco growing country of western Kentucky, I didn't hear any sermons on the evils of tobacco. I did hear a lot of sermons, however, on the evils of mixed bathing. Interestingly enough, in college I knew people from California and Florida who'd heard lots of sermons against tobacco but had never heard one against mixed bathing (swimming).

    Funny how what's perceived to be a sin depends on geography and economics.

    Mike R.

  2. xray342 says:

    As long as we're going after tobacco, let's talk about alcohol, gambling, junk food, obesity, overmedication, birth control and various other topics about stewardship of our bodies and other resources God has given us. It will help us be salt and light to the world! 🙂

  3. Alan says:

    Our church has traditionally taught that smoking is sin. We have called for repentance from it prior to baptism (in the same sense that you would call for repentance from a single guy living with his girlfriend). But personally I'm not convinced the scriptures are that clear on the subject of smoking. I do think that smoking detracts from being the "light of the world". But I also recognize it is an addiction. It is one thing to make a moral decision to quit, and quite another to never smoke again. We do have a chemical dependency ministry (in cooperation with other area congregations) and smokers can get help there.

  4. K. Rex Butts says:

    I only have so much energy and time. Of all the problems that we Christians are facing, the use of tobacco product is VERY far down on the list.


  5. Rick Griffis says:

    Alan, I do not understand your point about the scriptures not being clear on smoking. I agree they don't specifically mention it, but that is the case for a whole host of things. But the principles are certainly there – avoiding addiction (I Cor 6:12) and our obligation to take care of our sanctuary or body (I Cor 6:19). I really don't understand the cavalier attitude toward the main agent of avoidable and premature death – to the tune of nearly half a million lives annually in this country. Seems to be an odd position for Christians to take.

  6. Nick Gill says:

    Obesity kills more people than smoking, Rick, and its main preventable causes are discussed by exactly the same scriptures you've offered.

    I quit smoking long ago, but stances like yours make me feel guilty for ever enjoying the flavor of a well-grown, aged, and seasoned tobacco leaf.

    When preachers start losing weight because overeating is a sin, then they will have credibility to start calling out smokers, IMHO.

  7. Rick Griffis says:

    I couldn't agree more about obesity. There are a ton(pun intended) of Scriptures dealing with gluttony – I've never heard a sermon on that subject either. Hmmm. Christians have an obligation to take care of their bodies and however you neglect to do that is sin. I am not sure what your objection is to "my stance" – are you defending smoking? Don't consider it a sin? Don't think we should speak out on that subject?

  8. Adam G. says:

    The Christians in Brazil I worked with in evangelism insisted on the importance of quitting smoking. Even in bringing a person to faith in Christ and baptism, one element was asking the person to make a committment to quit smoking. Not that they had to quit prior to baptism, but that they would make a serious effort to quit as part of their Christian walk. It was recognized as an addiction that damages the body and drains finances uselessly. I don't think I'd preach on it as a topic, but if it were a concern in my congregation I'd mention it with kindness when appropriate in the context of a larger message on discipleship.

  9. Adam G. says:

    BTW, regarding obesity and gluttony, I posted a joke video from The Onion that illustrates what I feel about the overfed U.S.

  10. Alan says:


    What troubles me is the notion of refusing baptism to a smoker until they have demonstrated over a period of time that they have stopped smoking. Beyond that question, I don't really disagree with you about smoking being sin.

    I do think we're inconsistent though. Some Harvard doctors have said that transfats kill more Americans every year than tobacco, so why do we not view eating donuts as a sin? What about failure to exercise? Or too much sun (skin cancer)? Or not enough sun (Vitamin D deficiency)? etc. Some unhealthy behaviors are more unpopular than others…. mainly, other people's unhealthy behaviors are more unpopular than our own.

  11. jdb says:

    I tend to have enough to do with warning people about the sins that God calls sin.

    I tend to agree with the Baptist preacher I heard a while back. He was asked if smoking would send a person to hell. His response was, "No, but he'll SMELL like he's been there."

  12. Part of the broader dilemma with this or any topic about "pointing out sin" in someone else the "beam in the eye" problem.

    I have plenty of problems myself. I'm a sinner. And it's really easy to point out the sins of others, without contemplating our own.

    I believe our concern should be to encourage our brothers and sisters — whoever they are, wherever they live — whether they smoke or don't, eat too much or don't — to reflect on their own life and contemplate whether there is anything they're doing in their life that does not reflect a devotion to God and to loving others the way God loves us.

    And each of us should try to do that, independently and regardless of whether others do it.

  13. Nancy says:

    Alan wrote "What troubles me is the notion of refusing baptism to a smoker until they have demonstrated over a period of time that they have stopped smoking"

    Are you saying that you know of some who refuse to baptize anyone until they are smoke free?

  14. Jay Guin says:

    I received this comment via email. Not sure whether it was intended to be anonymous —

    "I preach about tobacco use along with sermon(s) on other addictions: Shopping, over-eating (ouch), videogames/computer, gambling, drugs/alcohol, etc.. I don't think it is accurate or fair to treat one of these completely separately from the others. Anything that wastes our time, money, or health (actually God's)…is of sin."

  15. Lisa says:

    I have an occasional cigarette if I'm with someone else who smokes. I don't think it is the best use of my time, or energy, but I enjoy it and I'm not addicted. To me it is really a non-issue, kind of like the occasional alcoholic beverage, too much chocolate pie, or a whole pot of coffee. Non-issue.

  16. Jay Guin says:

    By the way, the slogan at the top says "Smoking or Not! How Will You Spend Eternity? Rev 20:14."

    I don't think it's even about tobacco. Or maybe it is.

  17. Alan says:

    Are you saying that you know of some who refuse to baptize anyone until they are smoke free?

    Yes… though the term "smoke free" would probably require some more definition. They justify it based on Luke 3:7-14.

  18. Nancy says:

    " though the term “smoke free” would probably require some more definition." – Alan

    Okay, how about "demonstrated over a period of time that they have stopped smoking"

    I'm sure I am just misunderstanding. Are you saying that a person must be (fill in the blank) free BEFORE he can be baptized by a mortal? I don't read that in the passage that your reference about John baptizing the crowds.

  19. Alan says:

    I’m sure I am just misunderstanding. Are you saying that a person must be (fill in the blank) free BEFORE he can be baptized by a mortal?

    I am just presenting what some other people believe. It's not my personal belief. I'm sure they would be able to explain it more adequately than I can. I believe they would say that John the Baptist refused baptism to some who came to him who did not produce the fruit of repentance, and they would say that justifies them withholding baptism from someone who has not demonstrated repentance from smoking.

    Personally, I think that presumes too much. John the Baptist was a prophet, and could apparently see a lack of repentance in people coming to him in the desert, whom he had never seen before. I can't do that. Furthermore, I'd point to the conversions in Acts, where you don't see any trial period to prove repentance before baptism.

  20. Jay Guin says:

    Alan and Nancy,

    I'd add that "repentance" does not mean "stop sinning." It means "turn from sin," which is hugely different.

    If we have stop sinning to be baptized, then we have to be perfect before we can be saved (and why would we even need salvation?)! I mean, would we demand that someone stop lusting or stop losing his temper in traffic or stop each and every other sin before he's baptized?

    John the Baptist said,

    (Luke 3:8 ) "Produce fruit in keeping with repentance."

    This does not mean "stop all sin"; it means your life should reflect your commitment.

    In the Churches of Christ, some of us use two very different definitions of "repent" depending on the outcome desired.

    Some of us tell those who use an instrument that "repent" means stop sinning, even if you don't know it's a sin (an impossible standard). For sins we find ourselves guilty of (lust, materialism, whatever), we say "repent" means fight against the sin knowing that our human weakness will be covered by grace.

    The second meaning is the only one found in the Bible. The first is just a convenient means of imposing our will on others. And smoking is nasty. Hence, some put it in the first category.

  21. Nancy says:

    Thanks for the clarification. I recognize that the premise of humans being sin free does not line up with scripture. I was just stunned to hear (read) the idea of "withholding baptism" until someone is sin free stated out loud.

    "In the Churches of Christ, some of us use two very different definitions of “repent” depending on the outcome desired." – Jay

    I'll say.


  22. xray342 says:

    Matthew 3:7 tells us who the "brood of vipers" are: the Pharisees and Sadducees. It wouldn't necessarily take a prophet to know their hearts and motivations. They didn't want to repent (as collective groups) then and they didn't want to repent later on when Jesus confronted them.

    The idea of withholding salvation from a penitent sinner who had decided to turn away from sin but hasn't "prove[n] their repentance by their deeds" (Acts 26:20) is foreign to the scriptures. People who perform these (arbitrary) works in order to be worthy enough to earn their baptism and salvation are (unknowingly) adding to the gospel of grace. My salvation depends entirely on Christ's atoning sacrifice on the cross and His resurrection, not on what I have done, didn't do, am doing, or will do. The people who enforce this view upon the lost who want to enter into a saving relationship with God are no better than the self-righteous, legalistic "brood of vipers". They should be exposed to the light just as much as John the Baptist and Jesus did.

  23. Andy says:

    I'm coming in late to the conversation, I know, so forgive me if I'm behind or just being too simplistic.

    I've never really quite understood the rationale for smoking being a sin. I know there are several possibilities — Body as a temple, addiction as an obstruction to a relationship with God — that come to mind, and seem like they could be applicable to habitual smoking, but I don't see that they're applicable to casual or occasional smoking. Also, as xray mentioned above, the same rationales could be applied to other behaviors that seem to be condoned.

    Now I know the good COC answer might be if you're not sure, don't do it. The thing is, I don't really go for that rationale, and I can see benefits in occasionally sitting down with a beer and a cigar and talking about life with a friend.

  24. Jay Guin says:

    I knew someone would bring up beer before this was over!

  25. Micah says:

    Just thought I'd mention that, as far as the argument against smoking because it is unhealthy goes, some studies show that pipe smoking can have more positive effects than negative.

    Of course, some studies show otherwise, but there are a lot of complex issues that would take years to understand (at least for me, but I'm not that smart). E.g. you aren't supposed to inhale when you smoke pipes or cigars, so if you don't differentiate "correct" from "incorrect" pipe smokers, the risks of lung cancer will be higher.

    From what I understand, low to moderate pipe smoking (no inhalation) can be a stress reducer, and if you aren't too heavy a smoker the positive effects of reducing your stress can outweigh the negative effects of lip and oral cancer.

    So, just saying that smoking isn't good for you & therefore it is a sin isn't as simple an answer as it might seem.

  26. Micah says:

    Several people have been pointing out all the activities that would be a sin if we use the whole "body is a temple so don't do anything unhealthy" argument.

    I thought I would add a couple of variations on that.

    First, there have been a few comments about smokers aren't good stewards with our money, time, or health. But, of course, this can be said about a lot of things. Eating at restaurants that are moderately-highly priced; spending our time watching football instead of praying, ministering, etc.; etc. Even something like drinking coffee in the afternoon could be called bad stewardship, because studies show it keeps you from getting good sleep and that reduces your productivity; therefore, you aren't being good stewards of your time.

    Second, as far as smokers being bad stewards with their health by taking known risks that can injure or kill you, that can be applied to speeding, riding motorcycles, riding a bicycle on a busy road, etc. Are we really prepared to make all of that a sin?

    I know that sounds crazy, but many of the arguments that I have heard against smoking or drinking (not from this site, but from pulpits) use premises that imply much more stringent standards than are actually taught. It's something we have to be careful about, as everyone has already said. (Sorry for being repetitive.)

  27. Micah says:

    I thought I would make a disclosure (like you see financial reporters do!).

    Yes, I smoke a pipe. But I have only done so about 20 times in the past year. It is a very rare–and very much enjoyed–treat. And, I usually do so when I am reading. It helps me concentrate, so it actually increases my productivity.

    I've smoked 2 cigars in my life.

    I've never smoked a cigarette.

    So, I'm not defending smoking to defend myself. I don't care if I continue smoking a pipe. In fact, I almost threw mine away the other day because I haven't smoked in months.

  28. Pingback: Which Gospel? Prologue, the Gospels of Kicking the Smoking Habit « One In

  29. Nick Gill says:

    Repentance doesn't mean "turn from sin."

    Repentance means "a change of mind that leads to a change of action." It means "to stop your misguided actions."

    When Jerusalem was under siege from Rome, Josephus, once a leader of Jewish rebel forces and now acting as an ambassador between the Romans and the Jews, said something eerily familiar to our Christian ears. He knew that there was absolutely no hope for the Jews in holding out, but only in seeking a peaceful resolution. The Jews were of a much different mindset, and believed that God would grant them the victory.

    Josephus comes to them and says, "Repent and believe in me." (metanoesein kai pistos emoi genesesthai) Recognize those words?

    He's not talking about sin PER SE, and neither are John and Jesus. They're not saying, "Stop sinning, because the church is coming." They're saying, "Stop your misguided actions, because the kingdom of God is coming, and unless you follow the way of Jesus, you will perish."

  30. Compare lists, Now you have a few sheets of paper (or for some people a book!) you can compare your negative & positive reasons. This is important because often if you have more reasons you like smoking compared to reasons you need to quit smoking cigarettes then you may not be ready to quit & might need to find some more reasons & support to quit. Also if your list of things to do to overcome cravings do not have an answer to all your reasons why quitting might be hard then you may need to revisit the former list & add to it. Two times you have done this not only have you been introspective to see things clearly & plan ahead you have created the base work for a contract with yourself to quit which is a cornerstone of quitting cigarettes for lovely.

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