Should Christians Defend themselves?

And, more specifically, should Christians own guns?

This has been coming up a lot recently for me[1], and so I want to share with you some of my responses when a very dear Christian friend recommended a documentary that is against Christians owning guns. If Christians are pro-life, shouldn’t they be anti-gun?

The premise of a documentary called “The Armor of Light” is that if people are living in fear then they are not living in faith and that by owning a gun you are living in fear. After all, God has not given us a spirit of fear (2 Tim. 1:7). Essentially, it states that if you own a gun then you may be not trusting God for deliverance and purports that doing so is theologically impermissible in light of the Gospel. An infamous Facebook discussion with my Christian friend ensued; however, being fellow Christians, I believe we kept it civil. I decided to post my response here since I think it is an important message for Christians to understand. I have since edited my response to reflect the more formal tone of blogging, to bolster my argument with citations, and edit for clarity.

The Heart of the Issue – To Defend or Not To Defend

At the heart of whether or not Christians should own guns is the debate over if Christians have the Biblical right to defend themselves, or if they also have the right (or duty) defend others. If Christians have the right to defend themselves and the duty to defend others, then how they do so is really a side issue.

The general rule is that Christians have the right to defend themselves and the duty to defend others. However, there are specific exceptions where God has called individuals (namely His Son on the Cross) to lay down that right or suspend that duty for the sake of a specific goal or purpose that would better serve the Kingdom of Heaven.

It’s important to discuss this debate on self-defense because ideas have consequences, especially in a democracy. Not defending others or yourself might even affect God’s judgment on you. We are covered by the grace of God. However, He still holds us accountable in the end, and you may miss out on rewards in heaven for not fulfilling a duty to defend others or yourself.

Let me first say I understand this from both sides. When I was in Bible College I took the exact opposite stance that I take now. But I was wrong. I took the verse to “turn the other cheek” out of context and to the extreme.

While it is true that fear is the opposite of faith, merely owning a gun does not mean you are afraid. In fact, it could mean you are courageous. Is a police officer who is trained to use a gun, and does use one acting in only fear? Did King David act in fear, or in faith, when he used his sling (the ancient equivalent of a pistol) to bring down Goliath?

A gun is just a tool. And it can be used in faith or in fear, no more so than a sling or a sword. You should not have your faith in any tool, but that doesn’t mean that God won’t use your faith in a practical way with the tool. Sure, God can deliver by an angel, and He has, but more often He has used people in much more ordinary ways.

To discredit Christian use of guns the only real argument the documentary made was when it tried to paint the picture that Christians who own and use guns believe that gun ownership is a central Christian dogma by stating “Are you saying you need Jesus, the gospel, and a sidearm?”. However, that is not what Christian gun owners believe. We know that owning a gun does not determine whether you are a Christian or not – believing in Jesus as God does.

If I change the word from sidearm to clothes, the sentence doesn’t make sense. What if I said do I need Jesus, the gospel, and to wear clothes every day to be a Christian? Obviously, I do not need clothes to be a Christian, but that does not mean I should not wear clothes. Both clothes and guns are just tools that humans use for certain purposes. It’s comparing apples to oranges equating those tools to the truth of the Gospel. No one who believes in the Biblical right to self-defense believes it is necessary for salvation.

I believe there will come a day when Christ will return to bring peace on earth. But until that day it is our duty and our right to be peacemakers, and sometimes peacemaking requires the use of force to fight evil. That use of force is most clearly justified when defending yourself or defending others.

Biblical Proof for Self-Defense and the Duty to Defend Others

Right To Defend Yourself

Jesus Himself implied that you may need to defend yourself once He ascended to heaven. In Matthew 5, Jesus said to “turn the other cheek.” But the context was to be merciful in the application of the law of retribution. He could have said “when someone turns to you one eye to gouge it out, turn to them the other one as well.” After all, he had just quoted “an eye for an eye” a breath before. But he teaches the concept of mercy in turning your cheek. He teaches that in applying the law do not forget the Spirit of the law, which is mercy, justice and humility. A slap on the cheek doesn’t hurt very much, except your pride. To use it as evidence that you should not defend yourself is a contortion of the rest of the scriptures.

In Luke 22, Matthew 26, and John 18 Jesus said to “sell your cloak and buy a sword” as they were headed to the garden where he would be arrested. They had two, which was enough. When asked if they should use them, Peter didn’t wait for the answer. He attacked and cut off the ear of one of the servants of the temple. Jesus commanded his disciples to stop, and told them he could call down a legion of angels. By saying this Jesus appealed to the right of self-defense. That he had this right, but that for the divine purpose of salvation he would forego this right at this time and in this way.

In the words of Solomon, “there is a time for war, and a time for peace.”[2] There is a time to fight, and a time not to fight. In the garden was not the time to fight, because Jesus had to lay his life down. But, by the fact that Jesus told his disciples to sell their garments implies that it is important to own a sword, and that the time to have to be able to protect themselves was close. Jesus would soon be leaving the earth, and they, like children, would be expected to start acting like grown up Christian adults. This would include the obligation to defend themselves and others, but following in the example of Christ it would have to be done at the right time and in the right way.

Duty to Defend Others

Not only do you have a right to self-defense, but you may have an obligation before God to defend others. There are many places in the Old Testament that teach this. The Old Testament is for instruction in righteousness and as an example for Christians today.[3]

Psalm 82:4 says “rescue the weak and needy, deliver them out of the hand of the wicked.” This is addressed to the reader. That means you. Not just the police, but you. Not just the military, but you.

In Ezekiel 33 God actually requires the blood of the watchman who does not warn his fellow citizen of an oncoming sword blow.[4]

Therefore, you have a duty to defend others, and not just a right. To not defend others may actually be sin which God will hold you accountable.

What you use to defend yourself or others is much less important than how you do so. You should only do so if it is right, and just. When it is right and just is another discussion, but I think this is sufficient to say that the person who made the documentary “The Armor of Light” is very sadly mistaken about in theology. I understand the appeal to pacifism. However, it is actually sin to be a pacifist in all circumstances. On the rare occasion that God is doing a redemptive work for mankind, God called His Son to lay down His life like a lamb lead to the slaughter. God might call you to do the same, but that is not the general principle that the Bible teaches as a whole.

Your first response should be to defend yourself and defend others. If there is a way where you can reach someone for the gospel and not do so, and it will not in any way cause harm to those in your care, then you may be able to forego that right to self-defense for the gospel. Just be sure you don’t sin in not defending others though. Remember, Jesus still protected the life of His disciples when He submitted to going to the cross, even knocking all those who had come to arrest Him to their feet by His mere words.

A Modern Example – Nate Saint and Jim Elliot

You might point out missionaries like Nate Saint and Jim Elliot who were martyred as missionaries in the jungles of South America for not defending themselves. Shouldn’t we follow their example? After all, they had guns but did not use them, and while they were martyred the entire village later accepted Christ due to their ministry. If you don’t know who these missionaries are, please look them up.

Jim Elliot and Nate Saint are some of my heroes. Reading about them inspired me to go to the very country where they gave their lives and served as missionaries. It was through reading “Shadows of the Almighty” that God confirmed to me to go. Jim Elliot was a talented wrestler and athlete. He would challenge his body and challenge his mind. He loved philosophy and studying the things that Christians weren’t supposed to, just to test his faith. People love to point to them as an example of how Christians should lay down their lives when people persecute them for the sake of the Gospel.

But you might ask yourself why did they bring guns to the mission field in the first place? They brought them to be able to defend their wives and children if they needed to or to scare off the natives to preserve their lives. But they vowed to not use them unless the absolutely had to and if it came to their own lives or the lives of the tribe they were ministering to they would not use them.

Jim Eliot and Nate Saint and the other missionaries who decided to forego their right to self-defense in furtherance of the gospel fit into the narrow exception that I discussed above.

They specifically did not let their wives go with them to that part of the jungle when they would preach, from the river, with a mega-phone, because bringing the women along could mean their deaths. They had a forward outpost where they would preach from. The wives and children would stay far away in Cabins while the men preached. They did not put anyone else in harms way by being there, and took steps to make sure that if they were to give their lives (and they agreed ahead of time to do so) that their wives and children would be safe. They gave up their right to self-defense in that very controlled environment.

In Conclusion: You Have the Right to Defend Yourself

You have a Biblical right to self-defense. It is not unqualified and can depend on the circumstances. You may, at times, lay down that right for the sake of the gospel. But you must do so in a way that does not put others in danger, or else you may commit a sin of omission. Further, you have the duty to defend others. There are narrow exceptions, but those exceptions are not the rule.

This is an important question, and one that I have given a lot of thought and prayer to, which is why I feel called to talk about it. It’s why I originally did not join the military when I was 18 and became a complete pacifist and missionary for a time. It’s why I realized that I was wrong while a missionary in Ecuador (the same country where Jim Elliot laid down his life for the Gospel) and why I began studying martial arts, to be able to defend myself and others in a place where I was constantly in very real danger. I look forward to the day when God brings peace on earth. Until then, be ready.

[1] This post was originally posted in 2005. I decided to edit this post in 2020 for the sake of clarity and to bolster citations.

[2] Eccl. 3

[3] [Rom 15:4 NKJV] “For whatever things were written before were written for our learning, that we through the patience and comfort of the Scriptures might have hope.”; [2Ti 3:16-17 NKJV] “16 All Scripture [is] given by inspiration of God, and [is] profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness, 17 that the man of God may be complete, thoroughly equipped for every good work.”

[4] [Eze 33:1-6 NLT] “1 Once again a message came to me from the LORD: 2 “Son of man, give your people this message: ‘When I bring an army against a country, the people of that land choose one of their own to be a watchman. 3 When the watchman sees the enemy coming, he sounds the alarm to warn the people. 4 Then if those who hear the alarm refuse to take action, it is their own fault if they die. 5 They heard the alarm but ignored it, so the responsibility is theirs. If they had listened to the warning, they could have saved their lives. 6 But if the watchman sees the enemy coming and doesn’t sound the alarm to warn the people, he is responsible for their captivity. They will die in their sins, but I will hold the watchman responsible for their deaths.’” Here, God uses the analogy of the watchmen to spur Ezekiel to warn Israel of its sin and coming judgment. But, interestingly, in the analogy of the physical watchmen who failed to warn of a physical threat God stated he would hold the watchman responsible for the deaths of the people he failed to warn. Likewise, God will hold those entrusted with the truth of the Gospel accountable for failing to warn others to turn from their sin in the face of coming Judgment. If God would hold a watchman accountable for physically failing to warn of a coming army as a teaching of how He will hold prophets accountable for failing to deliver his message to His people the basis of the analogy remains true. God would still hold you accountable for failing to warn people of oncoming physical danger, and He says it will be your own fault if you fail to “take action.” What does it mean to take action when an army is coming to kill you? Obviously, it means to fight back.

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