To What Extent Should a Christian Act in Self Defense?


I have a question in regard to self-defense. I have read this in your literature:

If we knew an enemy had vowed destruction to ourselves, or to someone whom we thought to be God-fearing, would we not fight in self-defense? We would get out of the way if we could, but in the last extremity we would fight in self-defense. We would be strange men or women if we would not. Our whole concern would be to find what could be done to save our lives and the lives of our Christian associates.

Can you please elaborate a little more on this subject. I have often wondered just how far we should go in defending ourselves, our family, and our Christian friends, if need be. I understand the part about our doing everything we can to get out of the way and using any other non-violent means at our disposal. But I always thought Jesus and the apostles and any other persecuted Christian person went to the cross, the stake, or the lions’ den without raising a finger for himself or others of his faith, as far as physical force was concerned.


Let us first clarify what we mean by self-defense. When we speak of self-defense, we mean defending ourselves against personal and physical assault or attack by someone who is violating the law. We do not mean resisting the authority of the law or law-enforcement agents. For example, if someone broke into our home and attacked us physically, we would have a right to defend ourselves; if, however, a policeman or other law officer came to our home and arrested us for something we had been accused of doing, we would have no right to resist, even if we were confident we were not guilty. And if we were tried in court and compelled to suffer the penalty of the law, we still would have no right to resist (though we could appeal the decision).

This latter is the situation in which Jesus and the apostles found themselves. It is one of God’s principles that His people be subject to the authority of the government under which they live. Paul was specific: “Let every soul be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and the authorities that exist are appointed by God. Therefore whoever resists the authority resists the ordinance of God, and those who resist will bring judgment on themselves. For rulers are not a terror to good works, but to evil. Do you want to be unafraid of the authority? Do what is good, and you will have praise from the same. For he is God’s minister to you for good” (Rom. 13:1-4).

When Jesus was arrested, He was arrested by the civil authorities of that time. The same was true of much of the persecution suffered by the apostles and other early Christians. The people who persecuted them represented the government authorities of the time, and they had no right to resist physically. That is why Jesus, “when he was reviled, did not revile in turn; when He suffered, He did not threaten; but committed Himself to Him that judges righteously” (1 Pet. 2:23). He left the rendering of vengeance to God, and every follower of His must do the same (Rom. 12:19). He was in the hands of the law officials, He recognized their authority and submitted to it, and suffered the consequences.

This is different from defending against open attack or assault. Such attack is not part of law enforcement; it is itself lawlessness. And resistance to such an attack is not resistance to the law but to lawlessness. Nowhere does the Bible say we must watch our family or our brothers and sisters in the faith suffer at the hands of rebels against authority if there is something we can do.

God never sponsored pacifism or a calm acceptance of whatever might come. On many occasions He fought openly for His people. Sometimes His angels defended them, sometimes He used human instruments, sometimes He commanded them to rise up and defend themselves. Lacking this open direction from God today, we cannot take up arms and go to war for our nation; for Jesus said “All they that take the sword shall perish with the sword.” War is filled with feelings of greed and hate and vengeance and passion, all of which are strictly forbidden the Christian.

But self-defense, without any feelings of revenge or anger or hatred is different. Jesus said something about it when talking to His apostles the last night before He was betrayed. When He had sent them out under a special commission some two years previous, he had told them they would need to take nothing with them. God would provide for their physical support and protection. But now as He addressed them He told them this commission had ended; now they would be on their own. Lacking Him and His supporting power, they would now need money, provisions, even a means of defense against possible aggression. He said: “ ‘When I sent you without money bag, knapsack, and sandals, did you lack anything?’ So they said, ‘Nothing.’ Then He said to them, ‘But now, he who has a money bag, let him take it, and likewise a knapsack; and he who has no sword, let him sell his garment and buy one.’ ” (Luke 22:35-36). There had been a change. No longer would Divine power protect them; they should be prepared to defend themselves.

We today are in a similar circumstance as were the apostles after Christ’s ascension. This does not mean we are ever justified in using aggressive tactics, or harboring any ill-will against those who threaten us. Our purpose must be solely that of sparing our lives so that we may perform the will of God.