One Warrior’s Persuasion for Biblical Justification of Individual and Family Self-Defense
By Randy Kelley
Let’s start with the a priori claim up front:
Both the Old and New Testaments of the Christian Bible support violence and even justified killing in the morally correct and lawful act of personal or family self-defense.
There is very little theological disagreement of service in a nation’s military and killing within those legal frameworks, so we won’t cover that issue here. I am writing this article due to the number of questions I receive from people I teach martial and firearms skills to. I can boil all the questions down into a fundamental one, namely: “Is it a sin to fight back, to harm, or to kill in defense of one’s self or loved ones?” The questions often manifest in any one of these specific ones:
“Doesn’t Jesus tell us to turn the other cheek?”
“Isn’t one of the Ten Commandments, Do not kill?”
“Don’t the events in the Garden of Gethsemane (Peter resorting to the sword and Jesus’ rebuke) teach us to not take up arms?”
“Aren’t we supposed to meet hate with love?
These are just a few of the questions that both believers and unbelievers alike raise when considering the issues, either within the media, the dojo, the church, or on the shooting range. So let’s start exploring them.
Before we can get into specific issues concerning self-defense it’s necessary to actually transcend the nitty-gritty of violence and look to the nature of God and His fundamental relationship with humans, so please stick with me here…
Most theologians agree that the basic reason God created humans was to have a beautiful and loving relationship between God and man. We were designed and created in His image, for a relationship with Him, and to spend eternity with Him (I John 4:16). In a nutshell, we were given the option to choose His path or another. We humans chose the later and the “knowledge of good and evil” became manifest causing the cascading failures of man on earth. Good and evil became the continuously warring factions that have defined mans existence since (Genesis 3).
The Bible is very clear that God cannot abide evil (Pro 8:13). It’s also very clear that he hates evil (Amos 5:15). This key assertion is the lynchpin that the great deceiver has worked so hard over millennia to hide, to distort, and to belittle. We can see this manifestation today through the simple acceptance of sins that God has clearly stated that He cannot abide. A simple stroll through the Old Testament will uncover the real hate that God has for evil thoughts, decisions and actions. Sin is no joke! It is what separates us from Him and his original plan for us. His judgment too, is fierce (Psalm 97:10).
Fast forward now to the arrival of the Deliverer, Christ Jesus, and when we read of the account of it in Revelations 12 we see that there was literally a war in the heavens, manifesting in specific events on earth. This war was vicious, as Satan and his demons were fighting for their lives. What was the war really over? May I suggest that is was over the souls of mankind? God’s original creation, the ones He loved, and loves still. He was fighting for you and me, so that we may still have that relationship with Him.
Please allow me to collate the fundamental truths here:
*God made man, loves us and wants us to be in a relationship with Him.
*God hates sin.
*God works from a position of Love in all things (even hating sin)
*His judgment against evil is fierce.
*He fought for us and still does.
Do you see why I’m starting a talk about self-defense with these truths first? Does this help clarify some of the nature of God? Yes, just a portion, of course. He is merciful and full of grace, but that peaceful view is not all that He is. Many have latched on to that characteristic only, while belittling His distain for sin. How dangerous! Worse still, many in our culture have taken such a lovely portrayal of God as guidance for dealing with sin and evil in this world. Again, how dangerous!
“But wasn’t all that washed away in the blood of Christ on the Cross? Aren’t we forgiven now?” you may ask. Why yes, that’s exactly what happened for those who call him Lord, but as you can see by reading any headline, evil is still rampant throughout the world. So we come to the crux of the matter, what do we Christians do about evil? If the Holy Spirit lives within us, actually dwelling with our spirit and flesh, how should that affect our response to exposure to evil?
If we look to Jesus of Nazareth as a model for thinking, speaking and acting in this life then we must be careful. For Jesus was on a mission to redeem all mankind through His sacrifice. I don’t think any Christian can answer that that is his or her purpose in this life. All of the events leading to His death were designed with that purpose. Could you imagine if He had called those legions of angels down before going to the cross? He was not called to fight in the physical realm while he was here. He was going for the spiritual and eternal checkmate. That victory is already done now and it’s not yours or mine to accomplish (I Cor 15:57). What then, is our mission?
If our Lord and Commander had led a spiritual war in the heavens, and has won it, what would His warriors and ambassadors on earth need to do? Let’s start with the facts, Satan and his minions are not yet cast into the lake of fire. He is still the prince of the power of the air (Eph 2:2). He’s extremely active here on earth. Evil is strong and everywhere. Satan hates us, God’s children. He wants to weaken us and even destroy us. Yet Jehovah Jireh, the God who provides, keeps us under his wing and strengthens us. Why?
The three top Commands (paraphrased) in the New Testament for believers are: Love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, soul and mind; Love thy neighbor as thyself (Mat 22:37-40); and the spread the gospel of Jesus Christ to all the world (Mat 28:19). We have a mission, and though it’s not the same as Christ’s primary mission, He still modeled those specific missions too. And yet, evil is there to fight us, constantly.
Can you keep this perspective in your mind as you understand that, as a follower of Christ, on a mission, you will be attacked by Satan, his demons, and those on earth who promulgate this evil? Many are even filled with such evil that they will seek out Christians to harm and kill. Given the models throughout the Bible, we must understand that some of these attacks will be physical and physical force must be used to stop evil. Jesus knew hard times were coming to His disciples and that they must learn new skills to complete their missions, so He told them “Go and sell your cloak and buy a sword” (Luke 22:36). It was the custom to carry swords for self-defense in those days and in that culture and Jesus knew danger would come to these men. He wanted them to defend themselves-with force. There is no other responsible way to interpret this command from our Lord. The only response should be “Yes, sir!”
This higher-level thinking is sorely missing from many debates on the use of violence, yet it’s the foundation of such a discourse. We can now cover some parameters that enable us to know when and how to take action when necessary. First, following the command of Jesus, we should have weapons that we can use to defend our family and ourselves. Firearms are today’s swords.
Next we have to be able to think and act from a position of love, not hate, in any defense scenario. Our body is the temple of God, our families are the fruit and treasure from Him, and our love of them, including ourselves, is where we need to be thinking and acting from. That perspective encourages us to STOP the evil against us, whereas a pure hatred can be easily transferred to the person perpetrating the act. That’s not what God wants from us. We hate the evil but love the person. This is a very fine line and difficult to reconcile when we are being attacked, but it’s my firm belief that you can even kill with love in heart. I can only say this from my experiences of being in combat as a soldier, so I know it is possible. It’s proper too.
As for the commandment, “Do not kill”, most theologians now accept that the proper translation is actually “Do not murder”. This is a big difference that our language does well in delineating. The rest of the Levitical doctrines also support self-defense killing but not murder. The Bible, taken as a whole, and with guidance from the Holy Spirit, seems to accept these distinctions throughout.
Although I researched many interpretations of the rebuke of Peter in Gethsemane, my initial observation was that the rebuke was due to Peter’s desire to keep Jesus safe and for not understanding the primary mission that Jesus was about to complete. Almost every commentary and interpretation I read had the same conclusion. The comment about living by the sword seemed to be in order to temper any such use of it to only “in-extremis” situations. Like Solomon said, for every thing there is a season, even to kill (Ecc 3:3).
Hopefully my layman-level interpretation has helped establish my initial claim that we are well-justified in taking up arms in self-defense and protecting God’s children and loving our neighbor in the process. Nobody in God’s will wants to harm someone that Jesus came to seek and to save, yet God’s ways are not our ways, and His guidance seems pretty clear. Through His victory at the cross, we are told to enforce that victory here on earth. May God give you guidance, skill and wisdom to do so.
Randy Kelley is a former US Navy SEAL Sniper and lifelong martial artist. He has been teaching various warfare/protection skills to military, law enforcement and civilians for the last 10 years. Randy is currently the Training Director at Retooled Defensive Training (RDT), a Christian-based outreach ministry to believers and conceived of by Victor Marx at All Things Possible ministries.