What Does the Bible Say About Guns and Self-Defense?
“The idea that men who are not Christians can be soldiers and officers to protect the Christian by doing what which a Christian himself could not do is about the most conveniently selfish and cowardly doctrine ever pronounced by good men.”Foy Wallace
I enjoy shooting for recreational purposes. Taking a day, and going to the gun range with my family and friends and shooting at targets is a great deal of fun. Gun collecting and hunting are also hugely popular hobbies in our country. But what about using guns for self-defense? Now, that’s a different question altogether. Does a Christian have the right to bear arms, to use a gun, to protect himself and the lives of his family? What if it came to the point of taking the life of another human being in order to protect one’s own family? Would a Christian be sinning if it came to that? A few months ago I ran across an article that a friend had posted on Facebook. The story begins, “Three armed felons attempted to rob an off-duty police officer dressed in civilian clothes while he stood in front of a bank.” Anyway, I’m not going to tell you the whole story but the officer ends up shooting all three of these men and killing these three armed robbers. But that’s not the part that really got my attention. What got my attention was the comments that followed the article. One person was furious that the officer shot these men. She says, “That’s all the more reason for people not to carry guns. Three men lost their lives over a petty crime.” Someone else responded and said “They were armed. They got what they deserved.” And the comments grew angrier and more combative as they went. You know, when we start talking about guns and self-defense, we’re discussing a topic that stirs people’s feelings and emotions and even tempers. We’re going to try to avoid that in this study. But, of course, this is a highly relevant and a very timely topic. In the recent past we’ve had events in our country such as the Shooting at Fort Hood, the gunman at the Batman movie in Colorado, the Sandyhook shooting, where 20 children and 6 adults lost their lives. And then the President of the United States started talking about taking away guns, and Senator Diane Feinstein proposed a bill to do just that. And some very strong emotions were stirred up in people. And a lot of questions were raised in people’s minds. Christians started discussing The Gun Control issue. Now, as a side note, gun control is not our problem in our country. You see, we want to shift the blame. The problem has never been guns. In fact, let me ask you this question, “What was the weapon that Cain used to kill Abel?” You know, I’ve always thought it was a stone. I don’t know where I got that idea. I probably saw a picture of that when I was a child or something. But I was talking to a friend of mine, and he said that he had always envisioned it being a stick. But you know what? The Bible does not tell us. There is not a man alive who knows the answer to this question. Now, why is this significant? Because in this example of murder, the first of all murders, God did not even see fit to mention the weapon. But what he does do is talk a lot about is personal responsibility. Now, I’m not here to talk about the intricacies of gun laws. There are good people who have differing views on that topic. but the point that I’m making is we’re missing the bigger picture of personal responsibility. But all of these incidents have caused Christians to ask some very serious questions, like: Can a Christian use deadly force to defend himself and his family? And there are a lot of peripheral issues like: can a Christian serve in the military? Can he defend his country in that way? Can a Christian be a policeman? Can a Christian be supportive of a war? For the next several minutes I want to discuss the subject of “The Christian and Self-Defense.” When it comes to self-defense and defense of one’s family, particularly with regard to using lethal force, brethren basically fall into two categories. Number one: you have those who feel like it is right and proper to defend one’s family, even if it requires lethal force. Number two: you have those we would refer to as Pacifist. They believe that it would be wrong for a Christian to ever use lethal force. I want to tell you right from the beginning that I am in the first category. I believe it is right to protect oneself and particularly one’s family. I believe it is fine to serve in the military. I’m former military myself. I have a concealed carry permit, as does my wife. Now, somebody says, “Well, you must not have studied this issue, because if you had studied the Pacifist position, you would see that you’re wrong.” You would see that using lethal force violates Biblical principles.” Actually I have studied this in detail. I’ve read the arguments – I read I think the best ones that have been made, but I believe that they are wrong. Now, I know there are good brethren who hold that it would be wrong, sinful, to take the life of another person – even in self-defense. And some of these are people that I love and highly regard, but I come to a different conclusion when I read the scriptures. And friends, I feel rather strongly about this. I believe that it is not only proper to defend my self and particularly one’s own family, I believe it’s an obligation that I have as a man. What I want to do in the next several minutes is this: first, to share with you why I believe the Bible teaches that a Christian may practice self-defense. Then, I want to share with you the pacifist position and talk about some of the arguments they make. And then I want to discuss some implications. Alright. Point number one: Why I believe that a Christian has the right to self-defense, even if it involves lethal force. Alright. Number one. Jesus told His disciples to carry swords. In Luke 22:35-38 the Bible says this, “And He said to them, “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. So they said, “Lord, look, here are two swords.” And He said to them, “It is enough.” Now, first I want you to notice that Jesus suggested that his disciples buy a sword. The sword was an instrument of death. It was a tool of injury. And they responded “Lord, we have two swords.” He said, “It is enough.” You see, they weren’t going to invade anyone, or else two swords wouldn’t have been sufficient. Then, why were they told to take sword? And the answer is self-defense! That’s why two swords were going to be enough. to be traveling in some dangerous areas, where there were evil men who would hurt them and leave them for dead. I mean, you read the account of the Good Samaritan in Luke 10 and you see what happened to that individual and the disciples would be traveling these same roads. I think it’s also worthy to note that later when they come to arrest Jesus in the Garden, Peter has a sword. And the Lord tells Peter to “put it in its place.” He doesn’t say get rid of your sword. He says, “Put your sword in its place. You see, the Lord’s spiritual kingdom was never to be advanced by the sword. Christianity is a spiritual fight, not a physical one. Ephesians 6:12, “We wrestle not against flesh and blood.” And so the sword has an appropriate place as a carnal weapon, a weapon of defense, but not as a religious one in the spiritual battle. Alright. Reason number two why I believe the Christian has the right to self-defense even if it envolves lethal force is because of the responsibility that a man has to his family. In 1 Timothy 5:8 the Bible says, “But if anyone does not provide for his own, and especially for those of his household, he has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever.” Now, in the context, Paul is talking about widows, and he’s discussing the fact that a man has an obligation to provide care for those in this family. And if a man won’t do that, he’s worse than an unbeliever. Even unbelievers take care of their families. Now was Paul suggesting that man should protect his family from starvation and illness, but not from rapists and murderers? Does that that make any sense to you? You know, we could use the same logic that Paul uses here and we could say, “Even the heathen will protect the lives of their family when someone is trying to hurt or kill them. Alright. Reason number three why I believe that a Christian has the right to defend himself even requires lethal force relates to what John the baptist told the soldiers. Now, this is from Luke chapter three. This is where some soldiers believed John’s preaching, and they responded to his command to repent. What did John tell them to do? This is Luke 3:14. The Bible says “Likewise the soldiers asked him – that is, they asked John the baptist saying, “And what shall we do?” And so he said to them, “Do not intimidate anyone or acuse falsely, and be content with your wages.” I want you to notice – John did not tell them, “Well, in order to repent, you’ve got to stop being soldiers. That’s a violent thing and a Christian or a follower of God can’t do that. What he told them was, “Do not abuse your power.” In essence, he said, “be good soldiers.” You know, Cornelius was a Roman military officer, responsible for commanding 100 soldiers, and we have no record of him being told to discontinue his military role. Acts chapter 10. Likewise, the Philippian jailer was not instructed to change professions following his conversion in Acts 16. The fact is there is no record of a Christian ever being condemned for military service. There is no passage where military service or police service is ever condemned in the Bible. Alright. Reason number four. There are not separate laws for Christians and non-Christians. Now, why is that important? Because it is argued by many who take the pacifist position that a non- Christian could serve as a police officer and use lethal force, but a Christian could not. A non-Christian could serve in the military and take up arms in defense of his country, but if a Christian did that, they would say he would be sinning. And so a woman is being assaulted and a police officer hears her screaming and he runs to the rescue and just as he arrives, the assailant has a crow-bar in his hand and he’s about to bash her in the head. And the officer shoots the man and he saves the woman’s life. Did he dothe right thing? Or did he sin? Well some would say, “It depends on whether or not he is a Christian.” They would say, If he is a Christian, then he sinned. If he’s a non-Christian, then he saved the day. But the point that I am making is that there are not two different laws in effect today – one of the Christian, and one for the Non-Christian. If it was wrong for the Christian to shoot the man, then it was wrong for the non-Christian to shoot the man. And if was right for the non-Christian, then it was right for the Christian. There are some people, who are pacifist, but they make this argument correctly when it comes to the subject of marriage, divorce, and remarriage. You know, one of the errors that is taught in the church today with regard to marriage, divorce, and remarriage is that only Christians are amenable to the law of Christ. They would say that if a man entered into an unscriptural marriage before he became a Christian, then he can remain in that marriage, because they would argue that Christ’s law on marriage did not apply to him. Well, of course, that’s as false as false can be. But some good individuals who are teachers and preachers who stand up against this and correctly point out that God only has one law for mankind today – they will then turn around and by implication make a similar argument and they will suggest, by implication that God has separate laws today with regard to the issue of our present discussion. They will argue that a non-Christian can be a defender of his country – serving as a soldier, or as a police man, or as a judge, or as the one who pulls the switch in the electric chair. But they would say that a Christian cannot. Friends, I’m telling you there is only one law today – that is the Law of Christ – and whether a person is a Christian or a non-Christian, everyone is amenable to that same law. So, what does that law say? Listen to Romans 13:1. The Bible says, “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. Now, I want you to keep in mind that those of the Pacifist position will argue that a Christian cannot serve in this role. And yet, these are positions the Bible says 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.” Friends, that means a Police officer is a minister of God for good. Keep reading. “But if you do evil, be afraid; for he does not bear the sword in vain; for he is God’s minister, an avenger to execute wrath on him who practices evil.” Now, what do we learn from this passage? Well, we learn that the government exists by the authority of God. We learn that the government exists to do good and punish evil. We learn that when we resist the government we are resisting God. And that government and government officials are authorized by God to “use the sword” – to use a weapon. To the Romans, the sword was a symbol of the power of life and death. It was the instrument that was used to execute criminals. Paul speaks of it here with reference to the government’s authority to take life when necessary to protect the innocent, and to punish the wicked and to maintain order. And so, that means that police officers, and soliders, executioners function as “ministers of God” for the good of society. And, we’re to support them with our tax dollars. Now, what’s the point with all of this? Since there is only one law for mankind today, if it is right for a non-Christian to serve in these roles, then it is also right for a Christian to serve in these roles. The Christian has the right to defend, his family, his community, his country. I believe the Christian has the right to use force to defend – to include violence and lethal force because, number one, Christ told his disciples to carry weapons. Number two, ecause of the charge that I have to provide for, and care for my family. Number three, because of principle of Luke 3:14. And number four, because there are not two separate laws in effect today – one for the Christian and one for the non-Christian. If it’s right for the non-Christian to do these things, then it’s right for the child of God as well. Well, suppose this – Suppose a pacifist came along and said, “Well, I agree there’s only one law for mankind today, and I think it’s wrong for anyone to use violence to protect himself or to protect others. I think would be wrong for anyone to be a policeman or a soldier.” “I think that God just tolerates it.” “I think that God just uses evil men to accomplish evil deeds,” just like he used Judas in his plan to betray Christ. What if somebody said that? Friends, if the Armed Forces sin when they use the “sword” to protect their citizens, then a Christian sins when he calls upon the Armed Forces to protect him. If a policeman sins when he pulls his gun to protect me, then I sin when I call the police to protect me. Now, why is that? Because we are responsible for what we do through the agency of others. You know, if I were to ask someone else to steal something for me, I would still be guilty of that crime. Now, somebody says, “I don’t know about that.” Let me prove that from the Bible. You know the Jews called upon Pilate and they called upon the Roman government to kill Christ, but in Acts 2:23 the Bible says they were guilty of that crime. We are guilty of that which we do through the agency of others. Now, incidentally, as a side note, in Acts 23, when Paul’s life was in danger, you know, there were more than 40 individuals who were going to assassinate him. On that occasion, Paul called upon the Romans soliders to protect him. Did he sin when he did that? And so, if a Pacifist takes the position that Non-Christians can use lethal force, then we all can, because there is only one law applying to all men today. If a pacifist takes the position that no one can use lethal force, then we sin when we call upon the police for help and in essence we are left defenseless. It means we are at the mercy of whatever evil this world does to us, and we really have no protection whatsoever. Alright. Point number two. I want to talk about the pacifist position. Alright. Here’s the first thing. First, there is what I would call the extreme pacifist or the strict pacifist. And what I mean by this is the person who believes that all killing is wrong. This is the person who would picket at the execution of a rapist, or a murderer, or a child molester, and they would argue that the bible says, “Thou shalt not kill.” And they take that to mean that all killing is wrong. But, you know, in reality, what the Bible forbids is murder. And there is a very clear distinction between murder and killing. All murder is wrong. Not all killing is wrong, but all murder is wrong. Murder is the unlawful unauthorized taking of human life. Now that definition is important. In the past I have defined murder as “the unlawful taking of innocent human life.” But now I have tweaked that because I’ve omitted the part about innocent human life because I believe there could be a situation and I think there regularly are situations where innocent life might be taken and it not be murder. Let me give you an example of this: Consider when the United States dropped the bomb on Nagasaki and Hiroshima. Thousands of innocent people died. But I would contend that it was not murder. It was an action authorized by Romans 13. The government had the right to take such action. So murder is the “Unauthorized taking of human life.” Now, capital punishment is killing, but it is not murder. In Genesis 9:6 God laid out a timeless, moral principle. He said, “Whoever sheds man’s blood, By man his blood shall be shed; For in the image of God He made man.” Now, that requires that a murderer be put death by his fellow man. Is such an execution killing? Yes, it’s killing. Is it murder? No, it’s not murder. Well, that tells me that there is such a thing as right killing, and there is such a thing as wrong killing. Now, that was true in the Old Testament, and it’s true in the New Testament. Alright. Number two. Let’s talk about the second type of Pacifist. This category doesn’t believe that it’s always wrong to kill, or always wrong to be a Policeman, or a Soldier, or the one who throws the switch. He only believes that it’s wrong if you are a Christian. And once again, there’s a very serious implication that comes along with this. And that is that God has two laws in effect today – One for the Christian and one for the non-Christian. Well, let’s lay this out logically If the Bible teaches that all men are amenable to the law of Christ – and it does. And, the law of Christ teaches it is possible for a non-Christian to take the life of an evildoer then, the law of Christ also teaches it is possible for Christian to take the life of an evildoer. It is a sound and solid argument. Alright. Point number three. I want to talk about some of the arguments made by the pacifists as to why they hold the position that they do. Here’s the first one. The pacifist would suggest that we are to love our enemies. Matthew 5:44 is sometimes cited, “Love your enemies, bless those who curse you, do good to those who hate you, and pray for those who spitefully use and persecute you.” H. Leo Boles, who was a pacifist cited this particular passage and said this, “Love your enemies: Men do not love their enemies when they are trying to kill them. …War nullifies this principle, trying to kill them. War nullifies this principle, and, therefore, is opposed to Christianity.” But, you know, my first question would be, “Why should my love for my enemy supersede my love for my family?” Should I stand idly by and allow my family or helpless victims to be raped, or mutilated, or murdered? You know, some other passages immediately come to mind: How about Matthew 22:39 and “loving my neighbor as myself”? How about Matthew 7:12 – the Golden rule? How could I claim to obey those verses while not taking necessary action to protect the victim? Surely that’s not how I would want to be treated. In essence, by not helping the victim, I am taking the side of the attacker. Should I love the murderer more than the one who he is beating to death? And really, I think there’s a basic misunderstanding here about love. I mean, think about Ananias and Sapphira. Did God love them when he killed them? Well, of course he did. In Leviticus 19:17 God commanded the Children of Israel, “Thou shalt not hate thy brother in thy heart. Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself.” But then in Chapter 20:2, He said that if any of them worshipped Molech, the people were to kill him with stones. He said to love them, but if they committed this transgression, then kill them. You see, love does not exclude punishment. In fact, sometimes it demands it. Alright. Numer two. Sometimes pacifists will argue this: they will say, “Christians are forbidden to retaliate.” And it’s pointed out that Romans 12:17-21 says that Christians are not to take revenge. “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.” Furthermore it says that we are to live peaceably with all men, and that we are to repay no man evil for evil. Well, can this passage rightfully be used to show that non-Christians can serve in the military, be police, and take life, but Christians can’t? Of course not! Whatever this verse means, it means to Christians, and it means the same thing to non-Christians. Is it the case that Christians are not to take revenge, but non-Christians can? No. Is it the case that Christians are to live peaceably, but non-Christians don’t have to? Of course not. Whatever this passage means to the Christian, it means to the non-Christian. And so, what does it mean? Well, it means that none of us are to seek personal revenge. None of us are to have the “I’ll fix you mentality.” You know, when personal retaliation is the goal, then you don’t do it. God says, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay.” Well, then just a few verses later, He tells us about one of the ways he goes about repayment – about taking justice, and that is via the government. He tells us that government is a tool that He uses to carry out his justice. In fact, let me put this in the form of an example: My neighbor is drunk and disorderly and he throws a brick at my car. I don’t take it upon myself to carry out vengeance, God has a system for that. It involves the police. I call them, they are ministers of God for good against them that do evil. You know, the same sort of thing is argued sometimes with regard to Matthew 5:39 – turn the other cheek. But you know, that doesn’t mean that if people physically attack me, that I just have to take it – that I can’t defend myself. You know, Jesus told his disciples to get a sword so they could defend themselves. Alright. Number three. Sometimes pacifists will argue that Christians are not to be involved in carnal warfare. You know, there’s no passage says that. I’m going to talk some more about that in a just a minute. And if a Christian is not to be involved in carnal warfare, then neither is the non-Christian. Because remember, the same law applies to both of them. As I was studying and preparing for this lesson, I was studying and reading the writings of a number of people who hold the pacifist position, and I saw a lot of quotations that state that our battle is a spiritual battle, that, “We wrestle not againstflesh and blood.” “My kingdom is not of this world.” But you know, those are simply passages relating to the Lord’s spiritual kingdom. God’s spiritual kingdom isn’t comprised of physical wars. You know, we don’t make converts at the end sword. Our battle against Satan is not against a physical dragon. We use the Sword of the Spirit – Ephesians 6:17 – not a physical sword to carry out our spiritual battles. But you know, none of that precludes a Christian serving in the military or being a policeman. If I serve in the military, my spiritual battles are still spiritual ones. You know a Christian man will sometimes have to take off his belt and engage in corporal punishment. That is, he may have to give his son a spanking. Is someone going to come along and say to him, “Now, brother, you know, we wrestle not against flesh and blood?” You shouldn’t be using physical punishment against your son.” No. Everyone understands that doesn’t make sense. Having to physically engage in physical punishment. against one’s son in no way contradicts these Bible passages. In fact, it’s in accordance with with what the Bible teaches. In the same sense, serving in the military is functioning as a minister of God for good. You know, the Lord condemns using the sword for advancing his kingdom, but He authorizes it for use by civil authorities for social and civil purposes. Alright. Argument number four. Sometimes it is argued that, “We can’t fight in the Lord’s kingdom, which is by far the greater kingdom, so how in the world could we think we could fight in the kingdoms of men, and the kingdoms of the world?” Well, they are two different kinds of kingdoms. The spiritual kingdoms only allows spiritual fighting. The physical kingdom requires carnal, physical actions. Number five. Sometimes the golden rule is brought up. Matthew 7:12, “Whatever you want men to do to you, do also to them, for this is the Law and the Prophets.” Now, please don’t grow weary of me saying this, but this applies to Christians and to non-Christians. And so, if this verse precludes Christians from punishing evil doers, then it also precludes non-Christians. And, if we are going to reason this way, don’t you think that those who are in prison would like to be let out if we’re going to make that type of application of the golden rule? You know, we have to understand that the Golden Rule doesn’t require us to allow evil to go unchecked. Foy Wallace said this. He was talking about this argument – misusing the golden rule in this way, he said, “That puts the golden rule to working in reverse! It commits the golden rule to protect the wrong-doer and desert the victim. It forces the teaching of Christ to aid the evildoer, and it makes the Sermon On The Mount a Bill Of Rights for criminals.” Number six. The pacifist – those who hold to the pacifist position They will argue that Romans 13 makes a distinction between the Christian and government. They would say, that there’s a lot of “You, the Christian” “They, the Government” “You, the Christian,” “They, the Government.” And so their point is that Christians are not included in the Government. Christians can’t serve in these government capacities in which they would punish evil and bear the sword. But I would suggest to you that this passage in Romans 13, it could have been written to a congregation that was made up of 50% soldiers. The language would have been the same. You see, the contrast is not between the government and Christians. The contrast is between individuals and the “corporate entity of government.” In fact, listen to it: Romans 13 begins, “Let every soul be subject to the governing authorities.” What is written here applies to every soul, not just Christians. And that makes sense, because the law of Christ applies to everybody. The fact is, nowhere in the Bible do we find separate laws for Christians and Non-Christians with regard to the roles they may serve in the government or with regard to self- defense. Alright. Here’s our final point. Lets look at implications of the pacifist position Implication number one: if a Christian steps in and uses force to prevent a rape or murder, then he’s committing a sin equivalent to that of the murder. Now, that would be an implication. Surely we can see that that’s not right. Surely we can see that those two things are not on the same level. Well, a second implication of the pacifist position would be this: If the police sin when they protect us, then we sin we call upon them to protect us. That would be the implication. Implication number three. If the pacifist position is right, then if a policeman is on his way to be baptized, and he sees a gunman who’s about to murder some innocent children, he could pull out his gun and he could shoot that murderer and save the children. But he goes on and he’s baptized and he’s on his way home and he sees another murderer about to kill some children. He then could not pull his gun to protect the children or he would be sinning if he did so. Number four. Every thief, every robber, every murderer, every rapist should hope for a mass conversion of the police force to Christianity. That would be an implication. Implication number five. If pacifismis true, if your family is ever attacked, the last person you would want standing by you would be a Christian. You would have to think, “Please let him be a heathen, who has no accountability to the law of Christ, so that he can help me.” Foy Wallace wrote this. It’s a strong statement but listen to it and consider it carefully. He wrote, “The idea that men who are not Christians can be soldiers and officers to protect the Christian by doing what which a Christian himself could not do is about the most conveniently selfish and cowardly convenient doctrine ever pronounced by good men.”
What does the Bible say about defending yourself and your family?
In 1 Timothy 5:8 the Bible says, “But if anyone does not provide for his own, and especially for those of his household, he has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever.” Now, in the context, Paul is talking about widows, and he’s discussing the fact that a man has an obligation to provide care for those in this family. And if a man won’t do that, he’s worse than an unbeliever. Even unbelievers take care of their families. Now was Paul suggesting that man should protect his family from starvation and illness, but not from rapists and murderers? Does that that make any sense to you?