The False Gospel of Self-Defense

by | Jun 22, 2022 | Faith, Reflections

The FALSE GOSPEL of Self-Defense


Everyone knows that we here in America are in the midst of an all-out culture war regarding guns and their place in society. And in this skirmish, most of the pro-gun rhteoric presupposes the sanctity of a little thing called “self-defense.” This tenet of U.S. law is no longer even questioned, but simply assumed to be a valid, even watertight justification for lethal violence. Somewhat bafflingly, most Christians also seem convinced of this position by default, and if statistics are any indication, many would even go so far as to believe that taking another person’s life in “self-defense” is a God-given right that they are obviously entitled to.

But is this really what the Bible teaches? Are we really allowed—or even commanded—to hurt or kill others just to protect ourselves or the ones we love? What about the commands to love our enemies, or turn the other cheek? If you’re like me, you have probably heard next to nothing in terms of practical biblical teaching about these important issues. Hence this article. 

There Is Such A Thing as Governmental Self-Defense

One of the most foundational misunderstandings about biblical teaching regarding the use of deadly force is the failure to make a distinction between the rights of individuals and the higher authority of the State. Governments are expected in Scripture to “bear the sword”—i.e. to wield lethal military force for the defense of its own sovereignty and the punishment of evildoers within its realm. Therefore, serving as a soldier or policeman in faithful service (with complete obedience) to an earthly government is a valid and even God-appointed vocation. And of course, Scripture is replete with wars of aggression and defensive battles for protection and survival. 

In the case of Old Testament Israel, which was God’s chosen people before the church age, they were commanded to look to Him alone for protection. He told Abram, to “Fear not… I am your shield.” The Psalmists praised Him as their “fortress” and “tower” and “stronghold.” He repeatedly warned His people not to look to the weapons in their own hands or the military might of their allies to defend them, but rather to Him as the One who saves. From Moses to Joshua, from Gideon to Hezekiah, God has consistently commanded His people to look to Him for victory—military or otherwise—rather than themselves.

There is No Such Thing as Individual Self-Defense

However, when it comes to individuals, there is absolutely no teaching in Scripture that commands—or even approves of—the use of deadly force for the protection of one’s own life, or home, or family. In fact, the only biblical example of an individual’s use of force was when Peter impulsively cut off the ear of a man who was taking Jesus into custody unlawfully. And what did Jesus say? “No more of this!” Our Lord clearly condemned Peter’s actions, even going so far as to give us this sobering proverb highlighting the self-destructive nature of violence: “All who take the sword will perish by the sword.” Jesus also graciously healed the wounded man, expending the last miracle of His earthly ministry to undo the damage his reckless disciple had caused in so-called “self-defense.” And all this for a man whose only intention in that moment was to commit evil!

Jesus makes an even stronger point in His iconic teaching as part of the Sermon on the Mount: “Do not resist the one who is evil. But if anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also.” In other words, we simply do not have the “right” (biblically speaking) to prevent others from harming us by harming THEM in return. There may of course be much wisdom in removing oneself from a dangerous situation—God commanded Joseph to flee to Egypt to escape Herod’s wrath (although sometimes such actions amount to nothing more than cowardice, as is seen with Elijah and his flight from Jezebel). But in no case whatsoever does God allow or sanction an individual’s use of deadly force for self-preservation or self-protection. Rather, we are commanded to “never avenge ourselves,” to choose to “be wronged” rather than retaliate, to “overcome evil with good.” In other words, we must let God be God and submit ourselves to His will, even if that means our suffering. 

The Actual Biblical Ideal of Self-Sacrifice

Think for a moment, about the examples given to us in Scripture of those who pleased God, the “heroes of the faith” if you will. Other than those who served as soldiers or monarchs in battle, how many of them used force to protect themselves from evil attackers? Did the Apostle Paul carry a sword, or did he go unarmed and defenseless? Did Jeremiah strike the false prophets who struck him, or was he silent? Did John the Baptist fight back against his imprisonment, or did he go willingly to his death? Did Stephen pray for deliverance for himself, or for the salvation of his murderers as they were murdering him? 

And what of those mentioned in Hebrews 11? “Some were tortured, refusing to accept release, so that they might rise again to a better life. Others suffered mocking and flogging, and even chains and imprisonment. They were stoned, they were sawn in two, they were killed with the sword. They went about in skins of sheep and goats, destitute, afflicted, mistreated—of whom the world was not worthy—wandering about in deserts and mountains, and in dens and caves of the earth.” Are we to assume that these were all fools for not arming and defending themselves? If that is your belief, then you have fundamentally misunderstood Christianity.

Jesus said, “Whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will save it.” Using violence to protect yourself from suffering may seem like saving your life, but if Christ’s words are to be believed, you’re actually at risk of dooming your own soul. And of course, Christ Himself practiced what he preached. He did not try to rescue himself from the unimagimnable, suffering He endured, but instead prayed, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.” Which brings me to my next point.

“Self Defense” As A Cover-Up For Hatred

God is love,” and so the greatest commandments in Scripture are to love God and love other people. But whenever we are threatened or attacked, most of us find a very different emotion spilling out of us: hatred. We instinctively HATE those who bring pain into our lives, and all of our natural inclinations urge us to HURT those who hurt us, preferably as quickly as possible. But Jesus calls his followers to a more excellent way: “I say to you who hear, Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you.” 

And yet, many Christians seem to think that the danger of being attacked somehow excuses them from the divine duty to love their neighbors as well as their enemies. Just because you are in danger of losing your life, does that mean you can hate your attacker(s) in your heart and slay them without remorse? If someone is violent toward you, does that give you the right to be violent towards them? If you’ve been paying attention, you should know the answer by now.

Think about it: taking a life in self-defense is tantamount to saying, “I care about my life, not about theirs. I care about my own suffering, not about theirs. I’m ok if they die, so long as I live.” This is not love. It’s selfishness. It’s self-centeredness. It’s sin. Not loving your enemies, even those who attack you, is sin. 

This then is the false gospel of self-defense: that the state of being threatened exempts you from the duty to love your enemies or suffering for the sake of righteousness. Self-defense thus becomes a sacrament that supersedes God’s commandments about love and justifies inflicting suffering on others. It is a unholy incantation by which we put ourselves in God’s place and choose to take the life or health of another rather than submit ourselves or the ones we love to to suffering.

Hopefully by now you can spot the difference between the counterfeit and the genuine. The real gospel commands love and self-sacrifice and faith and trust in God’s grace. Any gospel that promises earthly protection or security is a forgery, and ultimately a form of idolatry.

“Good Guy” Rhetoric Is Just Human Arrogance 

There is a popular line of reasoning—and a very silly one at that—that suggests that the best way to stop the “bad guys” is to arm all of the “good guys.” But this is foolish because biblically, all of us are “bad guys.” There are no good guys: “All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.”  Also, the Bible warns us to be on guard against the “deceitfulness of sin,” and to never assume that we are immune to any form of temptation: “Let anyone who thinks that he stands take heed lest he fall.”  Anyone who thinks “I could never commit such a heinous act” is in denial of the deceitful nature and subtle power of sin. It’s another form of pride. He who trusts in his own goodness and presumes himself incapable of temptation is a danger to himself and others.

Not to be too controversial here, but Adam Lanza started out as a “good guy” by NRA standards. He was a gun enthusiast who spent a lot of time learning how to shoot them skillfully. He had multiple certificates of training and read handbooks on various types of firearms. He was a gun-rights poster child, a model “good guy”—right up until the moment when he entered Sandy Hook Elementary School and used his training to slaughter 20 children, his mother, and 6 other adults. 

Here’s my point: When you give sinful people more power, you empower them to commit more sin. Not everyone will do so, of course, but the more people who have access to power, the more people will take advantage of it in sinful ways, and the more destructive and deadly those sins become. Trusting in your own goodness to ensure the safety of others around you is not only arrogant, but dangerous.

Is Gun Ownership Wrong?

So what about guns specifically? How can you tell if your gun ownership amounts to idolatry? 

Well, I would encourage you to search your own heart in regards to these matters. Do you feel safer owning a gun? Do you feel more protected, more secure, more defended because of the presence of one or more firearms in your life? Then to the extent you feel this way, you have betrayed your trust in God and sought it through another means. You are testifying that God Himself is not enough for you. The Bible may say he’s a “fortress” and a “shield of our help and the sword of our triumph,” but you are not taking any chances. You are just like our ancestors who trusted in chariots and horses and turned away from dependence on God’s strength.

And don’t think you can get away with saying “God uses secondary means, so guns are therefore God’s chosen way of keeping me safe.” That would be like saying “my money is God’s chosen way of keeping me happy and healthy.” Rubbish. Gun owners trusting in their guns is no different than rich people trusting in their riches, and the Bible isn’t flattering about what happens to people like that. Storing up ammo and storing up riches are one and the same. You can’t baptize false idols with Christian trappings and expect a blessing from God. 

We Can’t Do This Without God

If you’re offended by what I’ve said, or think my arguments over-simplistic and possibly even anti-American, then that’s ok. This isn’t ultimately my teaching; my goal in writing this was to make a clear case for what the Bible says about this topic (which is why there are so many links that you can click and read for yourself). But I’ll also be the first to admit that Scripture is often hard, a “stumbling block” that even committed Christians sometimes find difficult to accept. God has His own ways, and doesn’t need or even want our approval. God knows that true freedom is not everyone doing what is right in their own eyes; true freedom is doing what He says. And guess what? Sometimes that looks like laying down your life for His sake. And yes, you’re right—humanly speaking, this is impossible. But if you are a Christian, and you have the Holy Spirit dwelling in you, then it IS possible. 

May God give us grace to lay down our lives for others the way Christ did for us. 


  1. Rm

    If you are right , we may as well make a few other additions – if you can’t defend yourself then one shouldn’t get married, have kids, have property. In a sense your framework would work- but only in a monastic community , or afar from a nation state depending on its citizens to protect it. If this is true , property, marriage, children – all wrong. And the only right thing is a celibate ascetic monastic existence .

    • Mike Costanzo

      RM, Thanks for the comment! Much appreciated. Can you explain in more detail why you believe the inability to fight back against evildoers necessarily means that having things or raising a family is “wrong”? It’s one thing to argue that it would be UNWISE (c.f 1 Corinthians 7:29-31), but I’m not sure how you could make the case that it’s somehow morally “wrong.” But I’d love to hear your thoughts if you care to share. Thanks again!

  2. Lyle

    Mike, if your wife, Jen is attacked in a parking lot and raped, does she have the right to resist, fight back or harm her rapist?
    If she does not fight back, she is consenting and ot is no longer considered rape.

    This is a dangerous teaching and I question your ability as man and protector of your family.

    • Mike Costanzo


      Thanks for sharing your thoughts. I’m not sure that I agree with your understanding of “consent”—rape is rape even if the victim does not (or cannot) fight back physically. But I also think that if a human being—male or female—is “attacked” in a parking lot, they will instinctively resist and fight back to the best of their ability. How could they not?

      That said, according to the Bible, being attacked is not sufficient warrant to take another human being’s life. Fighting back is ok, but killing the one who tries to harm you is a sin. It makes you just as bad as your attacker whom you hated in your heart. That’s the point I was trying to make.

      History is replete with martyrs who obeyed Matthew 5:39 in the face of all sorts of evil. Is this teaching “dangerous?” Maybe. But it’s not my teaching. It’s Jesus’ teaching. And I’m just doing my best to be faithful to what He taught, no matter how difficult it may be. May God guide us both into an ever-increasing knowledge of the truth.

  3. Cecil

    In exodus 22:2-3 if a thief be found breaking up and be smitten that he die . There shall no blood be shed for him (3) if the sun be risen upon him, there shall be blood shed for him, for he shall make full restitution, if he have nothing then he shall be sold for his theft, ….
    Matt19:18 thou shalt do no murder,
    Rom 13:9thou shalt not kill
    Exodus 20:13 thou shalt not kill.
    Definition of murder = the act of unlawfully killing,
    Def of killing = to unlawfully cause death.
    Many terms in bible of taking life lawfully, moses killed the Egyptian for doing wrong to an Israelite, God sent people to war to kill men,women,children,animals, two theifs hung on cross by Jesus, killings were justified.
    I know as a Christian my goal is to never make it to that point , there’s a difference in someone mad at you slapping your face and someone trying to kill you and your family

    • Mike Costanzo

      Hi Cecil,

      Someone else also pointed out the Exodus 22 passage to me. I personally think this passage is similar to the OT laws on divorce in that the command was given not because it was God’s ideal way of remedying the situation, but rather “because of your hardness of heart he wrote you this commandment” (Matthew 19). That law (which I believe is part of the CEREMONIAL law given the immediate context) was given as a kind of temporary “band-aid” measure for a sinful people without the Holy Spirit. But now that Christ has come, God holds Christians to a higher standard of marriage and divorce, and—I believe—of treatment of all people, including thieves.

      Anyone who tells me that Exodus 22 is more clear and carries more weight than Matthew 5 in regards to self-defense is, I think, not understanding the nature of the new covenant which Christ inaugurated by His blood. Jesus’ words fulfill and complete the Old Testament teachings, so to ignore His direct “red letter” commands in favor of an abrogated ceremonial law would be a miscalculation, methinks.

      Also…I don’t believe that Moses’ killing of the Egyptian was lawful, but rather a prime example of cold-blooded murder. Why else would he have “looked this way and that” before delivering the killing blow, and then fled once the deed was known? Also, he had no command (and thus no AUTHORITY) from Pharoah to kill that man. Just something to think about.

      Thanks for your comment!

      • Cecil

        Mr Mike I agree with you on “red letters” god does hold us on a higher standard, in matthew 5 the beattitude that is a lot to follow , I would be lieing if I said I have lived all of gods commandments all red letters, even Jesus said why call ye me good there is none good save one that’s God, if you have lived all his commandments go and sell all that you have , give it to the poor and follow me, God knew we will have trouble along the way , advocate with the father Jesus, no man ever hated his own flesh and we treat our wifes with love, and as a man I will protect my wife and son even if it means having to take a life. , ? If you sent a fruit basket or chocolates to a follower thinking them for whatever, there deadly allergic to something in it and they died , you never heard about it are you guilty of killing?

        • Mike Costanzo


          In answer to your question: no, it’s not “killing” if someone is allergic to something you send them (and you had no idea they were allergic). That one is easy. 🙂

          Also…one of the main forms of criticism I’ve received of my article come in the form of hypothetical situations: “What if THIS happened? What if THAT happened?” etc. But here’s the thing—God does not give us an exhaustive list of all possible scenarios with a decision-making flowchart or matrix for each one. He gives us TRUTHS, and it’s up to us to apply them. That’s what I’ve been trying to do in this article—identify clearly stated Biblical truths in regards to our modern-day idea of “self-defense.”

          After all, if I bring up a single hypothetical scenario, I’d be duty-bound to cover ALL possible scenarios in order to make my point. And that would take me decades, if not centuries. Anyway, may God lead us all into an ever-increasing knowledge of His eternal truths.


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