A powerful black and white image captures a person standing tall amidst adversity, their face illuminated by a beam of light, symbolizing the Bible's encouragement to stand up for oneself with courage and faith.

What Does The Bible Say About Standing Up For Yourself?

Self-defense and asserting oneself are controversial topics for Christians. Jesus calls us to turn the other cheek when we are persecuted, but does that mean we should never stand up for ourselves? This article will provide a nuanced, biblical perspective on standing up for yourself.

If you don’t have time to read the full article, here is the key takeaway: the Bible encourages restraint, non-retaliation, and enduring mistreatment with grace, but does not forbid defending oneself against serious harm or injustice, especially if it prevents further harm.

Jesus’ Teachings on Non-Retaliation

Turn the Other Cheek

In Matthew 5:38-42, Jesus teaches his followers to turn the other cheek when someone strikes you. He says that if anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to him the other cheek also. This radical teaching goes against our natural inclination to retaliate or seek revenge when wronged.

Jesus is calling his followers to break the cycle of violence through non-retaliation.

Turning the other cheek requires humility and inner strength. It does not mean allowing abuse, but rather responding with love and forgiveness, not anger or violence. This revolutionary concept promotes peace through passive resistance.

It is extremely challenging to live out, yet it is at the heart of Jesus’ message.

Go the Extra Mile

In the same passage, Jesus states that if anyone forces you to go one mile, go with him two miles. In the context of the Roman occupation of Israel, this refers to the common practice of soldiers forcing locals to carry their equipment for up to one mile.

Jesus tells his followers to willingly go beyond what is demanded of them.

Going the extra mile displays a radical generosity of spirit and a willingness to be inconvenienced for another’s benefit. It requires looking beyond mere duty and externally enforced obedience. When put into practice, it can disarm those who wrong us and open up opportunities for connection and understanding.

The Importance of Forgiveness

Jesus repeatedly emphasized forgiveness as vital for healthy relationships and spiritual growth. In Matthew 18:21-22, when Peter asked how many times he should forgive a brother who sins against him, Jesus replied “not seven times, but seventy-seven times”.

This hyperbolic number highlights the boundlessness of forgiveness.

Forgiving others demonstrates that we fully understand our own need for grace. It stops us from harboring grudges and bitterness that only hurt us, not those who wronged us. Forgiveness brings freedom through releasing pain and resentment.

It is often challenging, but obedience to Jesus’ teachings requires extending grace to others just as we have freely received it.

Old Testament Allowances for Self-Defense

Protecting One’s Family

The Bible teaches that husbands and fathers have a duty to protect their wives and children. In the Old Testament, the patriarch Abraham demonstrated this when he organized a small army to rescue his nephew Lot, who had been taken captive (Genesis 14:14-16).

King David, whom God called “a man after my own heart” (Acts 13:22), led armies to defend Israel against foreign threats. These examples show that defending one’s family from harm is consistent with Biblical values.

The Biblical View of Life

The Old Testament law authorized self-defense and defense of others. Exodus 22:2-3 says that killing a thief in the act of breaking in is not punishable as murder. This indicates that protecting one’s home and family from a criminal act is permissible.

The Bible consistently presents human life as precious and deserving of protection. Therefore, self-defense which prevents loss of innocent life aligns with Biblical morality.

Examples of Godly Men Who Stood Up for Themselves

There are instances in the Old Testament where godly men stood up against threats and injustice. Moses defended the Hebrew midwives who saved Israelite babies from Pharaoh’s edict (Exodus 1:15-21). Elijah confronted the evil King Ahab and killed the false prophets of Baal (1 Kings 18:16-40).

Nehemiah led the rebuilding of Jerusalem’s walls while armed against hostile neighbors (Nehemiah 4:16-18). While promoting peace, the Bible allows protecting oneself, others, and just causes from harm.

Finding the Right Balance

Have a Spirit of Grace Under Fire

As Christians, we are called to show grace and turn the other cheek when faced with conflict or aggression (Matthew 5:39). This does not mean allowing others to walk all over us, but it does require responding in love rather than anger.

According to research from the Pew Research Center in 2022, 67% of U.S. adults say people are less tolerant of others’ mistakes today compared with the past. Showing grace involves giving others the benefit of the doubt and not escalating the situation.

Proverbs 15:1 states that “A gentle answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger.” When standing up for yourself, speak firmly but lovingly. Do not insult or belittle the other person. As Ephesians 4:29 advises, “Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear.”

If the conflict persists, you may need to walk away temporarily to allow tensions to diffuse and give both parties time to reflect. Come back when emotions have settled and try to find common ground. Demonstrating grace under fire displays Christlike character and can lead to reconciliation.

Know When to Walk Away

While showing grace is important, there are times when you need to set boundaries and remove yourself from harmful situations. The Bible does not say we must passively accept abuse, bullying, discrimination, or other mistreatment.

According to a CDC study, 1 in 4 women and 1 in 9 men experience severe intimate partner physical violence, highlighting the need to escape abusive relationships. Matthew 10:14 says, “If anyone will not welcome you or listen to your words, leave that home or town and shake the dust off your feet.”

Walking away demonstrates self-respect and refusal to tolerate poor treatment. It can motivate the other person to change their unacceptable behavior. However, assess if reconciliation may be possible once emotions have cooled down. Focus on resolving the issue rather than attacking the person.

Using Words Before Actions

When facing interpersonal conflict, aim to use words before actions. According to research by linguistics professor Deborah Tannen, women tend to be more verbal while men are generally more physical in relationships. Adopting a “talk it out” approach typically leads to better outcomes.

Follow Jesus’ advice in Matthew 18:15: “If your brother sins against you, go and confront him privately. If he listens to you, you have won your brother over.” Schedule a time to calmly but firmly address how the person’s behavior affected you and explore solutions to avoid future issues.

Use “I feel” statements rather than blaming.

Research shows nurses using empathetic communication techniques experience 75% fewer assaults than their colleagues. Similarly, taking a patient, understanding approach typically defuses tense situations in one’s personal life as well.


The Bible presents a nuanced perspective on standing up for oneself. While calling for non-retaliation, grace under pressure, and enduring mistreatment, it still allows for defending one’s life against violence and injustice in extreme circumstances.

As Christians, we are called to have discernment, restraint of tongue and action, and care for both perpetrator and victim in situations requiring self-defense.

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