Jesus may not care if you own a gun ...

January 8th, 2016

A few years ago I spent many months at a Christian discipleship ranch for men struggling with addiction. One of the counselors gave us an assignment to list all the rights we thought we had. Common answers were things like free speech, the right to worship freely, the right to bear arms, the right to a trial by one’s peers, etc.

He then asked two questions. First, do these rights come from the kingdom of God or the kingdoms of this world? And second, do followers of Jesus have rights?

Those questions have stuck with me over the years. Not just as it pertains to addiction and recognizing my powerlessness and the trappings of pride, but also as it pertains to my desire to become more Christlike.

Today, talk of rights is all the buzz. The right to bear arms being the flavor of the month. There is something about this debate, particularly as it happens among Christians that draws me back to those questions again and again. For me, the issue is not that people own guns. I have many dear friends who are responsible gun owners and faithful followers of Jesus. Owning a gun, for me, is not the issue, and I suspect this is the case for most of us.

The question, I believe, that gets to the heart of the matter is not so much whether gun ownership is right or wrong, but how much are we willing to forsake this or any other worldly right if Jesus asked us to?

Sometimes I catch myself defending some right I think I have so loudly because I want to drown out the offense I feel at being asked to lay down my life. An axiom which I find to be true all too often in my life is that if I am holding onto something so tightly that I think life can’t go on without it I might have an idol. My counselor, mentioned earlier, was trying to help us see that when we come to Christ we come empty-handed. We have no rights. We have, Scripture says, been bought with a price and are no longer our own but slaves of Christ. Jesus’ call to those who would follow him is not one of self-protection but self-sacrifice. Christians follow a God who taught that it is right to turn the other cheek, to pray for and love our enemies and that to live by the sword is to die by the sword. We follow a God who lived this out explicitly by example, who bore insult and injury and even death without so much as a word, like a lamb being led to the slaughter.

It’s so very hard to imagine Jesus saying, “You can take my sword, after you pry it from my cold, dead hand.”

Even Jesus subjected his will to that of his Father, relinquishing all the rights he had as the Son of God, humbling himself, becoming obedient, even to the point of death (Phil. 2:6-11). And look what God did because of his obedience! God “honored him and gave him a name above all names” (2:9).

This wouldn’t have happened if Jesus had fought for his “rights.” Isn’t this still true today? Isn’t it true that the stories which capture the world’s attention and display the power and hope we have in Jesus are those that include people choosing self-sacrifice over self-protection? I think of the five missionaries who in 1956 were speared to death by the tribal people of Ecuador. They did not try to defend themselves. This left such an impression that later these murderers became Christians through the efforts of family members who returned, not for revenge but to share the gospel.

Or the story of Ashley Smith, who was held hostage in her home by escaped rapist and murderer Brian Nichols in 2005. Rather than pull a gun, she pulled out a book and began reading Rick Warren’s Purpose Driven Life. Nichols turned himself in.

Or most recently, Larry Wright, the North Carolina pastor who disarmed a man carrying a gun into his church, gave him a front row seat and later prayed with him as this man received Christ as his savior.

These stories strike us as other-worldly. They are supernatural. They give us a glimpse into a kingdom that is not like any we logically understand. They are the sort of stories that only happen when we cling less to our right to life and cling solely to the life of Christ.

Jesus said his kingdom is not of this world, for if it was, his servants would fight to defend him (John 18:36). To follow Jesus is to pray that his kingdom would come to earth as in heaven. These stories give us a window into what that kingdom looks like far more than the stories of countless others who choose self-protection over self-sacrifice.

When the rich young ruler asked Jesus what he must do to inherit eternal life, Jesus knew well what this man’s idol was. Go, sell all your possessions, and then come, follow me. This man certainly had a “right” to these things which he acquired. His sin was not in having things. His problem was that he was not yet willing to let go of his right to have things. The rights this world afforded him blinded him to the gifts available only through the surrender of those rights.

Jesus may not care if you or I own a gun. But I think he cares very much if our grip on that gun, and the volume with which we defend our grip, are so tight and so loud that we would refuse to let go, choosing our rights over the gifts Jesus may be wanting us and the world to see. 

Chad Holtz is a graduate of Duke Divinity School and resides in Cleveland, Tennessee.

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