(Matthew 5:39 ESV) But I say to you, Do not resist the one who is evil. But if anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also.
Many professing Christians cannot take seriously these words of our Lord. They argue, "If an evil person begins to fire a gun at you and your family, are you going to stand there and let him do it?
Leo Tolstoi was a man who took Jesus’ words seriously. Tolstoi carried out practically what Jesus commanded. He was a rich count in Russia who owned many lands. He gave his money and his lands to the peasants, and lived like a peasant himself thereafter. Here’s what he wrote about non-resistance:
Jesus has shown me that the fourth temptation destructive to my happiness is the resort to violence for the resistance of evil. I am obliged to believe that this is an evil for myself and for others; consequently, I cannot, as I did once, deliberately resort to violence, and seek to justify my action with the pretext that it is indispensable for the defence of my person and property, or of the persons and property of others. I can no longer yield to the first impulse to resort to violence; I am obliged to renounce it, and to abstain from it altogether.
But this is not all. I understand now the snare that caused me to fall into this evil. I know now that the snare consisted in the erroneous belief that my life could be made secure by violence, by the defense of my person and property against the encroachments of others. I know now that a great portion of the evils that afflict mankind are due to this,—that men, instead of giving their work for others, deprive themselves completely of the privilege of work, and forcibly appropriate the labor of their fellows. Every one regards a resort to violence as the best possible security for life and for property, and I now see that a great portion of the evil that I did myself, and saw others do, resulted from this practice.
And here is his answer to the objections people raise to practicing what Jesus commanded against resistance:
I once thought that if a foreign invasion occurred, or even if evil-minded persons attacked me, and I did not defend myself, I should be robbed and beaten and tortured and killed with those whom I felt bound to protect, and this possibility troubled me. But this that once troubled me now seems desirable and in conformity with the truth. I know now that the foreign enemy and the malefactors or brigands are all men like myself; that, like myself, they love good and hate evil; that they live as I live, on the borders of death; and that, with me, they seek for salvation, and will find it in the doctrine of Jesus. The evil that they do to me will be evil to them, and so can be nothing but good for me. But if truth is unknown to them, and they do evil thinking that they do good, I, who know the truth, am bound to reveal it to them, and this I can do only by refusing to participate in evil, and thereby confessing the truth by my example.
“But hither come the enemy,—Germans, Turks, savages; if you do not make war on them, they will exterminate you!” They will do nothing of the sort. If there were a society of Christian men that did evil to none and gave of their labor for the good of others, such a society would have no enemies to kill or to torture them. The foreigners would take only what the members of this society voluntarily gave, making no distinction between Russians, or Turks, or Germans. But when Christians live in the midst of a non-Christian society which defends itself by force of arm, and calls upon the Christians to join in waging war, then the Christians have an opportunity for revealing the truth to them who know it not. A Christian knowing the truth bears witness of the truth before others, and this testimony can be made manifest only by example. He must renounce war and do good to all men, whether they are foreigners or compatriots.
“But there are wicked men among compatriots; they will attack a Christian, and if the latter do not defend himself, will pillage and massacre him and his family.” No; they will not do so. If all the members of this family are Christians, and consequently hold their lives only for the service of others, no man will be found insane enough to deprive such people of the necessaries of life or to kill them. The famous Maclay lived among the most bloodthirsty of savages; they did not kill him, they reverenced him and followed his teachings, simply because he did not fear them, exacted nothing from them, and treated them always with kindness.
“But what if a Christian lives in a non-Christian family, accustomed to defend itself and its property by a resort to violence, and is called upon to take part in measures of defence?” This solicitation is simply an appeal to the Christian to fulfil the decrees of truth. A Christian knows the truth only that he may show it to others, more especially to his neighbors and to those who are bound to him by ties of blood and friendship, and a Christian can show the truth only by refusing to join in the errors of others, by taking part neither with aggressors or defenders, but by abandoning all that he has to those who will take it from him, thus showing by his acts that he has need of nothing save the fulfilment of the will of God, and that he fears nothing except disobedience to that will.
“But how, if the government will not permit a member of the society over which it has sway, to refuse to recognize the fundamental principles of governmental order or to decline to fulfil the duties of a citizen? The government exacts from a Christian the oath, jury service, military service, and his refusal to conform to these demands may be punished by exile, imprisonment, and even by death.” Then, once more, the exactions of those in authority are only an appeal to the Christian to manifest the truth that is in him. The exactions of those in authority are to a Christian the exactions of those who do not know the truth. Consequently, a Christian who knows the truth must bear witness of the truth to those who know it not. Exile and imprisonment and death afford to the Christian the possibility of bearing witness of the truth, not in words, but in acts. Violence, war, brigandage, executions, are not accomplished through the forces of unconscious nature; they are accomplished by men who are blinded, and do not know the truth. Consequently, the more evil these men do to Christians, the further they are from the truth, the more unhappy they are, and the more necessary it is that they should have knowledge of the truth. Now a Christian cannot make known his knowledge of truth except by abstaining from the errors that lead men into evil; he must render good for evil. This is the life-work of a Christian, and if it is accomplished, death cannot harm him, for the meaning of his life can never be destroyed.
—Leo Tolstoi from "My Religion