Imagine for a moment you put 100 Christians in a room and asked them to give you at least the top ten sin struggles that they have. The range of sin that humans struggle with will vary widely from person to person and would be represented in that room. Some persons would say that they struggle with depression, others with fear, while others with body image, and so on. The catalogue of sin that would be represented would be so diverse by getting that many different people in one room. You would also notice that there are some sinful tendencies that almost everyone in the room will have struggled with at one point in time; there would be some universal struggles. There is one such universal struggle that I would like to focus on in this series of blogs: sinful anger.
Our plan for this series on How to Handle Anger Biblically is to examine what is anger and why we should study this topic. Then we will look at what makes anger righteous, followed by what makes anger sinful. Finally, we will end our series with practically ways that we can change in putting off sinful anger and putting on righteous anger.
Why Study Anger
For all persons, the battle with anger has raged at some point in our lives. While some of us may have a greater tendency toward anger, all of us have wrestled with sinful anger to some degree and will have to wrestle with it at some point in the future. Then it is important for us to study this topic in order to make sure that we understand it as we seek to put off the old and put on the new (Eph. 4:22-24).
The reasons for studying this topic doesn’t only stop at its universality. We should study how to handle our anger is because it destroys intimacy in relationships, especially marriage. It is pretty hard to be close to a friend if one of you is sinfully angry. In marriage, it is pretty hard for your spouse to snuggle up to you and tell them that they love you, if you just flew off the handle in sinful anger. Intimacy is ruined by sinful anger.
We also need to study this topic because, for those of us who are parents, it prevents us from parenting in a way that pleases Christ. When a parent becomes sinfully angry at their child, their effectiveness at pointing that child to Christ begins to evaporate. That child doesn’t see the parent modeling Christ, rather the see the Adversary on full display. Parents can’t exhort their children to become like Christ when they themselves are far from being like Him because of their sinful anger.
Finally, and we could put many more reasons here, we need to discuss this topic because sinful anger it is so often excused. Think back in your own life and how many times have you blamed someone (or something) for your sinful anger? How many times have you excused your actions as if you were not the one to blame? All too often we look to shift the responsibility away from ourselves to others, when what we are called to do is own our sinful actions, especially as it pertains to sinful anger.
What is Anger?
Before we get too far then, we need to get us an active definition of what anger is. The definition that is being put forward is for anger, not for sinful anger or righteous anger. We will talk about how to distinguish between righteous and sinful anger later, but anger itself is not a sin.
Like so much in our life, the thing is not sinful but rather what we do with it that makes it sinful. For example, it is not sinful to want a nice home, but pursuit of a nice home about loving and serving God is sinful. Or it is not wrong to desire safety and security, but desiring that so much that you are no longer able to leave the home demonstrates a lack of faith in God. That desire begins to not be pleasing to Him because we are called to trust in Him. Another example could be the desire for sexual intimacy. This is something that God placed inside mankind, but pursuing those desires outside the bounds of marriage becomes sinful. The desire for intimacy is not sinful, pursuing it through sinful paths whether it be adultery or lust are wrong. The point is, that anger is not something that is righteous or sinful, rather how we express or do anger is sinful.
If you don’t buy that, then perhaps looking at our gracious and loving God and what His Word reveals about him will help: Ps.2:45; 7:11; Mk. 3:5; 10:13-14; Jn. 3:36. We see that God expresses anger a number of times and we are even told that we should express anger (Eph. 4:26) in a way that is not sinful. Of course we need to beware of the deceptiveness of our own human hearts when it comes to this, but nonetheless, it is possible (commanded?) to be angry and righteous (more to come in the next blog).
Our working definition then for anger is: a passionate, active, moral response, of the entire person to a perceived wrong or injustice. Space will not allow for us to develop that definition too much, so if you want to understand the definition more, or the topic of How to Handle Anger Biblically, then you can download a lecture from our annual training conference where we spend more time on this.
A part of that definition that runs counterculture, and perhaps even counter to our own experiences, is that while anger does have some emotional components to it, anger is primarily something that do not something that we feel. The bible depicts over and over anger as an action, not an emotion. Robert Jones has a great quote from his book which says, “Our anger is an active response. It is an action, an activity. Anger is something we do, not something we have. It is not a thing, a fluid, a force. The Bible pictures people who do anger, not have anger.” (Robert Jones, Uprooting Anger, 15)
We will see this fleshed out more in the next blog were we are going to look at the differences between righteous and sinful anger. If God’s word calls us to be angry and yet not sin, then we should ensure that the anger that we are expressing is one that is pleasing to God.