How to Handle Anger Biblically (Part 2)

In our last blog we reviewed some of the reasons that we should study the topic of anger and its universal reach on mankind.  We also put forward a definition to use, namely that anger is: a passionate, active, moral response, of the entire person to a perceived wrong or injustice.  In this blog we are going to discuss what the differences are between righteous anger and sinful anger.

Righteous Anger

This section is going to provide guideposts for what are the characteristics of righteous anger. While the list below is not exhaustive, it will serve as a helpful way finder in our pursuit of righteous anger and will handle most of the questions that we will have about our anger being righteous.  You might have more to add, so feel free to put those in the comment section below.

  1. Anger is righteous when it is actually focused on a response to sin. When we are trying to determine if our anger is a response that is pleasing to Christ, and that expression of anger lacks this quality, we are really only talking about anger that is focus on us.  Our anger is called to be focused on sin that we see in God’s word, not on our preferences or dislikes.
  1. Anger is also pleasing to God when it is focused on God, God’s Kingdom, His rights, concerns, not on me, my rights and my concerns. So often when we manifest anger, it is not about what is going on God’s kingdom; it is all about what is going on in my little kingdom.  We are not angry about the right things that God wants us to be angry about; things like His Righteous Kingdom moving forward. We become angry about our little kingdom.  So our anger needs to focus on God’s kingdom, and not ours if it is to be righteous.
  1. When our anger is accompanied by other godly qualities and when it is expressed in a godly way, then it could be considered righteous. Is it possible to be angry and still manifest the fruit of the Spirit? Can a person manifest self-control and anger?  How about love and anger? Joy, Peace, etc.? What I would argue for is that you must be able to manifest other godly characteristics in order for your anger to be righteous.  Again Robert Jones book can be helpful.

“Righteous anger remains self-controlled.  It keeps its head without cursing, screaming, raging, or flying off the handle.  Nor does it spiral downward in self-pity or despair.  It does not ignore people, snub people, or withdraw from people.  Instead, righteous anger carries with it the twin qualities of confidence and self-control.  Christlike anger is not all-consuming and myopic but channeled to sober, earnest ends.  Godly strains of mourning, comfort joy, praise, and action balance it.

Rather than keeping us from carrying out God’s call, righteous anger leads to godly expressions of worship, ministry, and obedience.  It shows concern for the well-being of others.  It rises in defense of oppressed people.  It seeks justice for victims.  It rebukes transgressors.  Godly anger confronts evil and calls for repentance and restoration.” (Robert Jones, Uprooting Anger, 30)

So if those are some of the standards that I can use to determine if I have righteous anger, what are the tests that exists to see if I have sinful anger?

Sinful Anger

First we need to start off by admitting that most anger that we will experience is going to be sinful.  Again, turning to Robert Jones will be helpful. He observes this in his book.

“Most human anger is sinful.  The biblical record confirms this.  The most frequent Old Testament term for “anger” denotes human anger 47 times.  And at least forty-two of them—eighty-nine percent—indicate sinful anger. 

While we tend to assume the best about ourselves, the Bible frequently warns against self-deception.  We tend to conceal our sins, covering them with spiritual white-out.  We paint our anger as pure.  The Bible knows better.” (Robert Jones, Uprooting Anger, 28)

So statistically speaking, if you are angry, you are wrong.

What then are the ways that we can determine if our anger is sinful (beyond the fact that we may not have manifested the characteristics of righteous anger mentioned previously.)

  1. Anger is sinful when it flows out of a selfishly motivated heart. When the reason or cause of the anger is all about you, when it is about how something has inconvenienced you; then that is a good sign that you are manifesting anger that is sinful. When you become angry because McDonalds (or you other favorite place to eat that your cardiologist wishes you would stay away from) takes 3 minutes longer than normal to get your food ready, your anger is sinful.  When your child disobeys in the super market and you perceive that others think you are a bad parent, and thus you become angry…your anger is sinful.
  1. When the time you are anger is characterized more by talking than by listening. James 1:19-20 tells us that we are to be “quick to hear and slow to list and slow to anger.”  If you are the only one talking in the situation, or there is a gross in balance in who is talking…then your anger is probably sinful.
  1. When you are attacking a person and not a problem. If you are only focused on how that person has done something (what do you mean you dropped my sandwich on the floor) and not on solving an actual problem; then your anger is probably sinful.
  1. When you brood over the failure and hurts of others. If someone has done something to you, and you manifest anger, but this continues for days and days.  If you can’t get this situation out of your mind…then you might have sinful anger.
  1. Finally, when anger is characterized with other sinful tendencies. Just like righteous anger needs to have the fruit of the Spirit and godly characterizes manifested in it, if your anger manifests the deeds of the flesh mentioned in Gal. 5:19-21; then you do not have righteous anger.  You can’t manifest righteous anger and at the same time sin in other ways.

While we could add tests to determine if your anger is sinful, the point is there are clear ways to tell, based on scripture, if you have anger that is pleasing to God or in sinful.  All anger is not sinful, and we are even told that we are to be angry and not sin.

By looking to apply some of these tests to our lives, we can better grow and change to become more like Christ.  So don’t forget as you seek to analyze your anger, consider using these tests to see if your anger is sinful or righteous. But remember, statistically, if you are angry…you are wrong. :-)

Next in our series we are going to lay out some practical ways that we can change and put off our sinful anger.

Joshua M. Greiner
Josh has been on staff with Faith since 2010. He graduated from Purdue University with a BA in Political Science (2008) and from Faith Bible Seminary with a MDiv (2013), The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary with a ThM in Biblical Counseling (2017) and is pursuing a PhD in Counseling from SBTS as well. He serves as the Pastor of Faith West Ministries, the Chaplin of the West Lafayette Fire Department, an instructor with Faith Bible Seminary, and a Fellow with the Association of Certified Biblical Counselors (ACBC). He is married to his wife Shana, and they have four children together.