I have found the study of anger to be even more difficult than the study of guilt. The reason being, anger is a much more volatile and dangerous emotion than guilt. While guilt can be debilitating, anger can be deadly.
Oxford defines anger as, “a strong feeling of annoyance, displeasure, or hostility”. The different degrees of anger are almost as numerous as the things to which we direct our anger. You could be frustrated that your car won’t start. You could be vengeful toward the man who wronged you. You could burn with passionate rage toward those who carry out injustice.
The most important question we must ask when it comes to anger is: when is it appropriate? That is the same question we must ask about all emotions, for all emotions are given to us by God to be experienced.
Anger in and of itself is not a sin. This seems evident from verses such as Mark 3:5 and Ephesians 4:26. In the former, Jesus is angry at the Pharisees’ hardness of heart. In the latter, Christians are commanded to “Be angry and do not sin”.
The concept of “sinless anger” has come to be known as “righteous anger”. The most common passage used to discuss righteous anger is John 2:13-17, where Jesus purges the temple. Jesus was certainly angry, but it was a zealous anger (2:17).
According to Micah 6:8, the LORD requires three things of man:
A zeal for justice will naturally lead to anger when injustice is done. We should be angry when God’s name is profaned. We should be angry when immorality prevails. We should be angry when any injustice is done!
That being said, we must balance justice with mercy. Our anger should be directed at injustice and evil, not individuals. Thoughts, not thinkers. Sins, not sinners. Our fight is not against flesh and blood (Ephesians 6:12).
Now the works of the flesh are evident: sexual immorality, impurity, sensuality, idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, rivalries, dissensions, divisions, envy, drunkenness, orgies, and things like these. I warn you, as I warned you before, that those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God.
As mentioned before, anger is a very serious and dangerous emotion. It is no surprise then, that it is listed with the works of the flesh in Galatians 5. So when does anger become sinful?
- Anger becomes sinful when it is rooted in a desire for revenge (Romans 12:17-21).
- Anger becomes sinful when it is man-centered (James 1:19-20). Notice that James does not say, “Do not get angry.” He says, “Be slow to anger.” In verse 20 he speaks of the “anger of man”. Our anger over injustice is not to find its ultimate source in our own sinfulness, but in God’s holiness. It is to be zealous for God’s glory, not for our own desires.
- Anger becomes sinful when it remains for an extended period of time (Ephesians 4:26-27). Yes, you are to be angry over injustices, but sustained and intense anger is not good for the soul. Too much will drive you into sin.
- Anger becomes sinful when it leads to other sins. Anger that makes you curse is not righteous anger. Anger that causes you to demonize the people who hold the view you fight against is not righteous anger. Anger that causes you to lose your joy in Christ is not righteous anger.
Even with rightful zeal, we must be sure that our lives show the fruit that the Spirit has gifted us with. These fruits are listed directly after the works of the flesh listed above:
But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law. And those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires.
Just as a healthy fear of God leads to an immovable faith in God and healthy guilt over sin leads to victory over sin through Christ, righteous anger against immorality leads to a desire to see those bound by it delivered.
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