Every last person on earth.
That is who deals with sinful anger. Don’t believe me? This article will change that as we take a deeper dive into what the Scriptures have to say about sinful anger and some of the misconceptions that contribute to the church’s misunderstanding of what anger is. When we fail to understand anger in a biblical way, it becomes impossible to see the damage it does in our churches and our hearts.
To understand it biblically, we must define it biblically.
Defining Sinful Anger
So how would you define sinful anger, if asked? Is it an outburst? An out-of-control heated emotional response? Or is it something deeper, rooted in the heart? I would contend that the majority of people would define anger incorrectly, and therefore would not recognize the symptoms of anger in their lives. We must understand anger from a biblical perspective so that we can realize how to recognize it in ourselves, see how pervasive it is, and understand how offensive it is to the Lord.
Robert Jones, in Uprooting Anger: Biblical Help for a Common Problem, defines sinful anger in the following way: “A whole-personed, active response of negative moral judgment against a perceived evil.”
Stop and re-read that again before we break it down.
“Whole-personed” means that this sinful position begins in the heart, with all of its functions of thought, emotion, and action. “Active” means that we pursue it. A “negative moral judgment” is one where our intellect decides to create a standard, but this standard is only against a “perceived evil”, meaning that we decide in our minds what that standard is. So to explain further, imagine you establish a rule in your heart, a law that if anyone else breaks, you are going to punish them for it. That is meant by a whole-personed, active response of a negative moral judgment against a perceived evil. You have become judge, jury, and executioner in your sinful anger.
If we define anger this way, we begin to see why every last person on earth deals with this sin. We all want to judge! We all, at times, dethrone God in this way! We are all guilty of major violations of God’s moral authority, His justice, and His divine prerogative. Ephesians 4:26 says, “Be angry and yet do not sin…,” and if you’ve been reading carefully, I have been defining our problem as “sinful” anger. The reason for that is this very verse. We are commanded to exhibit anger, righteous anger or indignation, and not sinful anger. Dr. Jones’ definition of anger gives us clarity as to why sinful anger is sinful and sets parameters for how our anger can be directed toward righteous means. For if we direct our “negative moral judgment” against true evil, something that God has declared evil by His righteous standard, then we can stand in righteous judgment, so long as it remains a position and not an action (i.e. not “whole-personed”).
Remember, God will execute vengeance against evil according to Romans 12:9. That is not our right or our role. We can hate sin in this world, but we can trust that God will deal with it according to His perfect timeline and His perfect justice.
So how do we then break down thinking about the grossness of sinful anger to rid ourselves of this practice? We look at sinful anger for what it is, recognize it, and actively work to rid ourselves of it.
When You Sin in Anger You Attempt to Steal God’s Moral Authority
Sinful anger begins in the soil of the heart long before any outward results manifest themselves. It begins with our heart and mind making a decision that we are going to establish a law, a rule, a standard. These laws or standards can be anything that we decide that keeps us on the moral high ground or keep us comfortable in our preferences, but importantly, they are disconnected from any God-given standard of Scripture. For example, if I decide that no one must violate my standard of personal space, or volume level, or cleanliness standards… None of those may be inherently bad, but they are not standards of divine righteousness, simply of fleshly preference. These standards are simply cognitive (that is, connected to what we think or know) decisions, disconnected from divine moral authority. They are the root out of which grows the fruits of judgment and wrath poured out on those who violate our heart’s laws.
Do you see it? Do you see how this is the root of the problem? How before any emotional expressions of wrath or even any outward signs of sinful anger appear, our hearts begin to set traps for our flesh, and for others to fall into so that we can then stand in a position of moral authority over them? It is all a deception, perceived righteousness, disconnected from God, and in outright theft of His moral authority.
When You Sin in Anger You Attempt to Steal God’s Justice
So the root begins to grow. Imagine now, someone comes along and either unknowingly or possibly knowingly violates your heart’s laws or rules. Perhaps they violate your standard of personal space, volume level, or standard of cleanliness, and now that law needs to be rectified before the court of your counsel. You have now become the standard by which others are to be judged. Righteousness and justice are now the standard of YOUR throne, and not God’s, in your life. You assume the authority of Psalm 89:14 for yourself and declare to the world that only through recompense to your heart will the violator receive your steadfast love and faithfulness. Now the fruit is beginning to take shape.
When You Sin in Anger You Attempt to Steal God’s Divine Prerogative
But it doesn’t stop there. You have stolen God’s moral authority, you have placed yourself in the seat of authority for justice, but the law cannot end there. It must be satisfied. Punishment must be administered, and vengeance must be poured out. THIS, my friends, is the fruit that most people recognize as sinful anger. Many say, “Well, I’m not an angry person, I don’t lash out violently against others…” But that is only a partial picture of sinful anger! Vengeance and wrath are just the visible fruits of a long-festering root in the heart. And as we already learned from Romans 12:9, we have no right to execute vengeance on anyone, for anything! Just the opposite. Jesus uses a parable of an unforgiving servant in Matthew 18:21 and following to describe one who had an incalculable debt forgiven by his master, only to turn around and exact vengeance on a friend who owed him a small sum. That servant’s story did not end well. And the example tells us, don’t be like that guy.
A Righteous Response to Sinful Anger
Having identified the root cause of sinful anger, the solution to any type of unrighteous behavior, or fruit, is to kill it at its root. Recognize the heart’s tendency to create personalized laws, rules, or standards that are disconnected from God’s righteousness. What does the rest of the world owe us? Nothing! We have no right to exact anything from anyone, and we are deserving of nothing other than God’s wrath. Only by the grace of God manifested in the person and work of Jesus Christ are we transferred from darkness and death to light and life in Christ. We are slaves, bought with a price, redeemed for good works, according to Ephesians 2 and Titus 3.
Sinful anger must never manifest in our hearts or our flesh. Be angry, yes, at violations against God’s law. But direct that anger, as we are called in Matthew 18 and Galatians 6, toward the loving restoration of those who have sinned against God, or toward the evangelization of the lost who are dead in trespasses and sins, and who are in desperate need of God’s intervening grace in their life, just as we once were. And if you find yourself overwhelmed with frustration, channel your frustrations to the only source of help and peace, to God Himself, who promises in Philippians 4:6–7 that if we take our concerns to Him, He will replace that emotional angst with a divine peace that passes all understanding, and you will be in such a state that sinful anger would be nearly impossible to experience.