Think with me for a minute on the topic of anger.
When was the last time you experienced anger? Was it last week? Last night? This morning? And was your experience one that resembled a volcano erupting? Or was your experience more of a silent slow-burn? Was your anger directed toward a specific individual or organization? Were there any outcomes or consequences of your anger? Was your anger helpful to the situation or to the people involved?
If you answer those questions honestly, you might draw the conclusion that you have a problem. Well, you are in good company, because we all have an anger problem. While anger can be demonstrated in multiple ways through different personalities and situations, the bottom line is that this is something we all tend to struggle with.
And let me be clear from the beginning: the Bible does speak of a kind of righteous and good anger that we should have over the injustice and sinful brokenness of this world. But righteous anger is not the subject of this post. I want to address sinful anger, and I want to argue that this a sin that Scripture is sufficient to address.
Defining Anger: Righteous vs Sinful Anger
In his excellent book Good and Angry, David Powlison provides a good definition of anger: “Anger is the way we react when something we think important is not the way it’s supposed to be. Anger simply expresses with particular force and emotion our negative evaluations.”
We can think of righteous anger as something we are angry about that grieves and angers God. Sinful anger, on the other hand, is unfortunately more common with us. It tends to ignite when we don’t get our way or when our pride is assaulted. In fact, I would venture to say that most of the anger we personally experience on a day-to-day basis falls under this umbrella.
Where Does Anger Come From?
Anger, like all of our emotions, does not exist in a vacuum or come out of nowhere. Mike Emlet writes, “Our emotions are tied to our hearts, our inner nature that is living either for God or against God in every moment. What is in our hearts toward God directly affects our emotions, our words, and our actions.” The Bible speaks in the same way. Jesus says in Luke 6:45, “A good person produces good out of the good stored up in his heart. An evil person produces evil out of the evil stored up in his heart, for his mouth speaks from the overflow of the heart (CSB).”
Our hearts serve as the central processing unit for our entire beings. The heart drives, directs, and governs our emotions, our actions, and our words. And this is why we need the Scriptures to speak into this area of our lives. Scripture is sufficient to deal with our anger because only Scripture can rightly diagnose the root problem.
How the Scriptures Speak to Anger
Here are four ways in which Scripture speaks to anger.
1. Scripture calls anger what it is, namely sin. Often we use more subtle and less offensive terms when describing our sin, but the Bible doesn’t seem to go there. Anger, at the end of the day, is saying, “I want my way!” It is selfishness, uncapped and unleashed. You are placing your desires and motives at the very center of the universe. You are placing yourself on the throne that is meant to be occupied by Another. This is sin. When you get upset and anger starts to brew internally, a good question to ask is this: What is it that I am wanting so badly right now? What is my heart treasuring above all else in this moment?
2. Scripture focuses on the root problem––the heart. You can spend time on surface solutions and behavior modification, but the change you seek will be short-term unless you get to the root of the problem. Scripture teaches that the heart is the real problem in this anger equation. Jesus’ teaching ministry, not surprisingly, was heart-focused. He asked questions about outward behavior to show the inward problem. All of us experience various difficulties coming at us from the outside, but the inside of us determines how we respond. And we can respond to these difficulties (traffic, disruptive child, etc) in a godly way or an ungodly way.
3. Scripture reminds us of our identity in Christ. Anger demands that my will be done. It demands your life for mine. The gospel turns this thinking completely around and provides an opposite and better approach. The Scriptures instruct us to no longer live for the kingdom of self; we have been transferred by God's grace to the kingdom of Christ (Colossians 1:13). Here we are free to live and serve King Jesus and others instead of ourselves. So when we are tempted to sinful anger, remember that we are not our own, that we are new creatures in Christ (2 Corinthians 5:17), bought with a price to live under His lordship (1 Corinthians 6:20). It’s not about us anymore: we have been saved for something greater. God saved you so that you would be a trophy of His grace.
4. Scripture provides help in producing biblical change. Since only the Scriptures can make a right diagnosis of the problem, only the Scriptures can provide a road map for growth and change. Repentance is not simply a one-time thing at the point of our conversion. Instead, the entirety of the Christian's life is to be marked by continual repentance and faith towards God. We are to strive towards holiness with grace-enabled effort by putting off the old man and putting on the new (Ephesians 4:22–24). Remember what God has done for you in Christ and heed the Scripture's call to repentance, confession, and forgiveness.
Christian, do you struggle with anger? Be encouraged that there is great hope for you in Christ and through His Word. God has graciously provided both for you.
Sean Gould serves as Pastor of Member Care at The Church at Brook Hills.