When it comes to the Christian walk, anger can sometimes be complicated. Many Christians feel that anger is sinful, as we are called to be gentle and meek as Jesus was. A good Christian will always turn the other cheek in every situation, never defending themselves or engaging in contention. We see how our loved ones and the people around us can hurt and be hurt out of anger and declare anger to be a tool of the enemy.
This kind of mentality stems from a twisting of the Word and a misunderstanding of the purpose of anger. Yes, anger can be contentious, hurtful, and even dangerous, but this is not its inherent identity. God has a divine purpose behind it, just as He has a purpose for every emotion He has given us. We don’t have to hide from it and it is possible to understand it.
Is Anger Sin?
Just as the fall of man in the Garden of Eden caused the perversion of the earth, it also caused the perversion of man, his thoughts, and his emotions. It’s true that emotions can lead us to sin when we allow them to guide us instead of the Holy Spirit, but that does not make those emotions sinful themselves. It all depends on what you’re believing.
Emotions are a bi-product of what’s going on in your mind. If you find yourself experiencing a painful or negative emotion, such as anger, trace it back to what thought spawned that emotion in the first place. You can control your emotions when you control what you believe. Ephesians 4:26 says,
Be angry, and yet do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger…
Notice how this verse presents experiencing anger and sinning as two separate actions. This proves that God does not view anger as inherently sinful and being angry does not have to lead to sin. He created us to feel emotions – including anger – so we should not be ashamed or critical of feeling it.
The Caveat of Anger
Now you may be thinking, “Surely you’re not giving people free rein to give in to their anger and lash out?” Of course not – that lashing out is a separate choice that they’ve made and intentionally hurting others is always wrong. Let’s keep reading in Ephesians 4:
…and do not give the devil an opportunity.
Feeling angry is not itself a sin, but when you allow that anger to control your actions and lead you to say and do hurtful things to others, then you are in sin. It may feel justified in the moment, but that is a lie from the enemy. Booting the Holy Spirit out of the driver’s seat of our lives and replacing Him with our fallible human emotions only leads to ruin.
The enemy is always going to try to get you to put yourself first in every situation – your feelings, your opinions, your desires – and if someone encroaches on or opposes those things, then you have grounds for doing whatever you want to them. He thrives on sowing division and isolating you from your fellow believers. If you’re not careful, you’ll look back and see that, in your anger, you have pushed away every single person in your life.
Psalm 37:8 says,
Cease from anger and abandon wrath; Do not get upset; it leads only to evildoing.
Even in the midst of anger, you should not let your mind be clouded. God did not create us to be slaves to our emotions. We don’t have to lash out and “get back at” those who have wronged us.
Seeing the Difference
Here is a practical example. Say you have a roommate who has a bad habit of stealing your food from the communal fridge. At first, it was one or two items, so you didn’t consider it worth confronting them about, but then one day you come home to all of the groceries you had just bought eaten and the remnants piled on the kitchen counter for you to clean up.
Your disbelief turns into indignation that they would blatantly disrespect you like this and as you contemplate having to clean up their mess and re-buy all of those groceries, you feel that indignation give way to outrage. You know they’re home and you want nothing more than to stomp into their room and scream at them until they beg for your forgiveness.
The enemy wants you to unleash your fury on them, without regard for the future of your relationship, the spiritual health of your own heart, or even if they truly deserve it. But because you have been born again, you can be better than that.
Maybe you have to take a few moments to calm down, but when you do confront them, you should aim to do so respectfully, even though they have not respected you. How we treat others, as Christians, is not determined by how they first treat us. No matter what, God calls us to act out of love because He loves us.
What God Says About Revenge
Our aim cannot be to “get even” or gain justice for ourselves. Romans 12:19-21 says,
Never take your own revenge, beloved, but leave room for the wrath of God, for it is written: ‘Vengeance is Mine, I will repay,’ says the Lord. ‘But if your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him a drink; for in so doing you will heap burning coals on his head.’ Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.
Our job is to be kind and loving no matter how they treat us. We can’t be concerned about whether this person gets their just desserts. What kind of testimony of God’s love would that be if we reacted out of fury and hatred towards them? In their eyes, we would be no better than the rest of the world. Ephesians 4 continues further regarding anger in verses 31 and 32:
All bitterness, wrath, anger, clamor, and slander must be removed from you, along with all malice. Be kind to one another, compassionate, forgiving each other, just as God in Christ also has forgiven you.
How can we hold any sin against someone else in the face of the powerful and undeserved forgiveness we have received through Christ? Let us remain humble and allow God time to work in their life. Even if it doesn’t look like it on the surface, they cannot see God’s grace through you and not be changed. If you want a more complete picture of this concept, read Matthew 18:21-35.
From Anger to Bitterness
Read Ephesians 4:26 again. Let’s focus on the second part of the verse: “do not let the sun go down on your anger.” What does this mean?
When you don’t confront the cause of anger in your heart and seek reconciliation with the person – or if that is not possible, release the anger to God – your heart becomes hardened and that anger turns into bitterness.
Essentially bitterness stems from unforgiveness. It poisons your heart against that person or thing that upset you and makes it much harder to show God’s love to them. Hebrews 12:15 says,
See to it that no one comes short of the grace of God; that no root of bitterness springing up causes trouble, and by it many become defiled.
Describing how bitterness “defiles” is a strong picture, but it’s true. You may think that by holding on to that unforgiveness, you are punishing that person who hurt you, but the person who is truly being hurt is you.
It Doesn’t Stay With Just You
Bitterness has a nasty habit of clinging to those around you as well. Your foul mood tends to spoil the moods of those you come in contact with, and if you decide to gossip about the person who hurt you and slander their name, suddenly that negativity is spreading, perhaps far beyond your intention. James 1:19-20 says,
You know this, my beloved brothers and sisters. Now everyone must be quick to hear, slow to speak, and slow to anger; for a man’s anger does not bring about the righteousness of God.
Bitterness does not bring about the righteousness of God. By clinging to that old anger, you are handicapping your effectiveness in life and in service to God. You may not even notice the weight of it you’ve been carrying it so long, but if you finally decide to surrender it to God and allow Him to heal your heart, the difference will be like night and day.
How to Break Free From Bitterness
The best way to prevent bitterness from defiling your life is to keep it from taking hold in your heart in the first place. Be diligent when you experience anger to address the source and work through it. Matthew 5:21-24 says,
‘You have heard that the ancients were told, “You shall not murder,” and “Whoever commits murder shall be answerable to the court.” But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother shall be answerable to the court; and whoever says to his brother, “You good-for-nothing,” shall be answerable to the supreme court; and whoever says, “You fool,” shall be guilty enough to go into the fiery hell. Therefore, if you are presenting your offering at the altar, and there you remember that your brother has something against you, leave your offering there before the altar and go; first be reconciled to your brother, and then come and present your offering.
Be quick to seek reconciliation with whoever angered you. God values peace and unity among His people and we are called to value what He values. What is more important, our personal pride and injured feelings, or upholding God’s will in our lives and the lives of those around us?
But what if the person isn’t interested in, or simply refuses to engage in reconciliation? Psalm 55:22 says,
Cast your burden upon the Lord and He will sustain you;
He will never allow the righteous to be shaken.
If we cannot achieve peace with the person, we aren’t doomed to simmer in anger forever. God wants to free us from all burdens, including anger and bitterness. Surrender the anger to Him. Trust that He can heal the injury in your heart and even eventually restore that relationship. Every time the enemy tries to get you to reignite your irritation, immediately re-surrender it to God. It may take a few, or even many, tries, but every time you lay it down at God’s feet, it will get easier until you no longer find yourself picking it back up again.
Does God Get Angry?
A common image of God, even among some Christians, is the angry judge on a throne in heaven, glaring down at the earth with a lightening bolt lifted, ready to smite any person who dares sin against Him. Of course, we know that image is far from reality, but if we look in the Bible, we do see God express anger sometimes.
It’s vital to note that never does God get angry at people directly. He always directs His anger at people’s sin because it separates Him from His beloved children. That’s the whole reason why He created a system based on sacrifices to cover their sins in the Old Testament and sent His Son to pay for every sin in completeness in the New Testament. His end goal was always in pursuit of a relationship with us.
God’s anger is fundamentally different than man’s. He never acts out of selfishness, demanding retribution to make Himself feel better. Acting in anger is also never His first choice. Psalm 86:15 says,
But You, Lord, are a compassionate and gracious God,
Slow to anger and abundant in mercy and truth.
God’s first choice is always love and mercy. He never delights in disciplining His children, but He knows that sometimes it’s the only way for us to grow to be more like Him.
Anger’s Role In A Christian’s Life
We shouldn’t be afraid of anger. God placed it in us along with every other emotion, but like those emotions, when we allow it to lead us and determine our actions rather than the Holy Spirit, we will inevitably fall into sin. Be diligent to pursue peace with everyone around you and leave retribution in God’s hands. God will see your faithfulness and reward you.