Is Anger a sin?

It might be one of the most controversial episodes in the New Testament. Jesus enters the temple area and drives out all who were buying and selling there. The multiple reporting in the gospels raises speculation that this happened more than once, but the consensus is it’s the same incident being re-reported. Worshipers were being gouged on the price of sacrificial birds and on currency exchange rates. Jesus overturned the tables of the money-changers and the benches of those selling doves (Matthew 21:12). So, what is the controversy: did Jesus’ anger constitute a sin? The question has been debated for centuries but may be more relevant in our modern culture than ever before. The answer is no: His was righteous anger. But anger often is a sin.

It’s hard to imagine that recasting sinful anger as righteous anger has ever happened more than it does in this age of social media and politics that appear irretrievably broken by division. Simply put, if you disagree with it, you are allowed to be angry about it. And how you choose to display that anger, no matter how vicious, whether online or in-person, is justified because it’s righteous. So, what is sinful anger and what is righteous anger and how can we tell the difference? Let’s return to Jesus: His was righteous and not sinful because it was caused by an offense against God: “My house will be called a house of prayer, but you are making it a den of robbers.”

Anger isn’t something that happens to us. It’s our response to something else that has happened. So, it is completely within our control. That means righteous anger is a response to sin against God, not exploding at someone who says something on Facebook with which we disagree. Righteous anger is aimed at the issue, not at people. And our anger is righteous when our response produces the fruit of the Spirit: Love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. I don’t believe it’s a coincidence that the first fruit of the Spirit is love, and the last is self-control. They are both crucial to righteous anger and sandwiched between them are everything we should see as the result of righteous anger.

I learned in biblical counseling training that the cause of sin is pretty basic: we do what we do because we want what we want. When our desires come before God, we will do whatever we need to do to get what we want. Not getting what we want leads to sinful anger. With righteous anger, we do what we do because we want what God wants.

Perhaps the greatest modern example of this is the U.S. Civil Rights Movement of the 1950s and 60s.

Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and pastors and others in his inner circle took aim at the issue: racial segregation. They didn’t personally target the southern racist leaders that propagated it with sinful anger. They attacked the sinful institution of Jim Crow segregation with righteous anger. While King and the others were directly impacted by the issue, their fight was against the sin of racism that was harming a population of millions. They were jailed and savagely beaten. Yet they never uttered a word that looks anything like the standard social media vitriol we see today.

If your anger is about you, if it’s directed at another person, and it is displayed in a way that doesn’t include the fruit of the Spirit it is sinful. It’s the difference between righteous anger and self-righteous anger. We’re not Jesus, so we won’t be perfect at this; not all our anger will be righteous. When it isn’t, grace allows us to ask forgiveness and we are forgiven (we also need to make things right with the target of our sinful anger). Imagine what the world would look like if every believer took a breath and prayed for patience and guidance before hitting “post.”

My dear brothers and sisters, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry, because human anger does not produce the righteousness that God desires. James 1:19-20 (NIV)

— Pastor Jerry Bader

1 Comment
  • Misti Rose Rosa
    Posted at 21:51h, 09 October Reply


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