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Whenever you discuss anger, you want to distinguish between the proper form of it and all the others. Righteous anger does happen, and it’s okay to be mad about some things. Of course, if you desire to learn whether what’s coming from your heart is righteous, please read my article on that subject. One of the most effective ways to discern if your anger is redemptive is to ask the recipient of your anger: would they say that your words toward (or about) them are righteous?
They could be wrong in their explanation of your anger, but if your goal is righteousness, you should be willing to ask them if your anger is having a redemptive effect on them. Gospel-centered angry people have nothing to fear, nothing to protect, and nothing to hide. If we’re angry with someone or about something, we should be free to ask the opinion of the appropriate individuals as to how they “hear us” when we’re speaking against things.
There are other ways to assess your anger, but the big idea here is having enough self-suspicion to keep you from assuming that you’re right when you might not be. I’m not suggesting that your anger is sinful, but I am saying that you could be wrong, which is why community input about our lives is not just valuable: it could transform us into better people. Having competent, compassionate, and courageous friends who speak into our lives is relationship gold.
Sinful anger comes in many packages. If you’re open to the possibility of yours being on the wrong side of righteousness, I appeal to you to explore the many options and types of sinful anger. Most folks have a narrow category about this kind of verbal offense. If you ask them to talk about sinful anger, they will tell you about its louder forms. I’m speaking of volatile anger, i.e., road rage, throwing things, flipping off folks, etc.
These descriptions of anger do not usually consider all the less dramatic forms of this sin. These lesser iterations are many and varied. Of course, the most significant problem with not identifying a sin is that you cannot change. Imagine that: having an issue but not discerning it, which keeps you stuck in it. The lasting effect of any transgression is soul diminishing. You shrink into a lesser person than what you could be. It’s a spiritual entropy.
We should be transforming and renewing our minds each day. If we’re not aware of our self-sabotaging effects on our souls, we will not just decline inwardly, but it will diminish our relational possibilities. We can become toxic to others and never realize it. The right thing to do is to create proper sin categories for our attitudes, words, and actions. After reclassifying our anger biblically, we can see what we’re doing to ourselves and others, and there should be motivation to change.
Typically, when I talk to someone about the possibility of being angry, they usually respond along the lines of, “Oh no, I’m not an angry person. I’m just frustrated.” Do you see what they did? They believe my sinful anger diagnosis is wrong. They do not realize how they have rounded the corners off their anger and softened it just enough not to perceive it. Sinful frustration is sinful anger.
I have already addressed righteous anger and provided a way for you to self-diagnose that possibility within your community of friends. Now, I’m speaking of the many manifestations of sinful anger. One of the most popular infographics from our ministry is The Anger Spectrum, which I created to demonstrate how this sin can manifest in so many ways.
The descriptors of anger on the spectrum are not exhaustive but a sampling of how we can react to others in corruptive ways (Ephesians 4:29). Perhaps you can add your more common reactions to the list in the graphic as you look at the categories because I have not included them. We all have our preferential way of getting angry at people, places, and things.
Without understanding the gradations of anger, you will not perceive yours, which means you will not be able to change. Paul told us to put off our former manner of life, but if you don’t know how to identify destructive behaviors, you’ll not be able to put them away. How kind of the Lord to provide the insight we need to put off, renew, and put on Christ (Ephesians 4:22-24).
You could fit all the words in The Anger Spectrum into one basket and call it anger, regardless of the manifestation. Like there are shades of black, there are shades of anger. This kind of labeling is not a call to go “word police” on someone. Meaning, you don’t have to become hung-up on the label as long as you understand any variation is destructive.
You also don’t want to fall into the comparison trap: “My anger is smaller and less consequential than your sin of anger.” Just because you’re not the kind of person to throw a chair across a room or yell obscenities in congested traffic, it does not mean a smaller nail that put Christ on the cross is better. He died for all sins—any sin, big or small, and that makes you guilty as if you committed them all (James 2:10).
Some folks express their anger through impatience, apathy, dismissiveness, or frustration. These are the more refined manifestations of a singular sin. The more coarse and obvious ones do not typically characterize civilized Christians. Of course, the temptation with people like us is to dismiss our anger because it’s not as volatile, and the consequences are less dramatic.
Being blind to blindness is the worst possible condition of the soul. See Hebrews 3:7-8, 4:7, and 5:12-14. The comparison trap will trap you into self-justifications about how you respond to others. Once you remove the grievousness of your sin by watering it down, you will be less motivated to repent. Paul talked about the accidental Pharisee problem when he addressed the Corinthians.
Not that we dare to classify or compare ourselves with some of those who are commending themselves. But when they measure themselves by one another and compare themselves with one another, they are without understanding (2 Corinthians 10:12).
If you do feel the urge to compare yourself to anyone, compare yourself with Christ. He is the measuring stick by which you want to gauge your maturity. Comparing yourself with others may make you feel better. Comparing yourself to Christ is the Christian’s reality check.
What causes quarrels and what causes fights among you? Is it not this, that your passions are at war within you? You desire and do not have, so you murder. You covet and cannot obtain, so you fight and quarrel (James 4:1-2).
Don’t you love James? He did not mince his words; he called all anger murder. You see this in The Anger Spectrum. On the volatile end of the spectrum, you see physical murder, which says, “I don’t like you anymore, so I’m getting rid of you.” If you move to the other side of the spectrum, you see a milder but similar form of murder. It’s the silent treatment. It says,
I don’t like you anymore, but I’m a Christian. I will not physically disappear you, but I will treat you as though you do not exist to me.
There is no question that physical murder is a consequentially worse manifestation of anger on the anger spectrum. Of course, we want to factor in our sins’ consequences and steer from the more severe ones. But you don’t want to rationalize a refined sin into acceptability. Any form of anger is an offense against a holy God who will not be manipulated by trifling rationalizations.
Murder is how we, at times, communicate the sin of anger in our homes. While I don’t want to give myself over to nonredemptive hyperbole (Luke 14:26), I hope our children can see the wretchedness of their sin—regardless of how it manifests. If any sin puts Christ on the cross, I want to take all sin seriously, even the less consequential ones.
When I am impatient, I have found it helpful to think of myself as a murderer. When I see myself as a murderer, there is no place to hide or justifications to proffer. There is only one option: repent to those who experienced my version of anger.
Put off your old self, which belongs to your former manner of life and is corrupt through deceitful desires, and to be renewed in the spirit of your minds, and to put on the new self, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness ( Ephesians 4:22-24).
If you want to change, give anger the full credit it deserves. Name it and claim it. Once you’ve identified what you need to put off, you can move to the transformative stages of renewing your mind and putting on a new kind of person who is created differently from you (Ephesians 5:1). Rather than lounging around the pool of purposeless excuses, jump into the water of God’s cleansing Word (Ephesians 5:26) and be brutally honest with yourself. That is humility, which is the one condition that opens the door to God’s empowering favor on your life (James 4:6).
More than likely, you have not physically murdered anyone, but you have murdered in other ways. Once you get past the things you do to water down, hide behind, or make excuses for your anger, you’ll be able to find the restoration the Father freely provides to all humble people. Rather than guarding your reputation, your best call to action is to ask the Spirit of God to illuminate your mind to move you toward change.