What’s the Difference Between Sinful Anger and Godly Anger?

Like everything else in our lives, our emotions have been discolored by sin. Most emotions reflect a blend of both self-centeredness and goodness. If we are waiting for a moment of selfless purity to express our anger, it will probably never happen. However, knowing that we are flawed can lead us into deeper dependence on the One who gave us emotions in the first place. The Holy Spirit residing within us helps us monitor and learn from our emotions.

When monitoring our anger, it is important to understand that much of our anger is fueled by a hatred of injustice, whether real or perceived. Anger over injustice reflects the core longing for justice we all share. We are incensed when life seems unfair. We can know, however, if the anger we feel is sinful or godly by considering the provocation, goal, motivation, and timing of our anger.

Selfish anger is provoked when we believe we’ve been treated unjustly or unfairly. We want something, we don’t get it, we feel deprived, and now someone is going to pay for having treated us this way (James 4:1-4). The goal is revenge. When driven by vengeance, we demand that someone pay now for the injustice we’ve suffered. We impatiently demand immediate execution of justice according to our specifications, and refuse to allow time for God to work in the hearts of those who have offended us (James 1:19-20). Our anger becomes a caustic acid intended to burn those we feel have burned us unfairly. When offended, we can be ruthless, hard, unreasonable, and devoid of mercy in our response.

Conversely, godly anger is provoked in us when we witness persistent violations of God’s standards of justice (Psalm 119:53). There is an appropriate time to be outraged over those who hold God in contempt and mar the beauty of His creation. The goal of godly anger is to warn the person who has breached God’s divine law so that once exposed they can have the opportunity to change (Ezekiel 3:18-21). This kind of anger is like iodine, an ointment intended to purge infection and promote healing in the recipient (Proverbs 27:6). It is painful at first, but in the end, it soothes and heals.

Godly anger is motivated both by the love of Christ that works in us to extend His love to others (2 Corinthians 5:14), and by the fear of His coming execution of perfect justice (2 Corinthians 5:11). Godly anger is marked by a confidence in God’s longsuffering character (Psalm 86:15; 2 Peter 3:9), knowing that only He is qualified to carry out vengeance equitably. Godly anger refuses to resort to personal acts of revenge now, but is willing to wait for God’s wrath to be poured out against evil in His good time (Psalm 73:16-19; Romans 12:19).

Because we are to be like Christ in every way (Ephesians 4:1; 1 John 4:17), by implication we are also called to reflect His righteous anger. If we are to stand for the Father the way Jesus did, we need to stand for the things He’s for, and against the things He’s against. Godly anger reflects our Father’s passion for justice. While we rely on Him to execute final justice (Romans 12:19-21), godly anger motivates us to work for fairness and justice on behalf of those who are oppressed (Micah 6:8; Romans 12:17-18). It reflects dependence and confidence in God as the ultimate Judge who always executes justice rightly (1 Peter 2:23).

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