Anger in the Life
of the Christian
 Anger in the Life of the Christian by Daniel C. Sartor, Ph.D.

Anger is a common human emotion associated with intense displeasure.  For most of us, anger is
accompanied by strong bodily sensations, such as going flush, feeling hot, and muscles tension.  It has
both psychological and physiological aspects, affecting the whole person, mind and body.  For this
reason, some people are greatly intimated by their own anger, fearful of losing control of their feelings or
behaviors.  Some are greatly intimidated by the anger of others, avoiding it at almost all costs.  Others
enjoy the power they feel when they are angry or when they display their anger and rage.  Undoubtedly,
we all have been deeply wounded by another’s wrath, or we have regretted the pain we’ve caused by
words or actions expressed in our own anger.  For these reasons, anger is often associated with broken
relationships and sin.
Many Christians are aware of the Bible’s warnings about anger, including Jesus’ words in Matthew 5:22
that an individual who is angry with a brother is subject to judgment.  Yet, our emotion of anger is also
one way in which we reflect God’s image!  This isn’t to say that we reflect God’s character each time we
are angry, but that being angry, in and of itself, is not inherently sinful.  The Bible speaks often of God’s
anger; therefore, anger must in some way and at some times be good.  It is an appropriate reaction to
certain life events.  Even Jesus felt and expressed anger (see Mark 3:5 and John 2:13-17), and the
Apostle Paul instructed believers in Ephesus, “In your anger do not sin…” (Ephesians 4:26; NIV).  So how
do we discern when our anger is healthy—perhaps even righteous—and when it is unhealthy—or even
sinful?
First, simply avoiding or denying our anger is rarely effective as a long-term solution.  Anger builds up like
air in a beach ball that is submerged under water.  Eventually, we are not strong enough to keep it below
the water’s surface, or the currents of life sweep it out from under our controlling grasp.  Our anger, like a
beach ball launching out of the water, erupts from under the tenuous surface of counterfeit self-control,
which is based on denial or avoidance.  Spiritually speaking, if we deny or minimize our anger, we are
denying our own sin to the degree that we are inappropriately angry.  In such cases we ultimately cheat
ourselves of much needed grace.  
On the other end of the continuum lie the behaviors of unhindered venting.  Many approach anger like the
extreme internal force of a pressure cooker, believing that one needs only activate the release valve—that
is, openly vent their anger—to keep the machine from exploding from too much internal force.  Of course,
many wounds have been inflicted by this false notion of “being honest.”  The Old Testament clearly
states, “A fool gives full vent to his anger” (Proverbs 29:11).  Not only is such behavior dangerous and
irresponsible, but when we handle anger this way, we also miss out on the life experience Christ
intended for all of his followers.  Walking in the Spirit is evidenced by love, joy, peace, patience, kindness,
goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.  These are not just descriptors of behavior, but
these are traits of the Christian’s new nature and life, encompassing both being and doing!  Once again,
we must understand that walking in the Spirit, as Jesus walked, includes being angry at times, lest we
dare assert that Jesus himself was not walking in the fullness of the Spirit when he felt or expressed his
anger.
Perhaps, then, the answer lies not in these extremes, but in honest self-awareness and in effective
communication that includes healthy self-expression:
 First, it can be very constructive to acknowledge and accept the basic fact of our anger, reflecting on the
apparent causes of our anger.  To the best of our knowledge, are the causes of our anger reasonable?  
How would we imagine Jesus to respond to the precipitating events of our anger?  
 Next, it is wise to consider what we do with our anger.  Often times we are guilty of intensifying our anger
by recalling past injustices or personal injuries, in short we fuel the fire of our anger through rumination.  
And whether or not we compound our anger by ruminating, it is beneficial to consider the ways in which
we express our anger in both word and deed.  What painful words do we say or what edifying words do
we withhold when we’re angry?  What actions do we commit or withhold when we’re angry?  For
example, do we tender acts of revenge through physical violence, by making threats, and by gossiping, or
do we simply emotionally withdrawal when mad?  It is easy to mistake the expressions of anger for the
emotion of anger itself, and a fundamental tenet of nearly every approach to anger management entails
distinguishing the emotion from our choice of behavioral expressions.  
 To address the spiritual side of the issue again, honest and humble confession will often be an
appropriate response to these exercises in reflection and consideration.  And the process of spiritual
growth is usually slower than we would like, requiring us to be persistent in a regular practice of self-
reflection and confessing our faults—these are foundational exercises, or disciplines, of cooperation with
the transforming work of God’s Spirit in our lives.  
 Finally, we may learn to use our anger to grow in healthy assertiveness and self-expression for the aim
of deepening our relationship with others.  Our anger, in a very real sense, betrays our heart.  It provides
powerful evidence of what really matters to us.  The question to ask at this juncture is: “If I’ve expressed
my anger in ways that are destructive to myself and to others, how might I express my anger in words and
deeds that are constructive, that entail healthy boundaries, and that facilitate healthy intimacy with
others?”  
Perhaps God the Father is the quintessential model for expressing anger in a way that opens the way for
intimate relatedness.  The most graphic expression of God’s anger for our sinful rebellion is found in the
brutal consequence that God the Son paid through taking on flesh, suffering, and submitting to a
gruesome death.  The full and bitter cup of God’s wrath was poured out on the sinless Son of God at the
cross.  God’s holiness is fearsome, awesome, and truly unthinkable; there is no denying the magnitude
of his anger.  Even so, His love is no less astounding and all the more marvelous!  For in the cross he
expresses with remarkable clarity the most divine and winsome love!  With God, the other side of his
anger is his love.  His love exists not in the absence of his anger but alongside it and, as it stands, as the
greater of the two attributes for all who believe and trust in his love.  Indeed, he is slow to anger and his
lovingkindness endures forever.  Perhaps the ultimate answer for dealing with our human anger is to
humbly acknowledge it, to regularly consider the actions and motives of our hearts, and pursue his mercy
and forgiveness when we err in our anger.  For in the words of Jesus (Luke 7:47), “he who is forgiven little
loves little.”  Maybe the best way to engage our own anger is to be transformed in the interpersonal and
spiritual experience of love, seeking mercy at least as much as we seek effective behavior management.