Note: This is Part 7 and the concluding post in a series of blog posts addressing the subject of anger—in particular sinful anger. Click the links for previous posts related to this series [Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4, Part 5 and Part 6].
After some introductory thoughts on anger in the first post, we have so far seen the first 5 of the 6 subjects pertaining to sinful anger namely, “What is Anger?,” “What is the Source of Sinful Anger?,” “Who are the Objects of Sinful Anger?,” “What are the Common Expressions through which Sinful Anger is Expressed?” and “What are the Destructive Consequences of Sinful Anger?” in the previous posts. In this post, we will be looking at the 6th and final subject pertaining to sinful anger.
VI. How can be delivered from Sinful Anger?
The main reason for seeking deliverance from sinful anger is this: God commands us to do so! A couple of passages that reveal this truth are found in Colossians 3:8, “But now you must also rid yourselves of all such things as these: anger, rage…” and Ephesians 4:31, “Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger…”
Other reasons such as getting rid of anger will result in happier relationships (while true) or that it will give the individual more peace in the heart (true as well) should not be the primary motivations to put away sinful anger. God has clearly said that we should seek to put away sinful anger and that should be enough! We need to always start with God and his commands!
And if the Bible commands us to put away this sin, it means we can overcome this sin by God’s grace. So, the question is this: How do we overcome this sin? Here are 6 suggestions that will hopefully be of help in our battle to keep putting this sin to death.
1. We must admit we have an anger problem.
I remember reading about a man who kept arguing with everyone that he was dead. So, his wife took him to a doctor to prove him wrong. The doctor asked the man, “Do dead people bleed?” The man answered, “No.” So, the doctor took a pin and pushed into the man’s hand and blood gushed out. The doctor then asked the man, “So, what do you think now?” The man replied, “I guess I was wrong. Dead men do bleed after all!”
You see, at times we are like that man. Everybody around us can see that we have an anger problem. But if we are unwilling to see it for ourselves, we will never seek deliverance. So, we need to ask the Lord to open your eyes to see clearly if we have an anger problem and then be humble enough to admit it.
Like David, we too must always pray, “23 Search me, God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts. 24 See if there is any offensive way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting.”
2. We must sincerely desire to be delivered from this sin.
It is one thing to admit that we have a problem. It’s totally another thing to want to get rid of it. Getting rid of sin—any sin for that matter is not an easy issue. We have 3 formidable enemies―(a) our own flesh that just will not yield easily (b) the devil who is out to shipwreck our faith will do all he can to thwart our effort toward holiness and (c) the world with all its anti-God thinking that aims to derail our faith as well.
Given the strong opposition, unless we constantly desire―literally keep craving for deliverance from this sin, we cannot conquer it. A lot of perseverance is needed and that will come only if we continually desire deliverance.
One way to cultivate an increase in our desire for deliverance is to constantly meditate on the holiness of God and the sinfulness of sin. Such meditation will greatly help us in cultivating an increasing desire in getting rid of this problem.
3. We must seek to change our thinking patterns.
As we studied in our earlier posts, the heart is the source of sinful anger [Mark 7:21-23, James 4:1-2]. So, if we seek to delivered from this sin, it’s not just about making some outward changes. If we want to rid this sin from the roots, we need to get rid of the wrong heart desires which are the source of this problem.
In Part 3 of this series when discussing about the source of sinful anger, we saw some examples of wrong thinking that leads to angry outbursts (It might be helpful to quickly review that before proceeding to read further).
In dealing with sinful anger, it is important to probe deeper and get to the root of the problem rather than simply cutting off some branches or pruning some leaves. We need to remember that anger is always the tip of the iceberg. The challenge is to look at the surface below.
All our actions are a result of our thinking. So, we need to replace stinking thinking with sanctified thinking. The Bible calls this as the “putting off” and “putting on” principle [Ephesians 4:22-24, Colossians 3:9-10]. So if we change our thinking, the actions will automatically change. That’s why Romans 12:2 reminds us that we need to be “transformed by the renewing of your mind.” We are also reminded clearly in Proverbs 4:23, “Above all else, guard your heart, for everything you do flows from it.” The mind and the heart refer to that part of us where the thinking is generated which eventually results in action.
The reason many of us continually struggle with anger is because we don’t want to deal with the deeper issues and why is that? Because we really don’t want to change our internal desires. We feel comfortable with our angry attitude even though at times there is conviction about this sin. So, we simply focus on some external changes. We want to get rid of this sin—but not totally—at least not-yet! Just enough changes as long as they don’t make us too uncomfortable! But such a thinking will lead to greater sins.
The only way to deal with this sin of anger or any other sin for that matter is to never hold back from pursuing a complete heart change toward that sin we want to get rid of. We need to remember that if it is hard to get rid of sin today, it only gets harder tomorrow! The longer we are in sin, the more harder we make it for ourselves to come out of it. That’s why the sooner we change our thinking patterns, the easier it becomes to overcome sin.
4. We must reflect on anger trigger points and wisely deal with them.
Proverbs 22:3 says, “The prudent see danger and take refuge, but the simple keep going and pay the penalty.” So, we need to be wise and reflect back on those times to see why we got angry. Such a reflection will help us to determine the causes better and thus deal with them more effectively. While it could vary from person to person, here are a few common trigger points that cause anger: Stress due to various issues [work, family, health], lack of sleep, unrealistic expectations, bitterness toward those who have offended us, impatience, not getting our own way, etc. The list can go on.
Each of us need to personally work through the trigger points that cause us to get angry. And once we identify them, we need to probe deeper to get to the heart motives that drive us to think those thoughts. And then we should examine to see if thoughts are biblical or unbiblical.
For example, if we get angry because we have failed to meet the expectations of someone, we need to ask ourselves why we get upset when people feel we have failed them. Is it that we are so desperately seeking the praise and approval of others and failure to get that response has resulted in anger? If so, then we need to ask ask why we are so desperate in seeking the praise of others? Is it pride that seeks others to speak highly of us? If so, we have identified the real cause of our problem. Then we can proceed to deal with it effectively.
The solution then to the above-mentioned scenario could then be along the lines of constantly remembering that the Christian walk is not about performance and seeking praise from people. It is about resting in the fact that we have a God who loved us while we were his enemies [Romans 5:8] and that nothing will separate us from his love both now and forever [Romans 8:38-39]. Knowledge of this fact should dominate our thinking and when feelings of anger arise as a result of not meeting the expectations of others [or self], we should reflect that “God loves me despite my failures and I can simply rest in that fact.”
We have now replaced “stinking thinking” of pride with “sanctified thinking” of God accepting us while we had nothing to boast about. And this type of humble thinking will help us from pursuing a life that constantly seeks the approval or praise from the lips of others!
The main issue is to analyze our weak points and probe them deep enough to get to the heart motives that drive us to respond in a sinful manner. It is a painful process—like peeling the various layers of an onion. More tears as each layer is peeled. But it is needed! And once we find the motives, we must strive to replace such wrong desires with desires that conform to the Scriptures.
5. We need to regularly meditate and memorize the Scriptures.
Jesus said in his high priestly prayer, “Sanctify them by the truth; your word is truth” [John 17:17]. The psalmist in Psalm 119:11 said, “I have hidden your word in my heart that I might not sin against you.” Paul said, “the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God” [Ephesians 6:17]. All of this means that the weapon the Holy Spirit uses to help us become more sanctified [i.e. more holy] and thus not sin against God is the word of God! The enemy, the world and the flesh cannot be conquered by us simply having a bible or even waving it! The contents of the Bible have to be absorbed so that it would influence our thinking and eventually our actions.
Unfortunately, meditation and memorization are strange words to many Christians. We are too busy to practice on these fundamental biblical principles. No wonder we are so vulnerable to sin. But if we truly take in God’s words and reflect on it constantly, we can put this sin to death.
Here is a suggestion. Go through these 7 blog posts and take just 6 verses dealing with anger. Meditate and pray over each verse every week for 6 weeks. That’s 6 verses in 6 weeks! Beats 0 verses! Then go for more. Expand to include other topics as well. And keep doing it for the rest of the earthly life. What a change that will produce!
Meditation and memorization of the Scriptures is an indispensable tool that will aid in the elimination of sinful thought patterns and thus sinful actions.
6. We need to give ourselves to heart-felt prayer.
While Scripture is God’s way of speaking to us, we need to speak to God as well if we hope to win this battle of conquering sinful anger. And prayer is the ultimate form of a humble display of our complete dependence on the One who can truly help us put this sin to death.
Through prayer we are in essence saying, “Lord, I cannot do this on my own. I need you so badly. Please enable me through your Spirit to win this battle. I want to please you and not sin against you. Please help me.” Jesus himself said, “Apart from me you can do nothing” [John 15:5b]. Nothing for God’s glory! That’s his point. Dealing with sin is a warfare. Without the help of Christ working through the Holy Spirit, we cannot successfully root out an angry spirit.
Where needed, fasting is another great way to get even more serious in this battle for holiness. If you have never fasted, start slow [even half-a-day where you skip breakfast]. Use that time for prayer, confession of sin—in particular the sin of anger, praising God for his mercies and meditation of the Scriptures. Let God know you are dead serious about getting rid of this sin. He will help you. For those interested in knowing more about fasting, here is a short article about fasting titled 8 Questions and Answers Concerning Biblical Fasting.
It is interesting to note that after giving us the source of our anger being the sinful desires of the heart in James 4:1-3, the writer goes on give the solution to this problem in James 4:6-10. He calls us to humble ourselves and submit to God through confession of sin accompanied with heart-felt sorrow and tears. And the promise is that he will come near to us—meaning he will hear our prayers! In our confession, we need to be open and honest.
Words like this should mark our prayers of confession and repentance: “Lord, it is my pride that caused me to lash out at so and so. I sinned against you and against so and so. I take full responsibility for my action. Please accept my confession. Forgive me Lord. Cleanse me with your precious blood. Help me Lord! I want to turn from this wretched sin.” We need to pray constantly because we never know when we can give into anger. It may even help to set reminders throughout the day to pray about this sin.
While we may be tempted to quit because we don’t see much change in our angry outbursts, let us remember the words of our Lord himself who said that we “should always pray and not give up” [Luke 18:1]. Prayer is an act of faith that storms into the throne-room of God again and again believing that we will receive his mercy and grace to meet life’s challenges—something we are commanded to do anyway, “Let us then approach [or keep approaching] God’s throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need” [Hebrews 4:16].
God invites [commands] us to come to him in prayer. The door is always open. Do we take advantage of this invitation? In a day there are 24 hours available to all of us. 30 minutes equates to about 2% of these 24 hours. Do we give at least 2% of a given day to the One who is worthy of our prayer and praises? Do we seek the One who alone can help us to live the life we are called to live? If we seek to win this battle over sinful anger, we cannot but give ourselves to persevering prayer crying out in faith to the One who alone can deliver us from this sin.
So, there it is. 6 suggestions that will hopefully help us in this battle. However, we need to believe that God will help us if we truly seek deliverance. If we don’t deal with this sin in a timely manner, we give the devil a greater foothold over our lives. That’s Paul’s warning in Ephesians 4:26-27, “26 “In your anger do not sin”: Do not let the sun go down while you are still angry, 27 and do not give the devil a foothold.” Anger that is settled in the heart over a long time will lead to great disaster. So, let us seek to cultivate a holy resolve to put this sin to death from this day forward.
And for those of you who are reading this blog and are feeling deeply convicted over your angry outbursts and the consequences you are experiencing as a result of those outbursts, let me offer a few personal words of comfort.
The Lord Jesus loves you despite your failures. He invites you to come to him. He wants to change you. Those relationships that have been damaged as a result of your anger may or may not change. I cannot promise. But this I can promise: As you pursue Christ and his will in this matter—he will grant you his peace as he changes you. He will grant you the joy of his presence even in the midst of dark moments. So, don’t give up. Christ is still in the business of changing hearts. Through the Holy Spirit, he will unleash his power to break sinful patterns even if they have been developed over a long time. Seek him in faith and you will never be disappointed. It’s only a matter of time before you see his face and in gratitude worship him for the rest of your life. So, keep fighting this good faith! Don’t lose heart! It will be worth it in the end!