The key to overcoming anger is what you say to your own heart (Proverbs 4:23), especially in seasons when your anger might be provoked. Instead of merely counting to ten, or to a thousand, an angry person needs to stop and fill his mind with biblical truth so that he can overcome anger in his heart and become a person of grace. When anger builds, these truths do not automatically come to mind. The angry person is suppressing these truths so that he can continue to feed, justify, and express his rage. He must learn in the crucial moments of temptation to set his mind on things above because he is united with Christ (Colossians 3:1-3). As soon as temptation comes, it is helpful to review the following truths and related Scriptures. These truths redirect our hearts from devilish anger to Christian grace.
I want something too much, which is idolatry (James 4:1-4).
We become angry when our desires are not met. What must you have to be happy? Must you be respected and appreciated? Comfortable? Successful? Must you have a stress-free life? We must give our desires to God as we seek our ultimate satisfaction in Him (Isaiah 55:1-2; Psalm 34:8). When we will sin to get what we desire or to be sinfully angry because our desires have not been met, we have made these desires into idols. See the personal application projects at the end of this booklet for an assignment to help you identify your idolatrous desires.
I am not God/Judge (Genesis 50:19; Romans 12:17-21).
When others wrong us, we sense that the balance of justice is out of kilter, and we want to make it right again. The angry person thinks to himself, “You wronged me, so you deserve to be punished.” The angry person can punish the guilty party through hateful speech, acts of violence, slander, theft, or more subtly through being cold, quiet and withdrawn. These expressions of anger are sinfully judgmental. James reminds us that contrary to what our sinful hearts may think, “The anger of man does not achieve the righteousness of God” (James 1:20). Our vengeful acts do not bring justice, but they compound sin. “Never pay back evil for evil to anyone… Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good” (Romans 12:17, 21). Even worse, our sinful expressions of anger usurp God’s office as the judge. When others wrong us, it comforts us to know that God will bring justice to those who do evil, even when human systems of justice fail. As we trust Him, we don’t need to take our own revenge or play God.
God has been very gracious to me in Christ (Ephesians 4:31-32; Matthew 18:21-35).
When we realize that each of us is “foremost (chief) among sinners” (1 Tim. 1:15) whom God has forgiven an overwhelming debt, it will move our hearts to show grace to those who have wronged us. Jesus tells the parable of the unmerciful servant who was forgiven a great debt, which would be billions of dollars in today’s money (Matthew 18:23-27), but he then sought his fellow slave who owed him what would have been thousands of dollars in today’s money, but a tiny fraction of what the first slave had been forgiven. The forgiven slave “seized him and began to choke him, saying, ‘pay back what you owe’” and then had his fellow slave cast into prison, ignoring his pleas for mercy (Matthew 18:28-30). Jesus warns, “My heavenly Father will also do the same to you, if each of you does not forgive his brother from your heart” (Matthew 18:35). When I dwell in my heart upon the hundred denarii debt, my brother owes me, I, like the wicked slave, become angry and want revenge. When I remember and meditate upon the mercy God has shown me at such a great price (2 Corinthians 9:8) by which Jesus paid my infinite debt on the cross, I cannot stay angry at my brother or sister (Ephesians 4:31-32).
God is in control and is doing good for us (Genesis 50:20; Romans 8:28).
After Joseph refused to judge his brothers, he added, “As for you, you meant evil against me,
but God meant it for good in order to bring about this present result, to preserve many people
alive.” Joseph acted graciously towards his brothers because he had sound theology.
He believed in a God who is sovereign over all things, even the evil done to us by others. Further, Joseph believed God was working through these events for good for His beloved people. As we have seen, angry people want to be in control and become upset when things don’t go their way. The angry person must submit to God, trusting that He is exercising His sovereignty for His glorious purposes and for our good. “The Lord has established His throne in the heavens and His sovereignty rules over all” (Psalm 103:19). When people fail you and circumstances go against you, God is at work. He uses trials to produce maturity and Christlikeness in His people (James 1:2-4; 1 Peter 1:6-7).
Remember who you are: a new creature in Christ (Romans 6:11; 2 Corinthians 5:17).
Angry people often feel stuck in their patterns of rage and are helpless to change. While it is true that unbelievers are enslaved to sin, those who are united with Christ by faith have been set free from sin’s bondage. We have died to sin once and for all and are now united with Christ in newness of life (Romans 6:4-7). We are now new creatures in Christ (2 Corinthians 5:17), no longer controlled by the flesh, but filled by the Holy Spirit who is producing His wonderful fruit in our lives (Galatians 5:13-23). The person who blows up in anger is going back to his old pre-Christian life. When he tells himself that he can’t control his anger, he is lying to himself and denying his new status in Christ. How we think of ourselves influences how we act. Paul’s first command in his epistle to the Romans is “Even so consider ourselves to be dead to sin, but alive to God in Christ Jesus” (Romans 6:11). The person who gets sinfully angry has forgotten his new gospel identity in Christ.
When we’re tempted to respond to people or circumstances with sinful anger, it is the renewal of our minds with these biblical truths that will empower us to walk in grace and humility.
*Adapted from the minibook Help! My Anger Is Out of Control by Jim Newheiser.