This article is part of our Preach the Gospel to Yourself Series. We know that phrases like “preach the gospel to yourself” are used so frequently in Christian circles that they can become Christian gobbly gook. You kind of get what it means, but don’t know how to actually do it. This series offers specific examples of applying the truth of the gospel to everyday circumstances. Don't miss the challenge steps at the end of each article! Read the other articles in this series here:
- “Preach the Gospel to Your Sin Struggles” by Lara d’Entremont
- “Preach the Gospel to Your Identity Crisis” by Kati Lynn Davis
- “Preach the Gospel to Your Loneliness” by Brittany Allen
- “Preach the Gospel to Your Insufficiencies” by Lauren Washer
For more help preaching the gospel to yourself, check out our Grounded in the Gospel Workbook.
When you think of an angry person, what image comes to mind? A bully in a violent rage lunging toward a victim? Two people in a fistfight? Someone plotting revenge? A bitter person issuing cruel verbal barbs toward others?
Would you describe yourself as an angry person?
We tend to think of the worst-case scenario, someone who is a monster—an Ursula, Scar, Maleficent, Wicked Witch, Voldemort, Sauron, Darth Vader, Emperor Palpatine, or The Joker. We don’t often think of ourselves.
But would you ever say you’ve ever felt or expressed any of the following?
Have you ever given someone the cold shoulder or the silent treatment? Gossiped or called someone names? Whined or complained? Manipulated to get your own way? Blamed another person or a situation instead of taking responsibility for your actions?
If you answered yes to any of these questions (and these are things we’ve all done), you’ve expressed a form of anger.
What’s Behind Our Anger?
My small group has been walking through the Sermon on the Mount this semester (Matt. 5–7). Throughout the sermon, Jesus shows the importance of considering not just one’s external actions but the heart, what’s going on inside the person. For example, when Jesus addresses murder (Matt. 5:21–26), he notes that the person who is angry with his brother, who insults him, and who treats him as less than is also guilty of sin. While you may not have committed murder, the heart of a murderer acts out of anger and does not value the life of another. Has this ever described your heart?
Sinful anger buds from false beliefs about ourselves and others. This may happen when we value something more than God or believe others don't have value or worth (or that they have less than we do). It can sprout up when we don't trust God's justice or perfect timing for justice or when we assume the worst about others and their motives rather than giving them the benefit of the doubt. Other times, our sinful anger results from believing that what we want and need is more important than what others want and need.
An Anger Heart Check
Now, some might be quick to note that there’s such a thing as righteous anger, and there is. For example, Ephesians 4:26 instructs us, “Be angry and do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger.” We can be angry and not sin, but how do we differentiate between sinful anger and righteous anger? Consider the following heart check questions about anger that I’ve adapted from counselor David Powlison’s X-Ray Questions:
- Is our anger in agreement with God and his Word about what we’re declaring wrong or evil?
- Are we expressing our anger in a way that is godly?
- Are we harboring thoughts of bitterness, replaying the offense, and letting our feelings about the person or situation fester? Or are we turning to the Lord with our thoughts and feelings?
- Do we have self-control, or are we unbridled, controlled by our impulses?
- While we might be angry about the right thing, what is our motivation or reason for being angry?
- Are we simply trying to manage our thoughts and feelings of anger? Or are we actually dealing with our hearts and thoughts at the root?
- Are we repentant and working toward forgiveness and peace?
How Do We Deal with Our Anger?
Suffering and sin often go hand in hand. In recent discipleship conversations with young women at my church, the ones who struggle with anger the most also have a lot of hurt in their stories. Betrayal. An adulterous spouse. A verbally abusive mother. Emotional neglect from their parents. Anger is an appropriate response for the person hurt by such abuse, neglect, or betrayal.
However, it’s not unusual for us to sin in response to our suffering. We may rage against everyone in our path. We may engage in self-destructive behaviors—from drinking to self-harm to eating disorders. Or we may give the cold shoulder or act passive-aggressively in order to punish another or exact some sense of felt justice.
So if this is us, where do we go from here? How do we deal with our anger?
We can’t address what we do not identify
We must acknowledge what we feel and investigate what our feelings express about our beliefs and worldview. Our anger reveals what is important to us. It reveals what we value, desire, or fear. What does your anger express about your beliefs and values? If your anger and the thoughts and beliefs associated with it are sinful, confess those things to God. We have his promise of forgiveness and the comfort that he does not look on us with condemnation (1 John 1:9; Rom. 8:1)—so turn to him. He is like the father of the prodigal son, waiting and looking for the sinner to come home to him (Luke 15:20).
We can’t change without motivation
In all of this, do you actually want to deal with your anger? Is there repentance and a motivation to change? Are you willing to strip away any attempts to minimize your behavior or blame others for it and to look honestly at your heart, thoughts, and actions? What are your motivating reasons for doing these things? How does the Lord factor into your motivations? We need the Spirit to work in our hearts to motivate us to change, so appeal to him for his help. Ask God to give you the desire to take a next step.
We can’t work through our anger if we do not trust God
I’m not advocating a “let go and let God” mentality here. But as I disciple young women struggling with anger, I see common trust issues. Do we trust God to comfort us in our pain? Do we trust God to act justly (and in his perfect timing)? Or do we seek our own form of vigilante justice instead? Do we trust him with the emotional debts we feel others owe to us? Do we trust what he says about our value, our righteousness in Christ, and our identity?
When you close your eyes, what image comes to mind when you think about God? What does that express about how you view him? If we do not trust God, perhaps we need to grow in our knowledge of him and his character, for we cannot trust and love someone we do not know. If this is where you are, read through Ephesians or one of the Gospels. As you read, identify what the text says about who God is. Or, if you want a resource to help you learn more about the character of God, check out None Like Him by Jen Wilkin, The Knowledge of the Holy by A.W. Tozer, or Gently and Lowly by Dane Ortlund.
We can’t move forward if we don’t deal with false beliefs
Examples of false beliefs I’ve seen include “forgive and forget,” “forgive yourself,” or equating forgiveness with trust and reconciliation. We’ve imbibed many false messages about anger and forgiveness, even within the church. Studying Scripture for ourselves is essential in helping us understand anger rightly rather than clinging to common false beliefs. Know God’s Word—the truth—for yourself. As you read it, the Holy Spirit will convict you of sin, point you to Christ, and teach you how to apply the truth to your circumstances.
Hope for Your Anger
In all of this, we as Christians are not hopeless as we deal with anger. We have a God who knows all things and sees all things. Every injustice and every hurt—he cares about all of it. He understands the heart and thoughts behind our anger, and he’s not overwhelmed or put off by what he knows (which is everything). He cares for sinners, and even in our wickedness, he sent Christ to die so that we could have a relationship with him (Rom. 5:6–8). If we confess our sins to him, he forgives us with no behavioral residue. He accepts us despite any guilt or shame we feel.
Furthermore, he equips us to obey him (2 Pet. 1:3), so even as we struggle with self-control, forgiveness, or selfishness, we do not do so on our own. We have his help and his power to change and become more like him, but we must love and want him more than our anger. As Frederick Buechner writes, "Of the Seven Deadly Sins, anger is possibly the most fun. To lick your wounds, to smack your lips over grievances long past, to roll over your tongue the prospect of bitter confrontations still to come, to savor to the last toothsome morsel both the pain you are given and the pain you are giving back—in many ways it is a feast fit for a king. The chief drawback is that what you are wolfing down is yourself. The skeleton at the feast is you.”
Trade Anger for Trust
Sisters, let us endeavor to address our anger so that we’re not eating ourselves. But more importantly, let’s address our anger because of a love for God and a desire to point others to him. We cannot fix the brokenness of this world or avoid feeling angry at times since we live on this side of the fall. But we can entrust ourselves to the One who judges justly, knowing he loves us and is bringing about the restoration of all things in his perfect timing.
Preach the Gospel to Yourself Challenge
- Questions to Ponder: What are the most common circumstances where you experience anger? What false belief are you cherishing, or what are you valuing more than God in that circumstance? Resist the temptation to self-justify and embrace the gospel for hope.
- Truth to Remember: We have a God who knows all things and sees all things. Every injustice and every hurt—he cares about all of it. He understands the heart and thoughts behind our anger, and he’s not overwhelmed or put off by what he knows (which is everything).
- Action to Take: Confess your anger to a trusted friend, family member, or counselor. Ask for help discerning the answers to the questions to ponder, looking for the root of your anger instead of trying to white-knuckle your way out of it.
Meet the Author
Ashley Chesnut serves as the Associate Young Adult Minister at The Church at Brook Hills in Birmingham, Alabama, and she’s the author of It's Not Just You: Freeing Women to Talk About Sexual Sin and Fight It Well. She has a Master of Divinity from Beeson Divinity School and a Certificate of Biblical Counseling from Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary. When she's not at the church or meeting with girls, you can probably find her at the farmer's market or trying some new local restaurant.