As we grow in grace and become ever-more conformed to the image of Jesus Christ, we wondrously, inevitably find that sin is loosening its grip on us. Sins that once tormented us are now mere irritations; temptations that once consistently overwhelmed us now arouse little interest or enthusiasm. We find to our delight that God is faithful to his promises and that he has been using every circumstance to conform us to the image of his Son.
There’s more to this process of sanctification. Even before we put sin to death, we discover an increased awareness of what our sin is, what it does to us, and how it affects others. We stop making excuses for our sin and confront it as the evil it truly is. But not always and not all the way. From observation and hard experience I think there is one sin more than any other that we tend to continue to justify. It’s the sin of unrighteous anger.
We delude ourselves into believing that our anger is righteous, that it is just the same as God’s white-hot anger against all that is evil. Sometimes it is, perhaps, but far more often it is not. It may be a sinful reaction to justified anger or a sinful reaction to unjustified anger. Either way, what we often do is excuse and explain it in a way we don’t with most other sins.
When we commit sexual sin, we usually blame ourselves. We understand that our lustful hearts have permitted us to desire what is not ours, then to set our eyes on what we should not be looking at, and from there to march deeper into sin.
When we commit theft, we usually blame ourselves. We understand that a lack of satisfaction in Jesus Christ has led to a deep discontentment, to longing for something God has not given us, to actually taking it for ourselves.
And on it goes. We sin and when we later assess ourselves we see how we bear the full blame.
But I think anger is often different. When we sin in anger, we tend to absolve ourselves of blame by pleading the circumstances around the anger. So we blow up at our child, we raise our voice, we fling an insult. But when we’re challenged by our spouse or child or even our own conscience we point to the circumstances. “If she hadn’t been disobedient, this never would have happened.” So really, you see, it’s her fault. We scream an insult at the driver who cut us off in traffic. We use one of those four-letter words that surprises us (not to mention the rest of our family) as we hear it coming from our mouths. But in the silence that follows, or over the gasps from the back of the van, we insist, “He cut me off! He could have killed us!” It’s not our fault, but his.
When it comes to the sin of anger, we can always find an explanation that exists outside of us. We can always dump this sin in the lap of a husband or wife, a child or stranger. Failing that, we can plead fatigue or hormones or waking up on the wrong side of the bed or something—anything!—else.
But the Bible doesn’t let us off so easily. “What causes quarrels and what causes fights among you? Is it not this, that your passions are at war within you” (James 4:1)? Unrighteous anger does not originate in circumstances, but in sinful hearts. “You desire and do not have, so you murder. You covet and cannot obtain, so you fight and quarrel” (2). The responsibility for your unrighteous anger does not fall on anyone but you. There is no excuse for this sin or any other. Thankfully–praise God–there is forgiveness for those who confess and repent.