God is Angry
Paul said, “Be angry and do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger, and give no opportunity to the devil (Ephesians 4.26-27).” This is interesting: Paul says we must be angry. Jesus said, “Everyone who is angry with his brother will be liable to judgment (Matthew 5.22).” What’s going on here? Clearly, there is an anger that we should have, and an anger that we shouldn’t have. Thinking through the context of Paul’s words is, I think, particularly helpful in trying to straighten this out.
Ephesians 4.4-6 says, “There is one body and one Spirit—just as you were called to the one hope that belongs to your call— one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all.” Ephesians 5.1 says, “Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children.” Throughout the book, Paul repeatedly makes clear that every command he gives to live holy lives can only be obeyed by God’s children who are filled with and driven by His Holy Spirit. In other words, in order to imitate God, we need God.
So then, when we come to chapter four verses twenty-six and twenty-seven of Ephesians, it can be clearly inferred that we’re supposed to be angry because, in some sense, God is angry. Now, in order to emulate the anger of God, we must know the nature of God’s anger. I think probably the way we can know it, at least insofar as our finite minds are capable, is by asking the question, “What makes God angry?” To answer this question, let’s walk through the Bible and consider a few passages in which God is angry, trying to discern some common threads that run through and connect these verses. Then, we will consider what these truths mean for us.
Psalm 7.11, 17: “God is a righteous judge, and a God who feels indignation every day… (17) I will give to the Lord the thanks due to his righteousness, and I will sing praise to the name of the LORD, the Most High.”
1 Kings 11.9-10: “And the LORD was angry with Solomon, because his heart had turned away from the LORD, the God of Israel, who had appeared to him twice and had commanded him concerning this thing, that he should not go after other gods. But he did not keep what the LORD commanded.
2 Kings 17.17-18: “And they burned their sons and their daughters as offerings and used divination and omens and sold themselves to do evil in the sight of the Lord, provoking him to anger. Therefore the Lord was very angry with Israel and removed them out of his sight. None was left but the tribe of Judah only.”
Matthew 21.12-13: “And Jesus entered the temple and drove out all who sold and bought in the temple, and he overturned the tables of the money-changers and the seats of those who sold pigeons. He said to them, ‘It is written, ‘My house shall be called a house of prayer,’ but you make it a den of robbers.”
Romans 1.18, 22-23: “For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth. (22-23) Claiming to be wise, they became fools, and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal man and birds and animals and creeping things.”
That was a very small sampling of what we read about the anger of God in the Bible. Much more could be quoted. What’s the common theme of these passages? Answer: in each one, the thing that triggered God’s anger was that His holy character was defamed by the disobedience of man. As you read other passages about God’s anger, you find that the LORD is violently opposed to the defamation of His name, and often enacts violent judgment on groups of people or individuals who continually walk in the way of disobedience.
A question you may have at this point is, “I’ve trusted Christ, and I’ve been told that I’m covered in His righteousness. Are you saying that God is still angry at me because I’m still a sinner?” Let me put you at unease for a moment by answering yes and no to that question.
First, ‘no’ in the sense that yes, you are forgiven in Christ, if in fact you’ve put your faith in Him. There’s no more condemnation for you, according to Romans 8.1. His love for you is unchanging.
But ‘yes’ in the sense that God still hates the defamation of His name. The fact that you are completely forgiven in Christ if you’ve put your faith in Him doesn’t mean that God hates your sin any less. There’s a way to talk about God’s unchanging love for us that cheapens His holiness. I think that the church has suffered because, as a whole, we’ve been so quick to affirm God’s love for His people – as true and right as that is – at the expense of affirming His hatred of our sin. We can fool ourselves into thinking that “There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus” means that God doesn’t care about our sin anymore. That’s not true. Did Christ die for no purpose? No. Christ died because God hates our sin. That’s what the cross tells us. Because Jesus has taken the punishment for your sin and given you His righteousness, believer, God loves you with an everlasting love. But He is still holy, and your sin is still unspeakably offensive to Him. He is not angry “with us” in the sense that He’s going to destroy us because we’re sinners, but He’s opposed to everything in us that does not glorify Him. I’ll try to clarify that further in a minute.
Now we can deal with the original passage in question. When Ephesians 4.26 tells us to “be angry and do not sin”, it’s telling us to hate what God hates; namely, the defamation of His name. Sin, in ourselves and in others, ought to make us angry. That’s because we ought to love what God loves; namely, the praise of His name. So, our love for God ought to make us violently opposed to anything that dishonors Him.
This highlights a radical difference between believers and unbelievers: through the work of the Holy Spirit, believers become increasingly God-centered, and learn to love what He loves and hate what He hates. Conversely, unbelievers are man-centered, and they only ultimately love themselves.
This is also, I think, a key difference between anger that is sinful and anger that is not sinful. Man-centered anger is rooted in pursuing our own passions and desires and dreams. Man-centered anger says, “you’re messing with my kingdom in my universe; you’re not treating me the way I deserve to be treated” and reacts accordingly. On the other hand, God-centered anger is rooted in a deep passion to see God glorified in everything. God-centered anger says, “you’re messing with God’s kingdom in God’s universe; you’re not treating Him the way He deserves to be treated” and reacts accordingly. Do you see the difference? The question is whether we believe that God is God or we are god of our world. When we believe that God is God, we can’t help but begin to hate whatever defames His name and love whatever makes Him look great. When we believe that we are god, we hate whatever keeps us from getting what we want and makes us look bad, and love whatever helps us get what we want and makes us look great.
By way of application, let’s ask God to make us more Spirit-filled and God-centered, so that we will come to hate sin as much as we can in this life. And let’s resolve that we take whatever drastic and spiritually-violent action is necessary to fight the old, sinful man in our hearts until he begins to starve to death. We have to ask ourselves if we care enough about the glory of God to do that. We also have to ask ourselves if we care enough about other people to let them know when they’re walking in the way of sin that God hates. Godly confrontation may be awkward or difficult, but I think that our hatred of sin should occasionally cause us to lovingly, humbly call out sin as we see it in our brothers and sisters in Christ.
And by way of encouragement, I want to remind you that according to Romans 8.31, you and I have the ultimate sin-hater on our side. I believe that means that God is committed to helping us be as happy as we can in Him; therefore, He is committed to increasingly ridding our hearts of anything that would keep us from enjoying Him as much as we can on earth. As we fight our sin with hatred, and as we seek to exhort others to fight the good fight of faith, all in the strength that He supplies, I believe we can rest in His promise from Ezekiel 36.27-29a, which says, “I will put my Spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes and be careful to obey my rules. You shall dwell in the land that I gave to your fathers, and you shall be my people, and I will be your God. And I will deliver you from all your uncleannesses.”