What is the biblical Christian response to people who sin? How should husbands and wives respond when their spouses sin against them? Is anger a biblical response? Should parents get angry with their children? Should church members get angry with sinning brothers and sisters? Are Christians to speak and act angrily toward others?
Many would argue that basic morality requires us to respond to those who sin with “righteous anger.” But I submit that the idea of “righteous anger” is badly misunderstood. Many people seem to think “righteous anger” means being angry with someone to give them what their sins deserve. They say, “That person sinned and his sin hurts or offends me or others. Therefore, I am angry with that person, and I have a right to be. I feel justified or righteous in my anger toward that sinner, and if my anger hurts or offends them, it's because they deserve it.” But, there is a huge difference between “self-righteous anger” and “righteous anger.” Self-righteous anger flows from someone who is thinking on the terms of the covenant of works (I'm going to repay that person according to what his sins deserve). Righteous anger flows from someone who is thinking on the terms of the covenant of grace (I'm going treat this person the way Christ treats me, even though they deserve to go to hell for their sins).
So, what is "righteous anger?" “Righteous anger” is “sinless anger.” The key passage is Ephesians 4:26, which says, “Be angry and do not sin.” When Scripture says “do not sin,” it means, “keep God's law.” 1 John 3:4 explains that “sin is lawlessness.” So, to be angry and “not sin” means to be angry while keeping God's law. Righteous anger is, therefore, lawful anger.
But what is God's law? In the broadest sense, God's “law” includes everything revealed in the Bible. In a narrower sense, the Ten Commandments summarize God's moral law. Romans 13:10 says, “Love is the fulfilling of the law.” Jesus says to “love your enemies” (Matt 5:44). Lawful anger is, therefore, loving anger.
But what is love? 1 Corinthians 13:4-7 says, “Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.” Therefore, when Paul says, “Be angry and do not sin” (Eph 4:26), he means “be angry and love.” Sinless anger is characterized by patience, kindness, and humility.
Some people may not think “anger” is compatible with the qualities of “love” described in 1 Corinthians 13 and in the moral law of God, but that's because they don't have a biblical definition of anger. Biblically speaking, “anger” is a policy of opposition to evil. "Righteous anger" is a resolute determination to oppose sin and sinners for their own good and for the good of those sinned against in order to manifest the glory of Christ. To “be angry and do not sin” means to be angry with a heart filled with mercy and grace toward those opposed. Sinless anger never seeks to harm or destroy the person, but to oppose that which is destroying or harming the person. This sort of anger is unnatural. It's supernatural. It's precisely the kind of anger Christ displayed when He cleansed the temple.
The words “be angry and do not sin” (Eph 4:26) describe righteous anger. Righteous anger is lawful anger. Lawful anger is loving anger. And loving anger is “other centered,” “gracious,” and seeks the good of others for the glory of God.