Three Taverns Church

Self-Righteous Anger


“Self-righteous anger also can be very enjoyable.”
Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions, Step 6

Some character defects are harder to give up than others; self-righteous anger is a character defect I hold on to very tightly. Just this weekend I ran into a situation that brought out feelings of self-righteous anger. While part of me feels sick that the situation exists, there is another part of me that wants to hold onto that self-righteous anger because it feels empowering. I don’t like feeling powerless. I don’t like feeling blown about by the events which surround me and pass me by. Being angry in a self-righteous way gives me the illusion of control over situations which are really beyond my control. My anger becomes a rock I cling to in times of stress.

Unlike fear, which is easily recognized as something that holds me back from life accomplishment, self-righteous anger is a psychological ‘wolf in sheep’s clothing’. It appears helpful but is actually caustic and toxic. It is easier to want to get rid of the obviously detrimental character defects I have; getting rid of the seemingly beneficial ones is much harder.

In John 2:13-17 Jesus seems to have a bout of self-righteous anger when He cleared the Temple courts:

“When it was almost time for the Jewish Passover, Jesus went up to Jerusalem. In the temple courts he found people selling cattle, sheep and doves, and others sitting at tables exchanging money. So he made a whip out of cords, and drove all from the temple courts, both sheep and cattle; he scattered the coins of the money changers and overturned their tables. To those who sold doves he said, “Get these out of here! Stop turning my Father’s house into a market!” His disciples remembered that it is written: “Zeal for your house will consume me.”

It is tempting to read this account and cast myself in the same role as Jesus: I must set things right that are ‘obviously’ wrong in my world. Of course, I’m not God; Jesus Is. Jesus is sinless; me…not so much.  All authority in heaven and on earth was given to Jesus; I have the authority to publish a few sales reports for my company every week. Jesus had the right to have zeal for His Father’s house but I’m not Him. That’s not to say that I cannot discern right from wrong, know when boundaries are crossed, and work for justice and peace. I think it means I have to acknowledge that even when others are wrong, I am not ‘right’; all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God. I cannot approach a situation in anger, because when I’m angry I assume no fault and place the blame solely on the other person(s). I cannot be angry with someone else while also acknowledging my own culpability, and that’s where my self-righteous anger really breaks down. I may think I’m ‘right’, I may be ‘justified’ and my anger may make me feel empowered and in control, but at the end of the day I’m just another sinner in need of a Savior. I have no authority to self-righteously judge anyone else in anger.

Do you struggle with surrendering self-righteous anger to God?

6 thoughts on “Self-Righteous Anger

  1. FYI: Jesus’ anger in the temple was righteous anger. It was not self-righteous anger. Perhaps you were saying that in your explanation.

  2. Bob, I have a couple of questions for you. First, would you mind explaining your use of the acronym “FYI”? Second, I think you are making a good point in distinguishing between ‘righteous anger’ and ‘self-righteous’ anger; would you mind expounding on that a bit further for our benefit? Thanks!

  3. I am happy to direct you and your readers to a couple of resources concerning the topic of Righteousness vs Self-righteousness and Righteous Anger vs Unrighteous Anger.

    First, let me give you the first paragraph from the book COUNTERFEIT CROSS by James P. Shelby. Chapter Ten: Righteousness vs. Self-righteousness. I found this on the internet at I have typed out the first paragraph for your sampling. I encourage those interested to go to this webpage and continue reading. I found it to be beneficial to my understanding of the issue.

    “Scripture makes an important distinction between a righteous behavior that originates from the flesh resulting in self-righteousness and that which originates from the Spirit resulting in a God honoring righteousness. Self is involved in the practice of both; however, the determining factor as to whether or not the righteousness is acceptable to God is dependent on the source from which it is derived. If the flesh is the source of the righteousness, it produces pride. If the Spirit is the source, it produces humility. For in both cases, the source of the righteousness rightly deserves the glory, for it is solely responsible for what it produces. Therefore, in the practice of a righteousness that originates from self, man is glorified; in the practice of a rightousness that originates from the Spirit, God is glorified.”

    The second resource I would like to direct you to is at
    /1008_articles/anger_righteous_or_unrighteous.html. The article is entitled “Is Your Anger Righteous or Unrighteous.? by David A. Holden. David is the Practice Director for Wellspring Christian Counseling in St. Louis, Mo. In his article he mentions the example of Jesus’ angry behavior in the temple. Here is a sample of his message:

    “Righteous anger flows from issues such as being sinned against, experiencing injustice, a righteous jealousy, or when God is being mocked. When Jesus chased the money changers out of the temple (John 2:12-16) He was driven by a righteous anger….Jesus’ anger flowed from a righteous anger and His respect for God’s place of worship, God’s integrity and His character.” (It was all about GOD)-parenthesis is my comment.

    “Unrighteous anger flows from issues such as pride, selfishness, fear and anxiety, unrighteous jealousy, and unmet, self-centered expectations….” (It’s all about US)-parenthesis is my comment.

    “In dealing with your own personal anger, the first question you must honestly ask yourself is, ‘Is my anger a righteous anger or an unrighteous anger?’ That is, ‘Is my anger founded in a God-centered direction, having God and His glory as the central issue and focus, or is my anger founded in a self-centered direction, having my own selfish desires and self interests as center stage?’…”

    “If your anger is of a righteous root, the answer is still to go before God and seek His guidance and wisdom (largely through His Word) in how to handle your anger in a righteous manner. Remember that a righteous anger may become unrighteous by the way in which we handle the situation….”

    Hope these resources are helpful.

  4. And FYI = For Your Information. 🙂

    This was a great post. I find myself in the same predicament sometimes, getting righteously angry at the behavior of others in my life, but instead of turning that angry energy over to God so that He might direct my steps and give me the words to address the injustice, I take it upon myself to set forth an attitude of moral superiority and condemnation. And what gets lost in the mix? Love. I can’t love those that hurt me when I am so wrapped up in loving myself and my position. Because, honestly, I’m usually not “right”, either. 🙂

    • LOL, thanks! I know what “FYI” means, I guess I was just hoping for an explanation of the use of an acronym that suggests the kind of moral superiority you talk about in your comment…which is great, by the way, and gets right to the heart of the matter.

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