December 16, 1984
Bethlehem Baptist Church
John Piper, Pastor
SATAN SEEKS A GAP CALLED GRUDGE
Put off your old nature which belongs to your former manner of life and is
corrupt through deceitful lusts, and be renewed in the spirit of your minds, and
put on the new nature, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness
Therefore, putting away falsehood, let every one of you speak the truth with his
neighbor, for we are members one of another. Be angry but do not sin; do not
let the sun go down on your anger, and give no opportunity to the devil.
The emotional life of God and his children is very complex. The inner workings of
God's heart and the hearts of his saints are not simple.
For example, Exodus 34:6 says that God is "slow to anger" and Psalm 103:9 says
that God "will not always chide, nor will he keep his anger forever." Yet Ps. 7:11
says that "God is a righteous judge and a God who has indignation (or anger) every
day." In other words, every day God's anger is rising slowly toward some,
decreasing toward others, and sustained in fury toward others. In his infinite
complexity God experiences the absence, the rise, the presence and the fall of
And yet he is a "God of peace" (1 Thess. 5:23; Heb. 13:20). The hurricane of his
wrath against faithless men will never beat itself out on the beaches of eternity (Rev.
14:10; Mt. 18:35f). And yet God is not the slave of his anger like a man who seethes
with bitterness every day -- because he is a God of peace. The hurricane of his
wrath is somehow swallowed up in the great calm of the divine mind -- like the firing
of cosmic pistons while the engine idles smoothly and quietly, or like the churning of
massive generators far inside the dam sustained by a great reservoir of deep, calm
water. We can only grope for flashes and images of the rising, falling, perpetual,
propitiated wrath of God. His heart is infinitely complex (Psalm 90:11).
It's not surprising then that the hearts of God's children should be complex, and that
God's instructions to us about anger should require great spiritual sensitivity. Surely
this is part of the reason why Paul speaks of a renewed mind and a new creature in
Ephesians 4:23-24 before he teaches us about anger in verse 26. Let's look for a
moment at these foundational verses before we talk about anger.
Verses 22:24: "Put off your old nature which belongs to your former manner of life
and is corrupt through deceitful lusts (or: "is ruined through desires of deceit"), and
be renewed in the spirit of your minds, and put on the new nature, created after the
likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness." Notice the contrasts. There is
an old nature and a new nature (or old man and new man). One is to be put off; the
other is to be put on. One is corrupted; the other is created. The corruption of the
old accords with desires of deceit. The creation of the new accords with God in the
righteousness of truth.
old nature > new nature
put off > put on
corrupted > created
in accord with desires of deceit > in accord with God in righteousness and holiness
Note especially the word "created." We do not produce our new nature as
Christians. We were dead in trespasses and sins (according to 2:1) and were made
alive by God's sovereign grace (2:5). We were created anew (born anew!).
Ephesians 2:10 says, "For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for
good works, which God prepared beforehand that we should walk in them." Our new
nature is God's creation, God's workmanship. It is a supernatural work of grace.
But, we ask, if my new life in Christ is God's creation and workmanship, then what
is my task? Eph. 4:23-24 gives the answer. We are to put on this new nature. When
God creates in us a new heart, he does not cancel out our consciousness. We are
conscious hour by hour of choices -- will we follow the way of deceit or will we follow
the way of truth? The new creation is not the negation of choice, it's the
transformation of the heart that makes choices. The moral choices which you face
as a new creature in Christ are just as real and crucial as the choices you faced
before you were born again (i.e., created in Christ Jesus). The difference is that your
character, your nature, your heart, your will have been radically changed. The
source of choice, the root of your choosing is now. There is a new nature within.
So when Paul says, "Put it on," he means, "Act it out." If you have been created
anew after the likeness of God, clothe yourselves with godly garments. Your
clothing are what men see. So when Paul says, "Clothe yourselves with your new
nature," he means, "Make it visible in your attitudes and behavior." If the hidden
spring has been purified let the visible streams of your life run clean.
But of course if the spring has been purified the streams will run clean. If the tree is
good it will bear good fruit. Out of the abundance of the heart the mouth will speak.
Christian morality is the experience of an inner miracle. But the experience in
moment by moment living includes conscious choices to go the way of truth not
deceit. These choices are the fruit that signify a good tree; they are the words that
reveal the abundance of the heart; they are the clean streams that provide the
purified spring; they are the obedience that confirm your calling and election.
If we fail to understand Ephesians 4:22-24 we will surely go astray in what follows
about anger. The practical, nitty gritty, day to day living of the Christian life is the
experience of a miracle. If it were not, then all our moral choices and all our pursuit
of holiness would be done in our own strength; it would signify our own merit and it
would redound to our own glory. And the whole purpose of God to be glorified in his
creatures would fall. So there are immense things at stake in the ordinary issues of
truth-telling, and anger, and stealing which Paul deals with now in verses 25-28. We
will restrict ourselves to the problem of anger.
Verses 26-27: "Be angry but do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger,
and give no opportunity to the devil." Keep in mind that the general admonition is put
off the old nature and put on the new. Now the specific example of that is getting rid
of bad anger and only having good anger. In other words, when you are born again
you are given a new nature, you become a new creature; and Paul says here that
your newness will show itself in the way you experience anger.
Verse 26 makes at least two assertions about anger: 1) There is a time to get
angry; 2) the time to stay angry is short. Or: there are good grounds for getting
angry but no grounds for holding grudges. "Do not let the sun go down on your
anger" means, "Let the day of your anger be the day of your reconciliation" (Estius).
And if reconciliation is impossible, even so, do not stroke your wound, or cherish
revenge or hold a grudge. For Satan seeks a gap called grudge, and if he finds it, he
will enter and ruin life with all manner of bitterness.
Let's take these two points one at a time:
1) There is a time to get angry, and
2) the time to stay angry is short.
First, there is a time to get angry.
"Be angry but do not sin." Not all anger is wrong for man. But some anger is clearly
wrong. Verse 31 says, "Let all bitterness and wrath and anger … be put away from
you." What's the difference between good anger and bad anger?
I would suggest two things that characterize good anger:
1) it is based on God and
2) it is mingled with grief.
James 1:19-20 says, "Let every man be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger,
for the anger of men does not work the righteousness of God." In other words, we
should be slow to anger because the anger which rises quickly is very likely to be
mere human anger which will not accomplish God's righteousness. But if we are
slow to anger, if we rule our spirit and consider the matter carefully, then our anger,
if it comes, may be the very anger of God. That is, our anger may be owing to the
fact that God's character is dishonored not ours, and God's aims are resisted not
just ours. In short, good anger is based on God not just ourselves. Its target is sin
against God, not just assaults on us.
The second thing that characterizes good anger is that it is mingled with
The one instance where Jesus is said to get angry is Mark 3:5. Jesus was in the
synagogue on the Sabbath about to heal a man's withered hand. The Pharisees
were adamantly opposed. It says, "Jesus looked around at them with anger, grieved
at their hardness of heart."
Last week I was reading a book whose teaching is so wrong, so harmful to the
church and so injurious to God's glory that I got so angry I wanted to tear it in half. I
think condition number one for good anger was satisfied -- it was for God's sake. But
that's not enough. I had to pray that God would give me the kind of grief for the
author that Jesus felt for the Pharisees. "He looked around on them with anger,
grieved at their hardness of heart."
Here is where we fail so often.
Our grief over the sinner gets burned up in the zeal of our anger against the sin. A
person does something wrong and we get angry, but there is no grief over the
person's hardness. We express our indignation for his sin, but we show no longing
for his softening or reconciliation. This is natural but it is not good. As long as there
is hope for change, good anger should not only be directed against sin but also be
mingled with grief for the sinner.
So there is a time to get angry -- that's the first thing verse 26 teaches: "Be angry
but do not sin." But the time to stay angry is short -- this is the second thing the
verse teaches: "Do not let the sun go down on your wrath." This does not mean that
Eskimos at the North Pole may hold a grudge for six months while the sun is up
and natives at the equator may only hold one for twelve hours. It means that anger,
for all its possible legitimacy, is a dangerous emotion and should not be nurtured
into a grudge. Anger is the moral equivalent of biological adrenaline. It is good and
healthy to experience periodic secretions of adrenaline in reaction to dangerous
situations. But a steady flow would damage the heart. So with anger. It has
damaged many hearts because it was not put away, but nurtured again and again
into a life-destroying grudge.
According to verse 27 this is what Satan is watching for -- the gap called
If there is any way that Satan can assist you to hold a grudge he will do it. For there
are six goals of Satan which are greatly advanced when professing Christians hold
Ever since Genesis 3 Satan's goal has been to make us put ourselves in the place
of God. "When you eat of the fruit of the tree your eyes will be opened and you will
be like God." Nothing helps in holding a grudge like thinking too highly of ourselves.
The more exalted we are in our own eyes the more justified we will feel in holding a
grudge against the person who offended us. If Satan can succeed in making a
grudge feel natural or justified he will have gone a long way toward his goal of
making us put ourselves in the place of God.
Satan aims to make us act as if we were judge and not God.
Romans 12:19 says, "Do not avenge yourselves, beloved, but give place to wrath, for
it is written: Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord. No, if your enemy is
hungry feed him …" If we hold a grudge we act as though God were not a just judge.
We act as though we are the moral guardians of the world and if we don't hold this
wrong against this person, it's going to slip away into oblivion and a great injustice
will go unrequited. But this is sheer unbelief. Vengeance belongs to God. He will
repay. It is his business not ours. So again holding a grudge puts us in the place of
God -- just where Satan wants us.
Satan aims to make the cross of Christ look weak and foolish.
Notice Ephesians 4:32-5:2. "Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one
another, as God in Christ forgave you. Therefore be imitators of God as beloved
children. And walk in love as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us …" The
motive power that frees us from holding grudges is that in the cross of Christ God
satisfied his grudge against us and dropped it. So Paul says, forgive as God in
Christ forgave you. When we hold a grudge we cancel out the cross. We act as
though God did a foolish thing on the cross, since he dropped his infinite grudge
against us, but we are going to hold on to our little grudge against so and so. And
thus Satan brings the cross of Christ into contempt.
Satan aims to cultivate disunity in the body of Christ so that the grand
evidence for Christ's divine reality is shattered.
Proverbs 15:18 says, "A hot-tempered man stirs up strife, but he who is slow to
anger quiets contention." Short tempers and long grudges breed strife and disunity
in the church. But in John 17:23 Jesus said that unity in the church is a great
evidence to the world of his reality. So if Satan can preserve and deepen grudges
among God's people, he will have achieved a great goal -- the hiding of Christ's
reality from the world.
Satan aims to crush broken Christians until they are depressed into
Paul tells about an instance of church discipline at Corinth in which the offending
party repented. Paul counsels in 2 Corinthians 2:7, "So you should turn to forgive
and comfort him, or he may be overwhelmed by excessive sorrow. So I beg you
reaffirm your love for him." The burdens of life are so great at times that someone's
grudge against us can be the straw that breaks the camel's back. You can destroy
a person by holding a grudge against them -- the very work of Satan from the time of
Cain and Abel.
Finally, by holding a grudge Satan will help you destroy yourself.
Satan always throws away his tools in the end. He promises the moon and delivers
misery. When the unforgiving servant was thrown into jail, Jesus said to his
disciples, "So also my heavenly Father will do to you, if you do not forgive your
brother from your heart."
Which brings us back to where we started -- "from your heart," from your new
nature, the purified spring, the good tree. The only way to get victory over anger is to
put off the old nature corrupted by desires of deceit -- Satan's deceit, and to put on
the new nature, by acting according to the truth --
1) the truth that none of us is so exalted that we can justify holding a grudge,
2) the truth that vengeance belongs to God, he will settle all accounts;
3) the truth that the cross of Christ is the wisdom and power of God, not
4) the truth that the unity of the church is precious beyond words;
5) and the truth that it is possible by holding a grudge to commit spiritual murder
and suicide simultaneously.
The Son of God came into the world to destroy the works of the devil. Let's resist
the devil this Christmas with all the power of God by putting on the new nature
Christ came to create.