In his letter to the Colossian believers, Paul recognized the danger that false teaching presented to the church. After normal greetings and summaries, Paul launches a new section in Colossians 2:8 where he gives them a strong warning.
"See to it that no one takes you captive through philosophy and empty deception according to the tradition of men, according to the elementary principles of the world, rather than according to Christ." (Colossians 2:8)
In this passage, Paul warns them, saying that certain ways of thinking are hollow and will deceive you, warning them against being held captive in these worldly ways and cheap tricks. This warning to the Colossian church is just as relevant to us today as it was then. There are numerous empty and deceptive ideas today that can capture our thinking. One of these dangerous lies that we hear today is this: “You are a victim.”
As with most of the lies that we hear, it is a perversion of something that is true. There are real victims in this world, and there are abusers who harm others physically, emotionally, or financially. That is a reality in this fallen world and a sin that God hates.
The Lord speaks out against oppression in Zachariah 7:9-10, "Dispense true justice and practice kindness and compassion each to his brother and do not oppress the widow or the orphan, the stranger or the poor, and do not devise evil in your hearts against one another." God commands all people not to oppress, harm, or abuse others. Nowhere in Scripture are these kinds of actions justified. If you are a victim and need to get out of a situation of abuse, seek counsel from an elder or pastor in your church.
On the other hand, there is a sinful and harmful thinking regarding victimhood that does not correspond to biblical truth. This is often known as the victim mentality.
The Victim Mentality Defined
What is the victim mentality? A victim mindset usually includes three types of thinking:
First, the bad things in your life are not your fault, but exclusively because of what other people have done to you. This mindset maintains that you are not responsible for your own actions and attitudes.
Second, a victim mentality also includes getting stuck in negative thought patterns. If you play the victim, you may be characterized by a “woe is me” kind of self-pity.
Third, the victim mentality sees the world through the lens of your own struggles. All the events of your life are orchestrated against you. Whatever happens in the world or in your circumstances, the victim mentality sees those circumstances as directed against yourself.
Victim mentality is a type of thinking that you must avoid, believing you can blame others for every problem, insisting you deserve better, and seeing the world only in relation to yourself.
What you must recognize is that you can be true victim and not have a victim mentality. You are not required to have this destructive thinking, even if you have been mistreated.
It is also true that you can have a victim mentality even if you are not a victim. Many claim victimhood because they “feel” like a victim, yet how one feels is not the measure of truth. We live in a postmodern psychologized age where “truth” is completely based upon individual definition and feeling. "Well, I feel like I'm a victim, therefore I must be a victim. My feelings mean that I am a victim." Feelings today are elevated to truth. It's the truth because I feel that way.
We must remember what scripture says about our feelings and whether we should trust them or not. Jeremiah 17:9-10 reminds us, "The heart is more deceitful than all else and is desperately sick, who can understand it? I, the Lord, search the heart, I test the mind. Even to give each man according to his ways, according to the results of his deeds."
We see here the idea that if our feelings are not to be ultimately trusted, victimhood is not something that we can claim just because we might feel that way. The issue then is not even whether you're a victim or not, but if you have a victim mentality. It's a matter of mindset.
This is the earthly thinking, the philosophy, the empty deception that the world is promoting: blame others, have a perpetually negative attitude, and think everything is about you. This victim mentality doesn't sound very appealing at all, but it's surprisingly attractive in many ways.
The Allure of the Victim Mentality
Why is the victim mentality so alluring?
First, if you believe you are a victim, you are not responsible. If there is something wrong in your marriage, it's not your fault, it's your spouse's fault. If there's something wrong with your kids, it wasn't your parenting, it's the kids’ fault. A victim mentality is attractive in this way: you can feel better about yourself because you're not the one to blame. You aren't responsible.
Secondly, those in pain and suffering receive pity from others. It is natural for people to take pity on those who have been victimized. People want to come alongside and help those who have suffered unjustly. There is real suffering in this world, and especially as those who follow Christ, we should show compassion for those who are in pain. That's why this mindset is so deceptive. When you play the victim, when you indulge in the victim mentality, your motivation may be to receive compassion and attention from others.
Third, victims have a perceived right to complain. The mindset that the world is against you makes it justifiable to air your grievances, to shout from the rooftops all that has happened to you. It makes the victimhood mentality attractive because you feel you have not just an excuse, but a right to complain.
Fourth, victimhood can come with a sense of belonging. You can bond with others who have a common “foe.” If there's someone else out there that is horrible or evil and all the victims are in the same boat, that brings a sense of community. That feeling of belonging is seductive, but entirely false and deceptive.
A book was recently written called The Rise of the Victimhood Culture, which points out that almost every class of people claims victimhood status. "Victimhood culture makes it hard to avoid wrongdoing. If you have any kind of privilege, the social world is full of peril. You always risk giving offense. Engage in small talk and you might be guilty of a microaggression. Cook a new dish or adopt a new hairstyle and you might be guilty of cultural appropriation. Teach about something unpleasant and you might be guilty of triggering someone. Express your religious or political beliefs and you might be guilty of violence. Whatever you do, you must do it in a way that is supportive of victims and reproachful of their oppressors."
While we may lament the cult of victimhood around us, the reality is that every person must fight this sinful and destructive thinking every day. Even believers can be captivated by this sinful way of thinking.
Are you taking on this mindset? Are you playing the victim? Do you fall into this type of thinking yourself? As believers, we need to be careful how we think and what influences we invite in our lives.
The Victim Mentality is Not New
Since the beginning of creation, from the first sin of Adam and Eve, our sinful nature entices us to do what is easy for the flesh, including adopting victimhood mentality. Going all the way back to Genesis 3, what did Adam and Eve do when confronted with their sin? They played the victim. “Well, Lord, it's this woman. She's the one to blame.” Then the woman said about the serpent, “He’s the one to blame.” Adam blames his wife, Eve blames the serpent, but notice what Adam says in verse 12, “The woman you gave to be with me.” Who is Adam really blaming here? Adam is blaming God.
In our sinful nature, we are quick to think this way.
We so much want to pass the blame, to not take responsibility for our own sin, that like Adam, we even go so far as to blame God for our sins.
While God is never to blame, you can often legitimately point to someone else's sin that preceded your own. Your husband says something unkind and so you lash out in anger. Does his sin excuse your behavior? No. Your wife doesn't respond well to your leadership in the home. Does that mean you get a free pass to sin? Not at all.
We can never legitimately, never biblically, use the victim card as an excuse to sin. We can never say, "Look, I am not to blame for my sin." Just like Adam and Eve, we all have a responsibility for our own actions, for our own statements, for our own thoughts.
The Victim Mentality Contradicts the Gospel
The victim mentality strikes against the very truth of the gospel. It is antithetical to the Scriptures’ teaching on sin. When a person sees himself as the victim, then he is not to blame; someone else is to blame. If someone else is to blame, then there's no repentance needed. Having a victim mentality works against the gospel because it undermines your understanding of your need for a Savior. Unbelievers who maintain victim status are cut off from recognizing their need for justification.
The victim mentality also works against the sanctification process for believers as they strive to become increasingly Christlike in all they do.
The victim mentality is dangerous because it hinders us from confessing and repenting of our sins so that we can enjoy a close walk with the Lord.
If a believer views himself as a victim, he justifies his sin to some degree and does not own his full culpability in what he has done. What results is partial repentance and a failure to mortify every element of sin in one’s life.
Seeing how the victim mentality works against the gospel, both justification and sanctification, we must guard against being captivated by such thinking.
How Should We Then Live?
- Take responsibility for your actions
To combat victimhood mentality in your life, start by examining yourself and taking responsibility for your actions. No matter what another person does to you, you are responsible for your response. The Holy Spirit dwelling inside believers empowers them to respond in a Christ-like, God-honoring way when attacked or frustrated. The other person will be responsible before God for their sins, and you will answer to God for yours. Take responsibility, learn, and grow.
“For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each one may be recompensed for his deeds in the body, according to what he has done, whether good or bad.” (2 Corinthians 5:10)
Judgment will come for “each one . . . according to what he has done,” not on what others have done. Each person is responsible for their own personal actions. Therefore, keep watch over yourself so that you avoid sinning at all costs.
- Accept that you are living in a fallen world
Ever since sin entered into the world, the world is full of difficulty, suffering, and injustice. That is a reality of life. As believers, we must do all we can to live in ways that are just and loving. We must never contribute to oppression in any way. Not only this, but we must also seek to promote what is right and just in the world around us.
That said, you will encounter situations in life that are not fair. You will face difficulty at times due to your own sin and failure, but you will also face hardships due to the sin of others. I guarantee it.
It is your responsibility, as a child of God, to respond in a way that honors the Lord no matter what happens to you, trusting that in the end, God will bring perfect justice.
Romans 12:19, “Never take your own revenge, beloved, but leave room for the wrath of God, for it is written, “VENGEANCE IS MINE, I WILL REPAY,” says the Lord.”
This world is not fair. That's a reality and you will face unfair things in your life, but do you trust that God is in control? Do you remember that one day perfect justice will be done? It is a fallen world and people sin against one another, but God is going to make all things right one day, and we can trust Him while we wait.
- Be passionate about the gospel
Paul was in house arrest in Rome as he wrote, "Now I want you to know, brethren, that my circumstances have turned out for the greater progress, the gospel, so that my imprisonment in the cause of Christ has become well known throughout the whole Praetorian Garden to everyone else. That most of the brethren trusting in the Lord because of my imprisonment, have far more courage to speak the word of God without fear. Some to be sure are preaching Christ even from envy and strife, but some also from goodwill, the latter do it out of love knowing that I am appointed for the defense of the gospel. The former proclaimed Christ out of selfish ambition rather than pure motives thinking to cause me distress in my imprisonment. What then? Only that in every way, whether in pretense or in truth, Christ is proclaimed and in this I rejoice, yes, I will rejoice." (Philippians 1:12-18)
What is Paul saying? People were sinning against him, but the gospel was going forth. That's all he cared about. That is what was important to him. He saw his circumstances, and even his critics as an opportunity for the gospel to go forth, and he rejoiced. He had joy in this situation.
Like Paul, you will avoid playing the victim when you are passionate about the gospel. When what you care about most is seeing Christ proclaimed, transgressions against you do not dampen your resolve, they only give you a greater passion for the love of Christ.
- Consider the example of Christ
If anyone had a valid claim to play the victim, it was Christ. He was born in a stable and even in His adult life had no place to lay His head. He suffered at the hands of those He created. Many mocked him, religious leaders hated Him, even His own family members thought He was crazy. His trial was a sham and a miscarriage of justice. He was crucified on a cross, even though He had not committed one sin.
Was Christ a legitimate victim? Absolutely. He did not deserve any of the things that happened to Him. But do you ever see Christ with the victim mentality? Absolutely not!
Instead of a victim mindset, Jesus maintained the attitude of a humble servant (Philippians 2:7-8). He focused on the gospel, even when He was weary (John 4:6-26). He joyfully endured suffering, recognizing He was under God's control (Hebrews 12:2). He never responded in sin to those who sinned against Him. When reviled, He did not revile in return (1 Peter 2:21-23). He prayed that God would forgive the sins of others (Luke 23:34). He prayed for those who oppressed Him. Christ sacrificially loved others, even to the point of death (Ephesians 5:2).
That's how we are to respond. We're to follow the example of Christ, guarding our minds against the allure of victimhood mentality and reminding ourselves of the absolute truths Scripture holds.
Having the victim mindset is one of the empty deceptions that can overtake Christians– it aligns with our fleshly desire toward selfishness and justifying our own sin. Don’t be taken captive by this way of thinking. Instead, trust the Lord and maintain your focus on Christ and the good news of the gospel. Rejoice that you have been saved, you are being sanctified, you serve the Judge of the universe who will make all things right in the end, and pray with compassion for those who sin against you.
 B. Campbell, J. Manning, The Rise of Victimhood Culture, p. 177.