July 18, 1993

CONQUERING THE VICTIM MENTALITY

“No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us” (Romans 8:37).

The winningest jockey in the history of horse racing was paralyzed in a tragic accident when he drove his vehicle off an embankment.  Today he’s a quadriplegic confined to a wheelchair.  And who’s to blame?  Well, this man and his lawyers filed a flurry of lawsuits.  They sued the hospital where he was taken.  They sued the doctors.  They sued the highway commission for not installing guardrails.  Their list of who to sue even included the company that built the vehicle he was driving.  Everybody’s to blame except the man himself.  If only all of them had done their job, he wouldn’t be a quadriplegic today.  Apparently, the fact that he was legally drunk at the time of the accident had nothing to do with it.

That’s an extreme case of the victim mentality.  People in the victim mentality love to play the blame game. In the blame game, everything bad that happens to you is someone else’s fault.  If you were injured in an accident while driving drunk, blame the hospital and the highway commission, and the company that made your car.  If you caught AIDS through drug needles or promiscuous sex, blame society for not doing enough in the fight against AIDS.  If you committed a crime that landed you in prison, blame the people around you for getting you into trouble.  If you’ve got a drinking problem, blame it on your nagging wife and too much pressure at work.

And if all else fails, blame God.  Maybe you never go to church or pray, you never try to do what the Bible says, but when things go wrong and you need someone to blame, God suddenly comes to mind.  I know of prison inmates and drug addicts and women with unwanted pregnancies who find their situation very difficult, and who then proceed to ask how God could let these things happen to them.  In the victim mentality, God has no right to judge you for your sin, but you have every right to judge him for not making life pleasant in spite of your sin.

The blame game is just one aspect of the victim mentality.  There’s also the pity party.  There are times when you just want to mope around and feel sorry for yourself.  Sometimes a little self-pity can be simply delicious.  If you’re lucky, you can even invite guests to your pity party, folks who will listen to your complaints and feel as sorry for you as you feel for yourself.

And the party doesn’t have to end.  As long as you can picture yourself as an unfortunate victim, your only obligation is to lick your wounds and feel depressed.  Maybe you really are a victim, and it wasn’t something you brought on yourself.  The abuse you suffered, the discrimination and prejudice in society, the pain of poverty, an alcoholic parent, a disease or disability, the death of someone you loved–whatever it was that victimized you, you feel you’ve got a right to a pity party.  Nobody can criticize you for being the way you are, and nobody can expect you to change.  Your life’s been ruined, and there’s nothing you can do about it except feel sorry for yourself.

Well, I’ve got news for you.  God doesn’t want any of us to get stuck in the victim mentality.  The Lord knows that we sometimes suffer at the hands of others and that there’s a time to confront people who are unjust and oppressive–but God won’t let us make the blame game our main activity.  The Lord knows that we need to express our grief when we’re hurting, that sometimes we need to grieve and to share our grief with others who care–but that’s no excuse to let life become one big pity party.  Instead, the Lord calls us to something better.  In the Bible, he shows us how to conquer the victim mentality.

In Romans 8, the apostle Paul mentions all sorts of dreadful things that threaten to crush people:  trouble, hardship, persecution, famine, nakedness, danger, and death.  That’s a pretty grim list, but do these things make us helpless victims?  “No,” says Paul, “in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us.”

How is that possible?  If you’re blaming others for hurting you, how are you ever supposed to stop feeling angry and resentful and get on with your life?  If you’re feeling down and depressed, how can you ever find joy?  When everything seems to be against you, how can you say, “We are more than conquerors?”

Well, that’s what we’re going to find out.  One of my greatest joys has been seeing people who conquer the victim mentality.  They stop using their troubles as an excuse and they overcome them instead.  They discover that a victory celebration is a lot better than a pity party.  Through God’s love in Jesus Christ, they become more than conquerors.  And so can you.

Jesus Christ is all you need to conquer the victim mentality, to become a victor instead of a victim.  Romans 8:37 says that “we are more than conquerors through him who loved us.”

Now, taken all by itself, that statement won’t do much for us.  We can’t just sit down and think positive and psych ourselves into feeling like we’re more than conquerors.  In the book of Romans, this shout of victory comes only after a careful, step-by-step presentation of the gospel of Jesus Christ.  So before you and I can say that we are more than conquerors, we first need to believe the great truths that lead up to this declaration, and we need to know the Lord who makes it all possible.

The first main section of the book of Romans talks about sin.  It shows that if all of us really got what we deserved, we’d be doomed.  As long as we’re in the victim mentality, we think we’ve gotten a raw deal, and we deserve better.  We play the blame game.  We see all the ways others have wronged us and we even make up a few, but we’re almost blind to all the ways we hurt others.  We wonder why God lets something bad happen to us, but don’t give a passing thought to the many ways we offend the Lord.  We think we deserve better than we’re getting.

But the truth of the matter is that we deserve worse.  We deserve doom.  Romans says, “The wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all the godlessness and wickedness of men… [They] are without excuse” (1:18,20).  “‘There is none righteous, not even one” (3:10).  “All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (3:23).  And the penalty?  Romans says, “Those things result in death!” (6:21)  “For the wages of sin is death” (6:23).

My biggest problem isn’t somebody else.  It’s me.  Your biggest problem isn’t somebody else.  It’s you.  We’re not just victims;  we’re sinners.  God’s law shows you and me our sin, says Romans, “so that every mouth may be silenced and the whole world held accountable to God” (3:19).  God crashes the pity party and interrupts the blame game and tells us that if we really want what’s coming to us, we’re in trouble.  What we deserve is God’s wrath, death, and hell.

Have you heard about the woman who commissioned an artist to paint her portrait?  She had plenty of money but not much beauty.  When the portrait was finished, the woman was disappointed.  “That picture doesn’t do me justice,” she complained.  The exasperated artist answered, “Madame, with your looks, you don’t need justice.  You need mercy.”

That’s what God tells you.  With your record of sin and disobedience, you don’t need justice.  You need mercy.  When God shows you the depth of your sin, you stop complaining about the wrongs you’ve suffered and you start confessing the sins you’ve committed.  You stop demanding your rights, and you start begging for forgiveness.

Once we accept the bad news, we’re ready for the good news that Romans declares.  All are sinners, but instead of destroying everyone, God chose to save many.  He decided to treat them with tender mercy instead of harsh justice.  Since God is just, he couldn’t simply ignore sin.  He had to deal with it.  And so he sent his Son to earth as a man.  Jesus endured what sinners deserve.  He was nailed to a cross and forsaken by his heavenly Father.  He suffered the hell that sinners deserve so that sinners could be credited with the righteousness and eternal life that he deserves.

We could never make ourselves right with God, but we don’t have to.  God has done it all, and it becomes ours through faith in Christ.  Romans says, “A righteousness from God [a right relationship with him] has been made known…  This righteousness from God comes through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe” (3:21-22).  “To the man who does not work but trusts God who justifies the wicked, his faith is credited as righteousness” (4:5).  “‘Blessed is the man whose sin the Lord will never count against him” (4:8).  Christ “was delivered over to death for our sins and was raised to life for our justification.  Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ” (4:25-5:1).

When God shows you the truth about your sin and how he offered up his Son to save you, you realize that the only innocent victim in the whole scenario is Jesus Christ;  the rest of us are part and parcel of a sinful and broken world.  If God gives you anything good at all, it’s not a wage you’ve earned, but a gift of his love.  “For,” as Romans puts it, “the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord” (6:23).  When you believe the gospel, you know that God owed you nothing but eternal death, but that he gave you eternal life.  At that point, you’re too busy feeling grateful to God to feel sorry for yourself.  So much for the victim mentality!  In the words of Romans, “we rejoice in the hope of the glory of God” (5:2).

And that’s not all.  Besides rescuing his people from the penalty of sin, the Lord sets them free from the power of sin.

Do you ever feel trapped by evil?  You’d like to change something in your life, but you’re convinced that you can’t.  You’re addicted.  You can’t stop drinking.  You can’t stop swearing.  You can’t control your temper.  You can’t control your sexual behavior.  You can’t.  There’s a deadly power controlling your life and you can’t break free.

In Romans 7:18-20, the apostle Paul describes the predicament this way:

I know that nothing good lives in me, that is, in my sinful nature.  For I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out.  For what I do is not the good I want to do;  no, the evil I do not want to do–this I keep on doing.  Now if I do what I do not want to do, it is no longer I who do it, but it is sin living in me that does it.

Sounds like a helpless victim, doesn’t he:  “What a wretched man I am!  Who will rescue me from this body of death?  Thanks be to God–through Jesus Christ our Lord!” (7:24-25).

That’s the breakthrough.  On your own, you can never change yourself, but–praise God!–Jesus Christ can change you.  His Holy Spirit brings a supernatural power into your life that is greater than the power of sin.  Jesus provides more than forgiveness;  he provides the power to change.  You can stop saying, “I can’t,” and say instead, “I can, and I will because of the Holy Spirit living in me.”

Listen to Paul’s inspired words in Romans 8:  “Therefore there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus because through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit of life set me free from the law of sin and death” (8:1-2).  “The mind of sinful man is death, but the mind controlled by the Spirit is life and peace (8:6).  “You, however, are controlled not by the sinful nature but by the Spirit, if the Spirit of God lives in you” (8:9).

When you admit that you’re powerless to change yourself, and you trust the Holy Spirit to change you, you can say goodbye to the victim mentality, and you can make every effort to get on with living the way God wants you to live, one day at a time.  Sin is no longer the dominant power in your life.  The Holy Spirit is.

And that brings us to the next question.  Once you’ve been pardoned of sin’s guilt and set free from sin’s power, how do you deal with suffering?  How do you deal with the emotional scars of being abused?  The injustice of discrimination and persecution?  The dreadful pain of an illness?  The grief of losing a loved one?  How do you deal with suffering?

Well, if you don’t know Christ, your mind can be so dominated by pain and frustration and grief that nothing makes any sense and nothing seems worthwhile.  You feel like you’re a victim of blind fate.

In Jesus Christ, however, we’re not victims of fate;  we’re children of the heavenly Father.  Listen to Romans 8:  “The Spirit himself testifies with our spirit that we are God’s children.  Now if we are children, then we are heirs–heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ if indeed we share in his suffering in order that we may also share in his glory” (8:16-17).

When we understand that God is our Father and that Christ is our brother and fellow heir, it transforms our perspective on suffering.  We learn at least three things about suffering:  it’s to be expected, it has a purpose, and it’s far outweighed by the benefits.

In the first place, our suffering is to be expected.  Those who promise Christians nothing but health and wealth are lying.  Our Savior suffered before entering into his glory.  Why should we be exempt?  If we expect to share in Jesus’ glory, we can expect to share also in his suffering.  Right now we’re part of a broken world that groans for the day when God makes all things new, and we groan right along with it (8:22-23).  Meanwhile, it’s a comfort to belong to a Lord who knows the depths of suffering himself, and to know that when we’re feeling so burdened we don’t even know how to pray, “the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groans that words cannot express” (8:26).

Second, knowing Christ shows us that even the most senseless and unjust suffering can have a purpose.  Jesus’ suffering seemed horribly unjust and senseless, and yet it turned out to be the very centerpiece of God’s plan for the universe.  If God could do that, why can’t he also transform our suffering to serve his purposes?  We may not always see how God can use some particular event for our good, but by faith, we know that he does.  According to Romans 8:28, “we know that in all things [and that includes suffering] God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.”

For the one who doesn’t know Jesus, suffering can lead to confusion and despair.  But God can take our suffering and use it to make us stronger, better, and more hopeful people, to depend not on outer circumstances but on the inner strength God provides.  As Romans says,

we rejoice in the hope of the glory of God.  Not only so, but we also rejoice in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance;  perseverance, character;  and character, hope.  And hope does not disappoint us, because God has poured out his love into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, whom he has given us (5:2-5)

And that brings us to the third truth about suffering that we discover in Christ.  Any suffering you endure is far outweighed by the benefits.  Just as Jesus’ suffering came to an end, and he rose triumphant in resurrection glory, so our suffering will give way to the glory of resurrection.  And that eternal joy will far outweigh our temporary suffering.

In Romans 8:18, Paul says, “I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us.”  You might say, “That’s easy for a preacher to say, but do you know what I’ve been going through?  Nothing could outweigh what I’ve been suffering.”  But keep in mind the experiences of the man God inspired to write these words.

The apostle Paul was a man who had been to heaven and back.  Paul didn’t know whether he was there in body or only in spirit, but on one occasion, God had given him a glimpse of glory (2 Corinthians 12:2-4).  Paul wasn’t permitted to give us any details, but he does give us a comparison.  That brief glimpse of glory outweighed all of Paul’s suffering put together.

And don’t forget what Paul’s suffering involved.  He received the dreaded 39 lashes with a whip on five different occasions.  Three times he was bludgeoned with rods.  Once a mob pelted him with stones and left him for dead.  Three times he was shipwrecked.  During his journeys, his life was in constant jeopardy.  There were times when he was hungry and thirsty and cold and naked.  (2 Corinthians 11:24-27).  Paul was imprisoned for years at a time for no valid reason, and in the end, he had his head chopped off.  All of this happened while he was doing God’s work.

This is the man who said our present suffering isn’t worth comparing to the future glory.  In another place, Paul says,

For our light and momentary troubles [minor things like being whipped and beaten and imprisoned and executed–these “light and momentary troubles”] are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all.  So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen.  For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal” (2 Corinthians 4:17).

When suffering drags you down or you find yourself drowning in self-pity, fix your eyes on what is unseen.  Think of the glory, the eternal pleasures, the splendid inheritance that God promises his children.  You don’t deserve what you’re going through?  Maybe not, but you don’t deserve the glories of heaven, either, and they’re yours in Jesus Christ.  You come out way ahead in the end.  There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, but a splendid new creation where God makes everything new (Revelation 21:4-5).

If God has convinced you that all of this is true, if you put your faith in Jesus, then you’re sure to conquer the victim mentality.  Take everything I’ve been telling you from God’s Word and add it together.  Through Christ you’re pardoned from guilt and hell.  His Spirit helps you overcome addiction and slavery to sin.  Although you were by nature God’s enemy (5:10), God adopts you into his family.  And he even transforms your suffering.  Your pain helps you identify with Christ and with a suffering world, God uses even the hard times for your good, and he promises unending joy and celebration that far outweigh the difficulties.  It’s all part of his eternal plan for you.  God is for you, and he loves you with an everlasting love.

If you believe all that, then you’re ready to ask with the apostle Paul at the end of Romans 8:

What, then, shall we say in response to this?  If God is for us, who can be against us?  He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all–how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things?  Who will bring any charge against those whom God has chosen?  It is God who justifies.  Who is he that condemns?  Christ Jesus, who died–more than that, who was raised to life–is at the right hand of God and is also interceding for us.  Who shall separate us from the love of Christ?  Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword?  As it is written:  “For your sake we face death all day long;  we are considered as sheep to be slaughtered.”  No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us.  For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth or anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord. (8:31-39)

If God is for you, it doesn’t matter who’s against you.  If God loves you, it doesn’t matter who hates you.  You’re a conqueror.  Nothing can thwart God’s purpose for you, and nothing can separate you from his love.  There may be struggles but never defeat.  There may be sadness but never despair.  Friend, we’re not victims;  we’re victors.  Forget the pity party.  Let the celebration begin!  “In all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us.”

Prayer

Glory be to the Father and to the Son and to the Holy Spirit.  Amen.

By David Feddes. Originally broadcasted on the Back to God Hour and published in The Radio Pulpit.