Scientific evidence is accumulating that dreams have vital physiological and psychological functions. Our dreams apparently play an important role in creativity and problem solving.
1 This and other scientific discoveries about the important physiological role of dreaming show that the mysterious activity of dreaming is “hardwired” into us by God’s design, for our benefit. For that reason, we shouldn’t fear dreaming.
The Bible illustrates how highly the Hebrews and other ancient people esteemed dreams and those who could interpret them (Genesis 41; Daniel 2), and that they viewed dreams at times as natural (Ecclesiastes 5:3), as evil (Deuteronomy 13:1-2; Jeremiah 29:8), or as divine revelation (Genesis 28:12-13; Genesis 37:5,9). ( See the ATQ article Is it possible that some dreams contain important symbolic meaning—or even a message from God?)
Like the daydreams and thoughts that drift into our minds in our conscious state, dream fantasies generally seem spontaneous. Sexual activity, rage, and violence often occur abruptly and uncontrollably in dreams. In dreams, all of us do things we certainly would never do if we were awake. We also have nightmares that seem to express our deepest fear and insecurity.
Many people describe having had “lucid dreams.” In lucid dreams, we are aware that we are dreaming and are sometimes able to choose our actions. Some early Christian ascetic monks actually believed that we are responsible not only for what we do in our waking state, but for what we do in our dreams. These monks withdrew from society and dedicated themselves to an isolated life of grueling hardship. Their solitary focus on subjective experience may have made them aware of some things that most of us don’t experience.
Occultists in many cultures have been interested in lucid dreams and have sometimes sought to cultivate lucid dreams and increase control over their fantasies. Such efforts to use occult technique to gain control over one’s dreams are sinister. At the very least, they focus attention away from the real world into a fantasy. At the worst, it may open one’s mind to overtly demonic or subconsciously destructive influences. (See the ATQ articles Why Is It Dangerous for Subconscious Images to Penetrate Our Waking Consciousness? and Why Are Channeling and Mediumship Dangerous?)
To the degree we are aware that we are dreaming and to the extent that our dreams are under our control—that is, lucid—we may be responsible for our actions and shaping our character by our choices.
However, the vast majority of dreams aren’t lucid. Most dreams are fantasies created by our sleeping brain from random memories. In certain ways we feel especially vulnerable when we are sleeping. But God never sleeps. He is always guarding and protecting us (Psalm 121:1-3).
Scripture nowhere indicates that God holds us responsible for what happens in our dreams. But our dreams should serve as a vivid reminder of how dependent we are on His love and grace.
- See the papers, “Sleep Inspires insight” in Nature magazine, January 2004 (Wagner, Gais, Haider, Verleger, and Born, from research at the University of Luebeck) and “REM, not incubation, improves creativity by priming associative networks” (Cai, Mednick, Harrison, Kanady, and Mednick). (The Mednick paper is at http://www.saramednick.com/htmls/pdfs/Cai_PNAS_2009) Back To Article
Because this is a fallen world, we do nothing from entirely pure motives. (See article on Depravity.) As the prophet Isaiah said:
All of us have become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous acts are like filthy rags; we all shrivel up like a leaf, and like the wind our sins sweep us away (Isaiah 64:6).
Because our motivations are always imperfect and our choices often difficult, one of Satan’s most effective ploys is to confuse and paralyze Christians with his accusations, putting them out of effective action. As our accuser and enemy (1 Timothy 5:14-15; 1 Peter 5:8; Revelation 12:10), Satan delights in our anxiety and fear. Although we may intellectually accept the premise that no one merits God’s grace, Satan knows how to use our emotions to cause us to feel outside of the reach of God’s mercy. His accusations are often vague, indefinite, and persistent. They throb like a spiritual migraine. They torment us even after we have acknowledged known wrongs and asked God for forgiveness (1 John 1:9). Whenever we are overwhelmed by guilt feelings that aren’t traceable to a specific sin, or whenever feelings of condemnation persist even after we honestly confess them to the Lord, it is reasonable to assume that we are suffering from false guilt — guilt that is either coming from our own hearts or from our spiritual enemy.
Why can we assume that these feelings of condemnation are not coming from God? The Bible tells us that godly conviction is based on love, not fear. Its purpose is to instruct and to correct, not to torment. The apostle John wrote:
In this way, love is made complete among us so that we will have confidence on the day of judgment, because in this world we are like Him. There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love (1 John 4:17-18).
God is not arbitrary or cruel. He always convicts His children out of love (2 Samuel 12:13; Luke 15:10). Conviction is His tool to bring us to a deeper reliance upon Christ (2 Corinthians 7:10; Ephesians 2:1-10; 2 Timothy 1:9). His Spirit doesn’t overwhelm us with feelings of condemnation for sins that have been confessed and forsaken or for choices that are unavoidably troubling and ambiguous.
When we sin, we will have to live with the consequences of our actions and with the loving correction of the Lord if we do not correct ourselves. Our position as God’s children doesn’t shield us from responsibility. But the natural consequences of sin will never cause us to lose our family relationship with God or any of the spiritual security that Christ has given us.
We need to always remember that it is not our good works but the blood of Christ that has provided for our every spiritual need (Ephesians 2:4-10). Christ is the foundation of our spiritual freedom and our emancipation from fear. Christ is the reason that Christians, unlike unbelievers, have no need to deny or conceal their sins. The entire price for sins has already been paid by the Lord — which gives us reason to quickly confess any sin that would damage our wonderful family relationship with God (1 John 1:9).
When we get to heaven, the process of our spiritual perfection will be complete and our motives will be pure (1Corinthians 1 Corinthians 13:12; 15:49; Hebrews 12:22-23). But in this fallen world, we will always struggle with some legitimate feelings of guilt. Here we wrestle with the tension of knowing that everything we do falls short of perfection. But faith trusts God’s promises. It is willing to go forward in spite of uncertainty (Hebrews 11:1,6), to be a good steward of God’s gifts (1 Peter 4:10), and to be as fearless of God’s wrath as a child is of a loving Father (Matthew 25:24-26).
As you look back, you are filled with guilt and remorse over the sin you committed, either as an unbeliever or a backslidden or immature Christian. It’s important to remember that your sin and backsliding or immaturity isn’t unique. Israel as a nation was often unfaithful to her covenant relationship with Jehovah. Peter denied the Lord, wept bitterly, and later was publicly restored (Matthew 26:69-75; John 21). The Lord also reproached the believers in Ephesus because they had left their first love, and He urged them to “remember,” “repent,” and “return” (Revelation 2:1-7).
Even though the Bible tells us we receive a new life when we believe, we are still influenced by the “flesh,” the “law of sin” within us (Romans 7). The old nature is still part of us and continues to affect us (1 Corinthians 3:1-3; Ephesians 4:22).
I am a pastor’s son, but I never experienced genuine conversion until I was in my mid-20s. By that time I had already attended a year of seminary. I have many regrets that deeply trouble me. The more spiritual vision we gain, the more we sorrow over the wrongs we’ve done.
Accordingly, there are three facts I’d like you to consider:
First, I doubt that anything you did was worse than the things committed by two of the greatest men of faith, David and Paul. David not only committed adultery, but had a good man killed to conceal his sin. Paul persecuted and murdered Christians. Yet both Paul and David were forgiven, though their past sins caused them legitimate sorrow. Our salvation has nothing to do with the extent of our past sins. It is entirely based on the infinite suffering of the Son of God himself, who fully and willingly bore the consequences of all our evil.
Second, sorrow over past sins has an important function. It softens the heart and engenders humility and compassion, qualities essential to the work of the kingdom. Consider the words of the prophet Ezekiel:
A new heart also will I give you, and a new spirit will I put within you: and I will take away the stony heart out of your flesh, and I will give you an heart of flesh (Ezekiel 36:26 KJV).
All of us need to realize the fools we were before we were willing to surrender our hearts to the Lord.
Third, don’t overlook the power of God’s grace. Even if we can’t repair the damage we have caused, God is able to bring healing and restoration in ways that would be impossible for us to anticipate. We can still pray for the healing and restoration of those we’ve injured.
Remember the parable of the prodigal son (Luke 15:11-32). God is always ready to welcome us as long as we are willing to humble ourselves and turn towards home.
To a person passing through the spiritual changes that the Bible describes as moving from death to life (John 5:24; Romans 6:13; Ephesians 5:14 ), awareness of the ugliness of one’s sin can be overwhelming. One of the reasons repentance is so difficult is the pain that comes from acknowledging sin.
Repentance involves spiritual battle. The names “Devil” and “Satan” mean accuser and adversary. When we move towards repentance and salvation, the enemy of our soul strives to transform our Holy Spirit-given consciousness of sin into despair. If he can make us so obsessed with our sin that we doubt the efficacy of Christ’s atonement and think that we must somehow atone for our sin ourselves, he will succeed.
People who are genuinely bound for hell either deny sin, explain it away, or rationalize it by comparing themselves to other people they consider worse. The first step in assuring one’s salvation from sin’s curse is acknowledging its power and influence. This step requires the humility to repent and see one’s helplessness. The next step also requires humility—a willingness to acknowledge that our sinful state is not unique. The Bible tells us that the whole human race is under the curse of sin. Everyone is too corrupt to earn salvation by his or her own efforts. We are no more or less lost than anyone else. As well as being a spiritual attack, obsessive focus on personal sin can also be an expression of a diabolically twisted pride that says, “I’m worse than other people. I’m too evil for God to redeem.” Of all sin, this pride is perhaps the most tragic.
Morbid, despairing thoughts come unbidden. If you choose to resist them in obedience to God’s Word, they will fade. But if you entertain them, their power will grow (James 4:7; 1 Peter 5:8-9).
Faith is trust in God’s love. If your parents were distant, arbitrary, or abusive, it may be difficult to view God as a loving Father. If you have been under the enemy’s power for many years, it may be difficult to believe God loves you. Spiritual and emotional growth is slow, and uphill. Trust involves carrying on without absolute emotional assurance or intellectual proof. YOU have to do it. No one else can do it for you (Ephesians 6:10-18).
Trust is willingness to live with unresolved issues, doubts, and frustrations and willingness to forego the demand that God eradicate all your problems and dispel all your fears.
Trust accepts the world as it is and moves forward. It sees the clouds as they shift and darken but is willing to wager1—on the basis of the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ—that behind them is glorious hope of freedom and restored life.
- Pascal’s “wager” was the challenge issued by the brilliant 17th-century French mathematician/inventor/religious philosopher Blaise Pascal. A translation of the main part of his “wager” is below.
“God is, or He is not.” But to which side shall we incline? Reason can decide nothing here. There is an infinite chaos which separated us. A game is being played at the extremity of this infinite distance where heads or tails will turn up . . . Which will you choose then? Let us see. Since you must choose, let us see which interests you least. You have two things to lose, the true and the good; and two things to stake, your reason and your will, your knowledge and your happiness; and your nature has two things to shun, error and misery. Your reason is no more shocked in choosing one rather than the other, since you must of necessity choose . . . But your happiness? Let us weigh the gain and the loss in wagering that God is . . . If you gain, you gain all; if you lose, you lose nothing. Wager, then, without hesitation that He is.
The basic meaning of his “wager” still applies today: If we live a life of faith as though the Christian God exists, we will have a better life in this world and hope for redemption and eternal life following death. On the other hand, if we live as though the Christian God doesn’t exist, we will experience increasing torment and alienation in this life, and the possibility of retribution in the life to come. Back To Article
God’s Word assures Christian believers of the forgiveness of any sin through Christ’s sacrificial death on their behalf.
Christians no longer face damnation — the eternal consequences of their sins. But they still face sin’s earthly consequences. For Christians, the earthly consequences of sin don’t exist as the punishment of an angry God. They remain as reminders of the fact that we live in a flawed, fallen world. The effects of sin still remain. The fullness of our redemption still lies ahead.
A person who has been a drunkard for many years, for example, may suffer irreversible liver damage that will remain following his conversion. A father who has neglected his family will continue to see the effects of his neglect. Sometimes we can make amends in this life for our sins, other times we cannot.
The Holy Spirit strengthens and renews Christians, even though they continue to be haunted by the earthly consequences of sin. The character of Christ Himself becomes established within them ( Romans 8:29 ), so that they will be empowered to live consistently with the truth. The Old Testament prophet Micah wrote, “He has showed you, O man, what is good. And what does the Lord require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God” ( Micah 6:8 ).