Just a Dream?
How should I respond to sin in a dream?
Maybe you haven't thought of that before, or maybe you have. Is that even considered a sin? Should I feel guilty? Should I confess it to someone?
It’s a topic that I’ve talked about with people on more than one occasion, and I thought it would be helpful to share my thoughts with you. Here are some helpful ways I think you should respond.
Praise and Gratitude
First, I think it’s helpful to start by praising and thanking God that it wasn’t "real." Maybe your sinful nature would have preferred the dream to continue. Or, if you’re thinking clearly, you wake up and are happy to realize it was only a dream. Whatever our initial response is, we should turn it toward God and thank Him that it didn’t really happen. Dreams feel real for the moment, but they're quickly replaced with real life. That's why the Bible sometimes uses dreams as a picture of things that will one day disappear (e.g. Job 20:8; Psa 73:20; 90:5)
Confession and Repentance
Secondly, although it’s tempting to think, “Well, it wasn’t real life, so I didn’t really sin,” you should also pause and consider that, for the most part, you are still you in a dream. I recognize that sometimes a dream feels like you’re not totally in control, and the outside factors might be completely different, but many times it’s still your heart thinking, feeling, processing, and making decisions. And a good question to ask ourselves is: “With the inhibitions of normal life removed, is that really what I would do?” Maybe so. The heart is deceitful and our sinful nature rebels against God (Jer 17:9; Rom 3:10-18).
So, just like David writes in his Psalms, I find it helpful to ask God to forgive me even of sins I don’t personally recognize in my life (Psalm 19:12). And whether a sin was committed in real life or in a dream, if we confess and repent, we have the confidence that Jesus forgives us (1 Jn 1:9).
Self-examination and Holiness
Dreams are weird. And sometimes we dream about something sinful that we might never imagine ourselves doing in real life. But at the same time, dreams are not completely unrelated to our circumstances and our thought life. We should at least pause and examine if there are elements in our life that contributed to the dream.
If you’re watching horror movies or playing violent video games, it makes some sense if you dreamt about killing someone. The same connection could exist for gossip or lust or materialism. Whatever you’re putting into your mind and thinking about during the day can overflow into what you’re dreaming about. Whether we’re asleep or awake, our prayerful aim should be that of Psalm 19:14—Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable in your sight, O Lord, my rock and my redeemer.
Consider if there are any movies, books, music, friends, etc. that you need to put away in order to help you “put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh, to gratify its desires (Rom 13:14).
Wisdom and Dependence
One the practical side, you might be asking: Should I tell someone about the dream? If, for example, you dreamt you murdered someone, should you tell that person? I don’t think Scripture mandates it. Plus, it doesn’t seem productive or edifying to them (Eph 4:30). The main result would likely be an awkwardness between you two.
If a dream is the expression of a sinful heart, then it’s a sin against God alone, not against the other person (at least not in real life). So there's no need to ask the person for forgiveness (at least not in real life).
At the same time, maybe a dream brings up the fact that you have an unresolved issue with a person. In that case, you may not tell them about the dream you had, but that dream might be a good prod toward dealing with the issue.
You might also consider talking to a wiser, more mature Christian friend for their advice in dealing with an issue in your life that a dream brings up. Ultimately, we want to cry out to God to change our hearts and help us fight sin.
The Bible says that in the Old Testament, God spoke in many ways (which included dreams), but now He has spoken to us in His Son (Heb 1:1-2). This means that dreams should no longer be interpreted as authoritative messages from God. God’s authoritative message to us is found in His word. Dreams might help us gain a little insight into our own thought life, but they might also be an almost-random outworking of neurons, synapses, and memories.
In the end, the wisest thing to do is go back to the word of God, and go to God himself. Go to him in praise and thanksgiving, in confession and repentance, in self-examination and holiness, and in wisdom and dependence.
Feel free to leave any comments below or email me with any other questions you think would be helpful for me to address. I promise I won’t share who asked me.
Blessings in Christ.