Beware of relying on dreams and those who do

In a recent gathering of our Life Group, one of our members was leading us through a study of the book of Jude. If you haven’t recently read this short book that’s tucked away near the end of the New Testament, you should. In just 25 verses, Jude packs a punch, a strong punch primarily delivered against false teachers who seek to lead God’s people away from the faith once for all delivered to the saints.

That last phrase comes from verse 3:

Beloved, although I was very eager to write to you about our common salvation, I found it necessary to write appealing to you to contend for the faith that was once for all delivered to the saints.

Jude 3

In our Life Group, Kevin helped us see how Jude enabled the church to confront these false teachers by exposing their identity and their ways. Jude warned the believers that these teachers were “hidden reefs,” lurking beneath the surface but ready to make shipwreck of their faith. They were “waterless clouds” and “fruitless trees” and “wandering stars,” those who promised refreshing rains or nourishment or guidance, but who always failed to deliver. (See Jude 12–13.)

They taught the people to embrace immorality and ungodliness and sinful desires. They were those who perverted God’s grace by teaching that a life of sensuality should be pursued over a life of holiness (Jude 4).

And they were this way, in large part, because they rejected authority and relied on dreams. “These people,” Jude 8 says, “relying on their dreams, defile the flesh, reject authority, and blaspheme the glorious ones.”

Beware of those who reject the authority of God’s word and rely on their own dreams.

Beware of following them, even if they couch those dreams and visions in the language of “God told me” or “God revealed to me” or “God showed me.”

Jude writes to instruct believers to contend for “the faith” that was once for all delivered to the saints. “The faith” is not our subjective beliefs or feelings, despite the fact that this is how our culture typically defines “faith.” “The faith” that was delivered to the saints is found in the Scriptures. It is the content of God’s eternal, written word, delivered by the prophets and apostles. And God’s word is sufficient. It is inerrant. It is complete. It is authoritative. We need no other revelation from God.

And here’s what likely happened in the church that received Jude’s letter, and here’s what is happening today: There are those who sound like believers, who use language that believers would use, and phrases that believers would recognize, who are welcomed into the church (as it was in Jude’s day and in our day). Today, they are welcomed into homes and lives through YouTube or podcasts or Facebook or bookstores. They look good. They sound good. But they’re relying on their own dreams and their own thoughts, and not God’s word.

How do you know? That’s certainly the tricky part. These “teachers” have deceived the church off and on for two millennia. So how do we know?

Beware when you hear more “God told me” than “God’s word says.”

This is, I believe, what Jude means by “relying on their dreams.” They had a dream, a vision, a thought, that they promoted (and possibly genuinely believed) as being from the Lord. The problem is, it didn’t line up with Scripture. God has strong words to say about teachers like that throughout Scripture. Jude warns of the judgment coming to them. We need to be wise enough to not follow them.

A biblical teacher recognizes that he has no authority on his own. His authority is a derived authority, one that comes from God’s written word. In so far as the teaching is built explicitly on Scripture, it is authoritative. Where it is built on man’s thoughts, even when couched by “God told me,” it is not authoritative.

There is something important here for all of us as well, not just teachers: The only way we can be 100% confident that God told us something is when we read it in Scripture. To be sure, God does impress us and lead us and communicate to us through various means. But we are fallible, and we can easily mistake our own voice or thoughts and assume it is God’s guidance. We need to exercise caution when using language like “God told me” unless it is followed by a verse of Scripture.

Beware when you hear “God revealed something new to me.”

Because we follow God’s Word—the canon of Scripture that has been completed for nearly 2,000 years—we are not looking for something new but something old. This is beautifully illustrated in Jeremiah 6:

Thus says the LORD:
“Stand by the roads, and look,
and ask for the ancient paths,
where the good way is; and walk in it,
and find rest for your souls.”

Jeremiah 6:16

We’re asking for the ancient paths where the good way is, the well-traveled paths of godliness, the same paths followed by generations of God’s people. Beware if someone tells you that they have found a new way or they have a new teaching, something that they believe God has willingly kept hidden from his people for 2,000 years despite the completed canon, but has revealed to them alone. What Paul tells us in 2 Timothy 3:5 applies here: “Avoid such people.”

Beware when you hear sensuality promoted over holiness.

These teachers in Jude are said to be those who love pleasure and sensuality. They are compared to those in Sodom and Gomorrah, indulging in sexual immorality and pursuing unnatural desires. Jude also compares them to unreasoning animals who only follow after their passions in the moment. These pursuits are not the way of godliness.

Hebrews 12:14 instructs us to “strive for … the holiness without which no one will see the Lord.”  Jesus in Matthew 5:8 declared “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.” Anyone who tells you that God wants your momentary happiness over your eternal holiness is lying to you. Do not believe such a teacher who would have you find life and satisfaction outside of the ways of God, who alone makes known the way of true life and who is the source of true joy and pleasure forevermore (see Psalm 16:11).

Beware when you hear a Scripture referenced, but not relied on.

The church to whom Jude wrote had been deceived. The false teachers sounded Christian, but Jude said that they were in fact outsiders, nonbelievers who had “crept in.” We are not sure exactly how they did it then, but today one of the ways that is often used is by mentioning a Scripture reference, or even using scriptural phrases, without relying on Scripture as the foundation for their teaching.

Beware when you hear a teacher read a passage, but never return to it as the foundation of his teaching. To be clear, he may be doing so unintentionally, so this is not to say that any such teacher is necessarily a false believer or someone with ill-intent in his heart. But he may be. He may be trying to act as if he has authority (reading or referencing Scripture), only to purposefully promote his own ideas or agenda.

We would do well to emulate the Bereans who were commended by Luke in Acts 17: “they received the word with all eagerness, examining the Scriptures daily to see if these things were so.” Receive the word with eagerness, provided it is the true word of God and not the word of man.

Beware when you hear teachers causing unnecessary divisions.

Not all division is ungodly division. Jesus himself causes division when necessary (see Luke 12:51–53 and Matthew 25:31–33). But these false teachers were opposed by Jude in part because they were causing unnecessary division within the body. And against them, he doesn’t hold back:

“These are grumblers, malcontents, following their own sinful desires; they are loud-mouthed boasters, showing favoritism to gain advantage. … It is these who cause divisions, worldly people, devoid of the Spirit.”

Jude 16, 19

Beware of those who cause division through showing favoritism or angling for their own advantage. Beware of those who seek to divide the body of Christ that God united in Christ. We are all one in Christ Jesus (Galatians 3:28; Ephesians 2:14). What God said of marriage is true for the church as well: “What God has joined together, let not man put asunder.”

As for us . . .

Let me end with this: that’s what we’re to avoid, but what are we to pursue? Jude closes with this:

“But you, beloved, building yourselves up in your most holy faith and praying in the Holy Spirit, keep yourselves in the love of God, waiting for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ that leads to eternal life.

“Now to him who is able to keep you from stumbling and to present you blameless before the presence of his glory with great joy, to the only God, our Savior, through Jesus Christ our Lord, be glory, majesty, dominion, and authority, before all time and now and forever. Amen.

Jude 20–21, 24–25

For more on this topic of hearing from God and discerning his will for us, see this previous post: “What is God’s Will for My Life?”

Bert Watts has served since December 2016 as the Senior Pastor at Mountain Creek Baptist Church, where he has been on staff since 2012.

Photo by Matteo Miliddi on Unsplash