How should Christians respond to unwanted sexual dreams?
John Piper warns that God sometimes uses dreams to “terrify us with warnings in order to humble our pride and keep us back from sin.”
In an episode of “Ask Pastor John” posted to desiringGod.org, the American Reformed Baptist pastor replied to a reader inquiring about why he has “lucid sexual dreams with people other than my wife.”
“These dreams bother me intensely even after I wake up because I can’t help but feel that I have sinned, and even worse, I feel as if I had no control over it as with most of my dreams,” the reader said.
While acknowledging he doesn’t know why such dreams occur, Piper identified four passages of Scripture that shed light on the way dreams work.
First, dreams can deliver false messages, Piper said, citing Zechariah 10:2.
“There is such a thing as false dreams,” he explained. “There are false meanings. Dreams come, and they deliver false messages to us.
“My first exhortation is, say to the Lord and to the dream and to the devil, ‘That was a false dream. It does not mean I am unfaithful. I mean to be faithful to my wife. I am not unfaithful to her. Those dreams are a lie.’ So say that on the basis of the reality of the Bible that there is such a thing as a false dream.”
Second, dreams can test us (Deuteronomy 13:1–3), Piper said, adding, “God uses false prophets and lying dreams, even accompanied by supernatural signs and wonders, to test His people.”
“It’s not wrong while these dreams are tormenting you to say, ‘Dreams, Satan, brain, hormones, whatever you are, I won’t be sucked in by this. I see how my faith is being tested here. Do I love my wife? Do I love purity? Do I love holiness? Do I love Christ, who died to make me pure? Yes, I do. I will not be undone by this test. I will pass it by faith in the blood of Jesus to cover all my sins, to empower me to walk in the truth,’” he continued.
Third, dreams can reveal our desires (Isaiah 29:7–8) and fourth, they can warn us, according to the theologian.
“God really does use dreams to terrify us with warnings in order to humble our pride and keep us back from sin,” Piper said. “But if that’s true, one way to look at sexually illicit dreams — dreams when you’re doing illicit things in the dream — is that God is terrifying us in our dreams of the horror of this prospect in real life, so that we won’t do it.”
“Will the dream have its God-appointed effect of humbling us, frightening us about our own bent to sinning? And will we lay hold on Him for purity in waking life?” he asked.
The pastor then identified five ways to “dispatch of sexualized dreams.” He encouraged readers to pray earnestly for deliverance from such dreams; read Scripture before going to sleep, and even get a sleep study done.
He also advised purging “your movie and TV habits of all sexually stimulating content — not just porn, but worldly sexuality.”
“Now that’s just about all TV shows and all movies,” he acknowledged. “Sorry about that. You don’t need it. Christians for two thousand years did not feed their minds on movies every night. It won’t help you to be stirred up by so-called PG-13 movies that have sexually titillating scenes in them.”
Finally, Piper advised trusting in the promises of Psalm 25:15: “Say with confidence, ‘My eyes are ever toward the Lord, for He will pluck my feet out of the net,’” he concluded.
According to a 2007 study of 3,500 people published in the American Academy of Sleep Medicine, respondents reported that roughly 8% of their dreams are about sex.
On his podcast, Piper, who often addresses issues of biblical sexuality and marriage, revealed that sexualized dreams “are easily one of the most asked about topics in the inbox, and certainly the most asked about topic we’ve brushed off to date.”
Previously, Piper explained that “sexual attraction doesn’t belong to the essence of marriage” and sexual pleasure “is not essential to marriage.”
“The essence of marriage is the making and keeping of a covenant between a man and a woman to be husband and wife to each other as long as they both shall live,” he said. “That is the essence of a marriage: covenant making, covenant keeping — to be a husband and a wife.”
“And to be sure, that covenant includes the promise to give one’s self to the other in sexual relations (1 Corinthians 7:3),” he added. “The husband should give his wife her conjugal rights, and likewise the wife her husband. But there is nothing in the Bible that mandates any particular degree of physical pleasure in that relationship.”