When it comes to analyzing dreams and visions, very few people are short on opinion.
Some seek dreams, visions, and other mystical experiences constantly yet don’t even know their Bible. Others dismiss every supernatural claim and prefer rationalism at all costs; unwilling to even accept any possibility that supernatural experiences could either be demonic or that God could providentially use a very normal dream to move someone into realistic action once they wake up.
There are landmines on all sides of this subject, and one of those is that it tends to become a tier 1 issue. In other words, people will make railing judgments about the salvation of an individual based on their position regarding how God may or may not use dreams, or if it is possible for someone to have some supernatural experience. It’s important to navigate these hotly debated waters with a great deal of grace, while still holding fast to the truth of God’s word. A fascinating example of this is when R.C. Sproul and Al Mohler sit with Ravi Zacharias as he shares about some interesting experiences during this Q & A.
What About “Sola Scriptura?”
The natural question arises for theological conservatives: Wouldn’t such an experience deny “Sola Scriptura?” This question has two answers: Yes, and no (depending on what the claim is).
Why yes? If someone is making wild claims that demean Jesus and contradict His word, that should be cause for red flags. Especially if they say things that insult Him, like one particular claim from a leader at Bethel Church in Redding, California who declared that in a vision Jesus came and asked for him for forgiveness. You read that correctly. The claim was that Jesus asked for this leader to forgive him.
Why no? While discernment is merited for supernatural claims, someone simple having a dream would fall within the normal pattern of human behavior. A dream is simply defined as “a series of thoughts, images, and sensations occurring in a person’s mind during sleep.” It is possible that someone could dream about Jesus and that God could use a dream to lead them to investigate Jesus and the Bible in the same way that someone could dream about baseball and wake up wanting to play baseball. Can we honestly say that God can’t put a thought in someone’s head? That seems far-reaching to deny, even if this subject makes you uncomfortable. Another experience that would not violate Sola Scriptura is if someone had a demonic experience. Such a thing is a non sequitur to Sola Scriptura since most who hold to Sola Scriptura would not deny that the Devil and demons are actively attacking people through deception of all sorts — including demonization, false signs, witchcraft, and more. We can’t possibly deny that demonic experiences are real and that the Devil is actively working to deceive people with real experiences dripping with sinister lies. Therefore, discernment is crucial.
As you navigate claims regarding dreams and visions, here are some practical steps to consider. These will keep you from swinging to extremes or jumping to conclusions. We do well to avoid sign-seeking and sensationalism (Matthew 12:38-39), while at the same time being careful with our words lest we lose an opportunity to guide someone into the truth and needlessly hurt someone with our dismissive or pompous attitude (Colossians 4:6).
1. Be sensitive to new believers and their experiences
When someone comes to us and shares their perceived experience, dismissal is the best way to get yourself dismissed. Just like nobody wants to work for someone who wreaks of smug arrogance, and just like no one opens up to a father who suppresses your expressions and unkindly dismisses questions, nobody trusts those who jump to hasty conclusions or who exhibit a condescending tone.
Some people have experienced something and they need sensitivity and help. What if their experience was demonic and they don’t know it? Could it be that they don’t know their Bible very well and are innocently ignorant? What if they merely had a dream and it led them to further investigation and gospel transformation in a country that doesn’t allow missionaries? Couldn’t Jesus build His church in some way that causes a person to investigate the true gospel? It helps no one when someone opens up to us and we pompously remark: “Whatever you experienced wasn’t real. You’re making this up.” Being sensitive doesn’t mean you’re agreeing or believing. It just means you’re listening and caring.
2. Be discerning because a lot of people make things up
There are a ton of made-up stories. When I was growing up in the Word of Faith movement, one next-generation family member who is now running with the New Apostolic Reformation told me that we have freedom in Christ to make things up sometimes if it builds people’s faith. He made up healings, visions, stories about God verbally speaking to him, and more. Many people do this. Don’t be shocked or deceived.
3. Be willing to confront glaring inconsistencies with Scripture
Oral Roberts was an old hero of mine, a famous pioneer of faith healing, and a dangerous deceiver. He once claimed that a 900-ft tall “Jesus” appeared to him, and later on claimed “God told him” that people needed to give millions of dollars towards a building project or God would kill him.
If someone claims something manipulative like this, they don’t need a 900-ft tall Jesus, they need the Scriptures that the real Jesus taught. Some people we encounter will have had demonic experiences or have been led away by strange and deceitful spirits (1 Timothy 4:1). They need to be taught that God’s word is a lamp to our feet and light to our path (Psalm 119:105).
3. Be willing to say “I don’t know what you experienced.”
So many want to slam dunk people with black and white answers but the reality is, you can’t know everything or conclude upon every person’s story with absolute certainty. What can you say with total confidence from time to time? Simply say, “I don’t know.” This allows you to point to what you do know — which leads us to the most important point in this article.
4. Be consistently pointing to the sufficiency of Scripture
Let’s imagine for a moment that someone did have a dream about Jesus and it caused them to wake up to reality and seek out answers. Guess what? We don’t live by dreams. We don’t get saved by dreams. We don’t stay saved by dreams. We don’t get filled with the Spirit by dreams. We don’t study the Bible through dreams. We don’t get heaven by dreams. Faith doesn’t come by dreaming.
Romans 10:17 says, “So faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ.” Even if you think you heard the word of Christ in a dream, you’ve still got to wake up and live by faith in reality!
When it comes to dreams and discerning an experience, we don’t need to be cruel to people. But we also don’t need to be chasing signs or hunting for the next “high” that gets our adrenaline pumping. The word of God is enough for the true believer and will always be enough.
Isaiah 40:8 reminds us, “the grass withers, the flower fades, but the word of our God will stand forever.”
 “Oral Roberts Tells of Talking to 900-Foot Jesus,” Tulsa World, October 16, 1980, accessed December 23, 2016,