Nevertheless in like manner also these false teachers by being dreamers, on the one hand defile the flesh, but also rebel against authority, but further blaspheme the glorious angels.
Jude 8 (author’s translation)
GPS, especially as we have it on our phones, is so much easier to use than an old-fashioned map. On the one hand, GPS redirects us around obstacles, accounts for our wrong turns, and outright tells us what to do each step of the way. On the other hand, a map does not outline all the details but points us in the general direction, providing some steps but not with exactitude. We have the luxury of being somewhat passive with a GPS, but we must study a map. One can almost switch off and just go along for the ride with a GPS, but we have to assess and use wisdom with a map.
The well-lived Christian life is more like following a map than a GPS. In the midst of the world’s complexity, we often wish that we could just know God’s will specifically for our situation. Scripture, however, never tells us what to do about picking a career path, deciding about getting married, navigating how to raise children, or handling a difficult friend. It gives principles rather than specific guidance, forcing us to work within wisdom rather than knowing exact answers.
Jude 8 raises this issue, addressing how the ungodly people who had crept into the church appealed to revelations from God to defend and justify their sinful practices. Jude’s opponents were promoting ungodliness by claiming to have revelatory dreams that gave them certainty about what the Lord approved, despite how it conflicted with what his Word already said. Following upon the typological examples of sin and judgment from verses 5–7, Jude 8 continued to demonstrate why these false teachers would be destroyed—namely because they used a false appeal to God to defend their practice of sin.1 This installment then explores how Jude exhorts God’s people to contend for the faith by depending on God’s will, as revealed in the Scripture, to guide our lives.
First, we need to see how Jude identified the false teachers’ denials of the sufficiency of God’s Word, the abiding value of the law, and Christ’s authority. Verse 8 begins, “in like manner also,” linking this point to the ways that Jude has just written in verses 5–7 about rebels in the church, rebellious angels, and rebellious cultures. These false teachers who have crept into the church have a similarity to those prophetic examples. The similarity between the preceding three examples and the false teachers is in the actions of defiling the flesh, rejecting authority, and blaspheming the glorious angels.
Before we get to the ways in which the false teachers rebelled, we need to look closely at the phrase, “by being dreamers.” In this context, dreams are not stories that our brain plays as we sleep. Rather, this kind of dream is supposedly inspired from the Lord. The same word for dreams appears in the Septuagint Greek of Jeremiah 23:25: “I have heard what the prophets have said who prophesy lies in my name, saying, ‘I have dreamed, I have dreamed!’” Here those in view were clearly claiming to have messages from God (prophecies) through their dreams but were in fact lying. Deuteronomy 13 also describes how sometimes dreamers who claim messages from God appear among the flock and seek to lead them astray. Despite these dreamers’ claim to have heard from God, God’s people are meant to continue following the Lord according to his Word: “You shall walk after the Lord your God and fear him and keep his commandments and obey his voice, and you shall serve him and hold fast to him” (Deut. 13:4). In Jude’s case, the false teachers claimed inspired dreams from God to give credence to their lustful desires.
More pointedly, by relying on these supposed visions from God, the false teachers claimed divine authority behind their teaching. Whereas genuine Christians can stumble into unfaithfulness by acting inconsistently with the truth, these teachers claimed inspired dreams to support immoral behavior. In other words, the false teachers claimed that God endorsed their sinful practices.
All three immoral practices that Jude named in verse 8, which false teachers defended with supposed dreams from God, undermine our responsibility to pursue holiness according to God’s revealed will. The first, “defile the flesh,” is about the sensuality—most likely sexual impurity as named in Jude 4. Further, they “reject authority,” which explains what Jude meant in verse 4 that they “deny our only Master and Lord, Jesus Christ.” They denied that his commands bind us to holiness, and so reject that he is practically the Lord of our lives. Lastly, they “blaspheme the glorious angels.” This slander of angels owes to their role as the ones who handed God’s law to his people, such as in Galatians 3:19: “Why then the law? It was added because of transgressions, until the offspring should come to whom the promise had been made, and it [the law] was put in place through angels by an intermediary.” Although we do not know the exact content of their slander, the false teachers denigrated the angels because of their relationship to giving God’s law. Their slander of those who had handed the law to God’s people then demoted the law itself as tarnished by its relationship to its tainted handlers. So, the false teachers forged denials of Christ and his servants to free themselves to create whatever standard by which they wanted to live other than God’s law. They denied that they need God’s Word because they supposedly had dreams, they denied that the law abides to guide our lives, and they denied that Christ directs our life for holiness.
The idea that someone has personally heard from God carries powerful weight. The notion that any of our beliefs intersect directly with God’s own viewpoint would also provide profound certainty. The false teachers claimed that they had received revelations in their dreams precisely to leverage that powerful sense of deference to direct divine insight. Christians know that we should not argue with God, so if God has said something, then that is the final word.
This problem still has its hooks in the church today in a few ways. Although the charismatic movement has a spectrum of milder and darker ends that range from claims to hear from God about application of Scripture or guidance for their lives to prosperity teachers manipulating God’s people for the sake of their own gain, the main contention is still the same claim to have received divine revelation aimed to give certainty to a particular viewpoint. Nevertheless, resources about charismatic theology abound even on this blog, so for now we can focus on how the same issue affects us closer to home.
We must admit that the world is a difficult place to live as a Christian. That is not presently a cultural lament but simply the universal truth that things are hard in the world. Disease, finance, worry, and so many other things can plague our minds into the latest hours of the night. We encounter many situations where it is hard to know what the best thing to do is, especially when we seek to make those decisions in faithfulness to God.
Amid that tension of life in the world, we very easily wish that God would speak specifically to us, so that we know what he wants us to do in specific circumstances. The problem potentially arises in how we respond to that desire. Are we going to accept that we live as pilgrims in a foreign realm, not yet home, needing to follow the principles of wisdom that God gives in his Word and through the counsel of our spiritual leaders? Or are we going to pretend that we can have more certainty than we truly can? Do we pretend that we can get divine GPS from God for the Christian life, or do we accept that God has published a written map to guide us in the Christian life, namely the Scripture?
Even in Reformed churches where we do not believe that God still reveals through dreams, we can drift toward a mystical certainty that God has not offered us in this age.2 We baptize our quest for illegitimate certainty by saying that we prayed about something and “have peace about it.” Sometimes that is one hundred percent correct. If we are need of provision, pray, and find ourselves at peace, then God has kept his promise from Philippians 4:6 that prayer has the result that “the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” On the other hand, if we make a decision that is shaky in its faithfulness or perhaps in which we should have consulted more wise counsel but shrug that away by saying we have peace because of prayer, then it is a version of Jude’s problem. If a Christian decided to date an unbeliever or to leave their husband or wife without biblical cause because they had prayed and had peace, then it is an illegitimate claim to certainty from God being used to justify what we want. We can use prayer and a false claim to its resulting peace as a way to enable sinful desires, falsely wrapping them in God’s approval, like Jude’s opponents did with their dreams.
We also try to give divine certainty to our personal desires by appealing to conscience issues. Admittedly, sometimes people truly have conscience issues, and we need to work through the principles of Romans 14 and 1 Corinthians 8–10 to know how to respond. Nevertheless, most of the time people claim a conscience issue to give deeper certainty to something that they just really dislike. We tie our views to issues of conscience because it links our opinion to that powerful principle of supposedly intersecting our viewpoint with God’s own outlook. Some matters are truly issues of conscience. But Christians love to assume that what we strongly prefer must be from God’s own’s mind. As much as we leverage that rhetoric to get our way, we fall into the same problem from Jude 8. Dreamers leading God’s people astray appear differently and on a spectrum of intensity. Each kind illegitimately appeals to certainty from God to justify poor, sinful, or just personal desire.
How then do we approach morality and certainty in our wisdom decisions? We love the idea that we can come to firm knowledge of what God wants us to do. God, however, has told us all that he wishes us to know, and it is sufficient for us. Rather than questing after that certain knowledge of God’s will for every detail of our lives, we ought to seek after a fixed dependence upon his Word and upon his people. We lean into biblical wisdom rather than inventing false certainty.
We will never be entirely settled in this life because this world is not our home. We are pilgrims, travelers in this age. We find ourselves more at ease living in the bandwidth of wisdom rather than certainty when we realize that we do not know God’s exact will for our lives, not because something is wrong, but because that settledness does not belong to this age.
This application affects our outlook on prayer. Rationalists write off everything but exhaustive knowledge. The rationalist will not pray because it will not lead to full understanding. Christians, however, find ourselves praying more because we ever seek for more wisdom rather than concrete certainty. We find ourselves leaning more upon Christian friends and our church elders because there we find helpful counsel about how to apply and live out the principles of God’s Word in any given situation. We also find ourselves delighting all the more in what we can know—namely, those things that God has clearly said to us, those things upon which we can have absolute dependence. Especially the promises of the gospel. God has been clear and direct that Christ died to forgive our sins. It is revealed that the Son of God became man for our redemption. God has promised and guaranteed that those who trust in the Savior will find forgiveness, acceptance, and grace. So, we receive and rest on those promises, trusting in what God has said, and finding ourselves content with what we know in Christ.
©Harrison Perkins. All Rights Reserved.
Here is the entire series so far.
1. William Perkins, The Works of William Perkins, 10 vols. (Grand Rapids, MI: Reformation Heritage Books, 2014–20), 4:132.
2. R. Scott Clark, Recovering the Reformed Confession: Our Theology, Piety, and Practice (Phillipsburg, NJ: P&R, 2008), 39–70.
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