Beware Wolves in Sheep’s Clothing

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Matthew 7:15–20 (NIV)

15 “Watch out for false prophets. They come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ferocious wolves. 16 By their fruit you will recognize them. Do people pick grapes from thornbushes, or figs from thistles? 17 Likewise, every good tree bears good fruit, but a bad tree bears bad fruit. 18 A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, and a bad tree cannot bear good fruit. 19 Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. 20 Thus, by their fruit you will recognize them.

Jesus warned us about false prophets who come in sheep’s clothing (aka they look like God’s people, Christians), but they are really ferocious wolves in disguise. They work for the devil and their own selfish end goals, not the building up of God’s kingdom. Jesus said, “by your fruit you will recognize them.” In other words there will be evidence in their actions, attitudes, etc..  If one looks closely, they don’t actually consistently live out God’s Word that they are teaching. The danger is that we don’t want to be on a witch hunt, looking for every flaw of teachers to point out as a potential suspect, and yet we want to “watch out” and be attentive so that we do not fall for these false teachings.

This is particularly true in this day and age when there are so many people claiming to speak spiritual truth, even quoting the Bible in their teachings (we might also remember that the devil quoted the Bible when he tempted Jesus as well). And with such easy access to these “teachers” through social media, YouTube, podcasts, etc., how do we know whether they are speaking truth or not? Whether they truly represent God or are a wolf? Is it the number of followers they have, or the size of their church? Is it because they quote the Bible, or because it “sounds right to me”? This is especially difficult in this day and age when we cannot see their conduct ourselves and whether they live out Jesus’ teachings. We only see what they put on the web. In other words, we cannot see whether they are bearing good fruit or not, we can only hear their teaching and see some of the outcomes of their ministry.

Unfortunately, all we have to go by is what they are teaching. This is why Jesus’ disciple John tells us in his first letter, that we need to “test the spirits” (1 John 4:1). We are not just a baby bird with our mouths wide open feeding on every word they say. We examine what they are teaching for ourselves. We feed on the Word of God ourselves and prayerfully read and study it for ourselves to see if what they are saying aligns with what we are reading in the Bible (we listen to Jesus and the Apostles teaching, 1 Jo. 4:6). Too often Christians do not do the hard work of reading and studying the Bible for themselves are are therefore susceptible to such false teaching. We watch and listen to “spiritual” and “Christian” teachers, preachers, and prophets, believing every word they say because we are not familiar enough with God’s Word to know any different. Jesus was clear what happens to those wolves who teach falsely, they are “cut down and thrown into the fire (Matthew 7:19).” We don’t want to go down with them. The more we know God and his Word, the more we are able to hear the Shepherd’s voice and follow him. We need to have a regular practice of reading God’s Word so we know the truth and the truth sets us free.

Some questions to consider:

Do you listen to or watch spiritual teachings of pastors, preachers, or teachers online (or in person)?

How do you know what they are saying is true? That they are not a wolf in sheep’s clothing?
Are you well versed in God’s Word to distinguish what you read/hear as God’s truth versus falsehood?

Also consider the fact that the religious leaders of Jesus’ day were well versed in the Bible (the Old Testament), but most did not believe in and trust in Jesus. What makes us any different? Jesus said, he is “the way, the truth, and the life” (John 14:6).