The Great Sayings in the Gospels
Sermon 45:: Beware The Wolves
15 Beware of false prophets, which come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ravening wolves.
16 Ye shall know them by their fruits. Do men gather grapes of thorns, or figs of thistles?
17 Even so every good tree bringeth forth good fruit; but a corrupt tree bringeth forth evil fruit.
18 A good tree cannot bring forth evil fruit, neither can a corrupt tree bring forth good fruit.
19 Every tree that bringeth not forth good fruit is hewn down, and cast into the fire.
20 Wherefore by their fruits ye shall know them.
21 Not every one that saith unto me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven; but he that doeth the will of my Father which is in heaven.
22 Many will say to me in that day, Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in thy name? and in thy name have cast out devils? and in thy name done many wonderful works?
23 And then will I profess unto them, I never knew you: depart from me, ye that work iniquity. KJV
I have a vivid memory of an old cartoon that I saw several times as a child. In one scene there is a wolf with the head and skin of a sheep draped over him, mingling unnoticed among a flock of sheep, taking care to choose the one he wanted to eat. The sheep were oblivious to the obvious (to the viewer) fraud that was going on.
I think that many people have this idea about the ‘wolves in sheeps’ clothing’ that Jesus is speaking of here. They think that when they encounter one, he will be an obvious fraud with a make-shift disguise that anyone but a simpleton would see right through.
The truth is just the opposite. These of whom Jesus speaks here are very good at disguising themselves as children of God. Notice the appeal that they will make at the Great Judgment, vs. 23. They will have prophesied, have cast out demons, and done ‘many wonderful works’ in the name of Jesus Christ. In other words, they will have moved among the people of God and sometimes never been fully recognized for who and what they were.
One of the classic examples of this type of person was Judas Iscariot, who was named as one of the original twelve by Jesus Christ. Of course, Jesus knew from the beginning who and what he was, the scriptures say that clearly.
64 But there are some of you that believe not. For Jesus knew from the beginning who they were that believed not, and who should betray him. KJV
If you will remember, Jesus mentioned at the Last Supper that one of them would betray him. No one suspected that it was Judas, even when Jesus followed his comment by saying directly to Judas, “that thou doest, do quickly.” (John 13:27. This means that he had moved among these men for
3 ½ years without any of them ever suspecting that he was a ‘wolf.’
Such ‘wolves’ were also a great concern to the apostle Paul and he sternly warned the Ephesian elders to be on the watch for them in his final farewell.
28 Take heed therefore unto yourselves, and to all the flock, over the which the Holy Ghost hath made you overseers, to feed the church of God, which he hath purchased with his own blood.
29 For I know this, that after my departing shall grievous wolves enter in among you, not sparing the flock.
30 Also of your own selves shall men arise, speaking perverse things, to draw away disciples after them. KJV
He saw two sources of the danger. One was from those that would come to them, ‘enter in’ among them, and do damage to the flock. The other was from those already in the church who would depart from the critical truths of the Christian faith and speak ‘perverse things.’
What is a ‘wolf’ such as the ones that Jesus and Paul warned against?
Well, first of all, they are primarily preachers and almost always people who, in some way or other, are involved in what we call ‘Christian ministry.’ They are normally, but not always, those who seem to cast a larger shadow than others. They have an impact on the lives of the church as a whole.
The image of ‘wolf’ was certainly not chosen lightly. Wolves are predators who normally will prey upon the weak. They prefer sheep and such, animals that will not fight back. God’s people are not belligerent and war-like. They are people of kindness who often extend to others acceptance and trust freely and openly. As a result, they can become easy targets for people who want to take advantage of them.
Jesus said that these people have internal desires that cause them to be dangerous to good and decent, trusting, people. He characterized them as ‘ravening’ and the word He used is one that calls to mind the behavior of a conquering army in that time that plundered, pillaged and destroyed everything in it’s wake. The word describes the character, the nature, of the ‘wolf,’ which may not be readily seen or understood at the beginning of one’s interaction with him.
This description is almost identical to the ‘thief’ that Jesus described in John 10.
1 Verily, verily, I say unto you, He that entereth not by the door into the sheepfold, but climbeth up some other way, the same is a thief and a robber.
2 But he that entereth in by the door is the shepherd of the sheep.
3 To him the porter openeth; and the sheep hear his voice: and he calleth his own sheep by name, and leadeth them out.
4 And when he putteth forth his own sheep, he goeth before them, and the sheep follow him: for they know his voice.
5 And a stranger will they not follow, but will flee from him: for they know not the voice of strangers.
6 This parable spake Jesus unto them: but they understood not what things they were which he spake unto them.
7 Then said Jesus unto them again, Verily, verily, I say unto you, I am the door of the sheep.
8 All that ever came before me are thieves and robbers: but the sheep did not hear them.
9 I am the door: by me if any man enter in, he shall be saved, and shall go in and out, and find pasture.
10 The thief cometh not, but for to steal, and to kill, and to destroy: I am come that they might have life, and that they might have it more abundantly. KJV
The ‘ravening’ wolf and the thief are the same person with the same matters in their hearts, to steal, to kill, and to destroy.
And these have singled out the church of Jesus Christ as their target. Now there are many other similar people in the world who choose other targets. The dope pusher targets the troubled teenager. The pedophile targets vulnerable children. The pornographer targets young women desiring to be actresses, runaways and such. The embezzler targets people and institutions with money. And the politician targets us all. They are all the same at heart but there is one thing that distinguishes this ‘wolf’ from the others.
Basically, the ‘wolf’ is a religious take on the old ‘con man’ game. He first gains the confidence of people and then uses that confidence to prey upon them. He begins by gaining the trust of God’s people, pretending to be what you are, believe what you believe and be interested in the same things that interest you. He pretends to have your best interest at heart. He may even seem to make sacrifices for you.
But once the confidence is established, things begin to shift. New understandings of theology begin to be taught, slowly at first but then with increasing speed. Those who will not ‘shift’ are pressured, then criticized and, finally, rejected as ‘deceived.’
Those who hang with him will find themselves under a powerful, probably demonic, spell. Listen to how Paul described the encounter of some real believers with ‘wolves.’
1 O foolish Galatians, who hath bewitched you, that ye should not obey the truth, before whose eyes Jesus Christ hath been evidently set forth, crucified among you? KJV
The word ‘bewitched’ means ‘to delude or bewitch’ by spells or any other means. Interestingly enough, it can also mean ‘to slander.’
Many ‘wolves,’ because of the commitment to evil necessary to be a deceiver in this way, find themselves powerfully assisted by the work of Satan to deceive on their behalf.
What does the phrase, ‘in sheep’s clothing’ mean to us?
The first impression is obvious. They have identified themselves as Christians: pastors, teachers, ‘ministers,’ and prophets. The issue that is missed in this description by many people is how very good they are at disguising themselves.
I have told many of you the story how that, as a young Bible College student and a serious student of the scriptures I began to listen to a man on the radio. I listened intently, followed his scripture references, considered his applications of them and was greatly impressed by his ‘ministry.’ The problem for me was that he was a Charismatic and I was a convinced Historical Baptist. But I could not find the flaws in his teachings nor in his reasoning. I wanted to, but in all fairness, could not convince myself where he was wrong. He came to the town where I was going to school and I went to one of his meetings. Again, I listened carefully, critically, and biblically to his message, unable again to find the flaws in his reasoning nor his teaching. The end of the service was typical of many Charismatic services and I began to feel a very powerful, almost overwhelming spiritual presence moving across the crowd, almost like a wave. It began over to my left at the edge of the crowd and I could feel it moving in my direction. Just as it arrived in the center of the building where I was sitting, I bowed my head and asked this question, “Lord, is that You?” I felt instantly as if someone had thrust me into a freezer and turned on a fan. At the same time, my heart was stricken with two impressions: (1) this ‘spirit’ was angry with men, and (2) I was afraid. I prayed again, “Thank you, Lord, for answering my questions,” and I got up in the middle of the service and walked away. I never could listen to that man again with any kind of peace because it had been revealed to me what he was.
Here is the point. He was and is a ‘wolf in sheep’s clothing.’ In spite of my serious examination I could not discover what he was. It took an act of Satan and of God to reveal to me the truth. Thousands and millions of people watch him on TV every week. He is a multi-millionaire preacher. And….he is a wolf.
The other point is that many wolves are very, very good at disguise. Not all of them are of other denominations than us. Many are Baptist. I have met a few and I have been wounded by some of them.
Jesus does not give us character traits by which to be able to detect them. The reason is that they mimic every godly quality of the child of God, at least most of the time. The ‘proof’ is to be found in their ‘wake.’ What is their ultimate effect on people? Do they lead people to repentance, faith, and godliness, leading the way by example as well as teaching? Do they produce what Jesus produced, what Paul produced, what the heroes of church history have produced?
Or do they have some other effect on people? Do they prey upon people, take advantage of them, use them, and lead them astray from what Paul called ‘the simplicity which is in Christ Jesus’? Is their ‘fruit’ the same as the godly men of the past, or is it something else?
Let us get to the particulars of what they do.
They steal, kill, and destroy. How so?
I am going to briefly list a number of things that these thieves and wolves steal. They are not listed in any particular order nor is this an exhaustive list, nor do all wolves steal all of these things. I do not know of any who do not steal at least one of these items from those who accept them as true ministers of the gospel.
The Priesthood of Christ.
Evangelical Christianity has always held that every believer has one and only one ‘priest,’ their go-between with God the Father, and that is Jesus Christ Himself. We do not accept that it is necessary for anyone to have any human in that role, any person whose approval and involvement we must have in order to be accepted by God.
Wolves subtly insert themselves into this role of being the voice of God to us and, maybe, the one who must intercede God on our behalf. They may not acknowledge it but their works produce such a relationship. Any such person is to be rejected.
Liberty in Christ from all condemnation.
1 There is therefore now no condemnation to them which are in Christ Jesus, who walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit. KJV
When a person has trusted Christ, repented of his sins, and been born from above, all of his sins are forgiven unconditionally by God and it is not possible for him ever to be condemned by God, no matter what.
24 Verily, verily, I say unto you, He that heareth my word, and believeth on him that sent me, hath everlasting life, and shall not come into condemnation; but is passed from death unto life. KJV
But the wolf will find a way to make it seem as if you are condemned unless you do what he says and believe what he teaches. He will steal from you your liberty from condemnation in Christ.
He will sometimes steal money from you.
In John 10, Jesus called them ‘hirelings,’ those who only work for money.
Listen to what Paul said.
17 Now I beseech you, brethren, mark them which cause divisions and offences contrary to the doctrine which ye have learned; and avoid them.
18 For they that are such serve not our Lord Jesus Christ, but their own belly; and by good words and fair speeches deceive the hearts of the simple. KJV
We could spend the rest of the day recounting ways that men who call themselves ‘servants’ extort and steal money from churches. This is classic for the wolf because he is at heart covetous and money is often an easy target.
Let’s quickly go through some other Critical Truths they will steal.
Grace Alone – they almost always find ways to insert ‘works’ that they can manipulate into the equation.
Faith Alone – they seek to alter faith from Faith in God Alone to Faith in God and in The Wolf.
Christ Alone – because they refuse the Lordship of Jesus Christ themselves, they seek to insert themselves into His seat of authority.
Repentance – wolves know nothing of repentance except by theory. They have not experienced it but they are really good at seeking to manipulate the subject in others. It is twisted so that it serves the Wolf and not God.
The Authority of God’s Word – if someone engages them on their error by standing on the authority of God’s Word, they are in for a battle. The Wolf is the only one who truly knows what it says and the only one who can interpret it rightly.
Sin, Righteousness, and Duty – All of these become subject to the Wolf’s definitions. Like the Pharisee, he excludes himself from any real duty while laying great burdens upon others.
The Revelation of God – The ultimate expression of the Wolf is found in those who pretend to receive revelations directly from God Himself. Do not confuse them with scripture because their ‘revelations’ are superior to everything else.
How does the Wolf, the Thief, kill?
Listen to what Jesus said of the Pharisees.
15 Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye compass sea and land to make one proselyte, and when he is made, ye make him twofold more the child of hell than yourselves. KJV
The disciple of the Wolf is just that, a disciple of the Wolf. He is not a child of God nor can he be until he comes to the knowledge of truth. Paul said of the Galatians who had received a false gospel from some of these people, “ye are fallen from grace.” He meant that they had fallen away from their hope of grace alone but the doctrine of works was so serious that he commanded them in 1:8,9 twice to reject false gospels even if brought by angels.
Wolves have false gospels, false ‘God’s and false salvations. They destroy the lives of those who trust them and they doom to hell those who believe their versions of the gospel.
And how does he destroy?
By overwhelming the church with false doctrine, driving away all who appose him and by ruining the reputation of the church, the ministry, and Christianity itself.
So, what are people to do?
Exactly what Jesus said, “beware of wolves,” and what Paul said, “take heed therefore unto yourselves, and to all the flock over which the Holy Ghost hath made you overseers…” We are not to assume that everything that looks like a ‘sheep’ is, indeed, a child of God. We are not to assume that every preacher is a true prophet of God. We are to listen carefully to his doctrines, observe closely his behavior, and know as much as possible about his history.
He should faithfully preach and teach the historic doctrines of the faith, holding fast to the Word of God. He should live the faith that he preaches. And there should be no ‘track record’ of destruction in his past, unless it is fully confessed, repented of, and forsaken.