Wolves in Sheep’s Covering
Can you detect them? How can you avoid becoming their prey?
DECEPTION caused Eve to become prey to the great Devourer, Satan the Devil. Thereafter her husband and children fell into the clutches of a wolfish god who has robbed them of everything in life that is worthwhile—fear of God, self-respect, genuine love for neighbor and love of the truth. Today, therefore, hypocrisy and treachery are rife. Each worshiper of the true God is required to be wide-awake, alert to the numerous deceptions that continually beset his path.
To his first-century disciples Jesus sounded a warning that applies to us today with even greater force: “Look out that you are not misled; for many will come on the basis of my name, saying, ‘I am he [Christ],’ and, ‘The due time has approached.’ Do not go after them.” (Luke 21:8) He also admonished: “Be on the watch for the false prophets that come to you in sheep’s covering, but inside they are ravenous wolves.” (Matt. 7:15) Watchfulness and caution are therefore essential to avoid becoming prey to greedy, wolfish men.
Just as wolves will cut off their intended victims from the main flock before attacking and devouring, so it might be expected that human wolves would act. So the apostle Paul under inspiration declared: “I know that after my going away oppressive wolves will enter in among you and will not treat the flock with tenderness, and from among you yourselves men will rise and speak twisted things to draw away the disciples after themselves.” And Peter, an apostle of Jesus Christ, also spoke of this peril: “There will also be false teachers among you. These very ones will quietly bring in destructive sects and will disown even the owner that bought them . . . Also, with covetousness they will exploit you with counterfeit words.” Jesus’ brother and disciple Jude, in turn, wrote that “certain men have slipped in who have long ago been appointed by the Scriptures to this judgment, ungodly men, turning the undeserved kindness of our God into an excuse for loose conduct and proving false to our only Owner and Lord, Jesus Christ.” The apostle John adds his testimony: “Young children, it is the last hour, and, just as you have heard that antichrist is coming, even now [about the year 98 C.E.] there have come to be many antichrists; from which fact we gain the knowledge that it is the last hour. They went out from us, but they were not of our sort.”—Acts 20:29, 30; 2 Pet. 2:1-3; Jude 4; 1 John 2:18, 19.
The combined testimony of these faithful witnesses pointed to danger from within the ranks of professed Christians. The peril would be not so much from the openly avowed opponents of Christ as from those who would rise up claiming to be Christ or claiming to exercise the rights and prerogatives of Christ as his empowered representatives. Disarmed by an outward show of godliness and by “smooth talk and complimentary speech,” many unwary Christians would be seduced into following ‘wolves in sheep’s covering’ and eventually becoming prey to such selfish deceivers.—Rom. 16:18.
HOW TO DETECT THEM
The apostle Paul disclosed two giveaway signs of deception, namely, a twisting of the words of truth and a lack of the spirit of tender affection. Peter speaks of counterfeit words and the promotion of sects, groups following men. Jude intimates that a departure from the high moral standards of the Bible would be a danger signal. John points to a denial of the true relationship existing between the heavenly Father and his Son, Christ Jesus, as another indication of antichristian deception.—1 John 2:19, 22.
The facts in fulfillment confirmed those timely warnings. Many false Messiahs (Christs) have arisen since the middle of the first century, men who have duped multitudes of Jews. From time to time men have also arisen, up to and including our own time, claiming to be Christ, deceiving gullible persons who professed to be Christians. Then there is the long line of self-styled vicegerents of Christ who have sat upon a throne in Rome and who have promulgated the idea that their church rule was indeed the foretold thousand-year reign of Christ. In effect they were saying: “The due time has approached,” and have thereby stifled the expectations of many in a genuine Kingdom rule with blessings for all peoples. Add to this the multitudes of nominal Christians who have placed their own personal ideas and selfish desires ahead of the teaching of Christ, and who have to that extent usurped the position of Christ as the authoritative Teacher of the Christian congregation.
Since Jesus stated, “Really, then, by their fruits you will recognize those men,” let us take note of the fruitage of their selfish and wicked operations. (Matt. 7:20) Promotion of the clergy-laity distinction among nominal Christians paved the way for harsh and autocratic rule of the masses, lacking in tenderness and love. Some denied the virgin birth of Jesus, while others substituted for the clear teaching of God’s supremacy the pagan idea of a trinity of coequal gods, whereby they denied the true position of both the Father and the Son. One so-called Christian leader of the second century is reported to have taught that “the way to eternal salvation was open to those souls only which committed all kinds of enormity and wickedness.” Bloody and ineffectual Crusades and wars were fought in the name of Christ. Pagan philosophies were freely mixed with teachings of the Bible. Thus nominal Christians in our day have become inheritors of a host of false and twisted teachings, such as the deathless human soul, purgatory, hellfire torments, celibacy, a man-made system of fasts and abstinences from meat, all accompanied by a great relaxation of the moral requirements set forth in God’s written Word.
How utterly at variance all these counterfeit teachings with the clear mandate given by Christ to every one of his followers: “Go therefore and make disciples of people of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the holy spirit, teaching them to observe all the things I have commanded you”! (Matt. 28:19, 20) It surely is vital for each sincere worshiper of God to look well to his beliefs and associations, for the snares and pitfalls that threaten the purity of one’s faith today are vastly multiplied.
HOW TO AVOID BECOMING PREY
Since twisted and counterfeit words and lip service to the Holy Scriptures are seen to be the point of departure from what is sound and true, it follows that our protection must be in a strong faith in the written Word of God. Tradition will not suffice; nor will some isolated Bible text that is interpreted in such manner as to do violence to the other plain teachings of the Bible. Whatever anyone asks you to accept as truth, be sure to require of him some clear basis for the teaching in Holy Scripture. Even as regards the religious association to which you now adhere, do not hesitate to inquire into the Scriptural foundations for its teachings. All of this means that you must be a diligent student of God’s Word. Paul counseled the young man Timothy: “Continue in the things that you learned and were persuaded to believe, knowing from what persons you learned them and that from infancy you have known the holy writings, which are able to make you wise for salvation through the faith in connection with Christ Jesus.” (2 Tim. 3:14, 15) So, too, if you have been taught from the Holy Scriptures, continue to study them.
It may be that you have entertained the idea that the older a religious organization, the sounder it must be, or, the larger its following, the more likely it is to have the truth. Age and numbers do not determine truth and error. The world empire of Babylonish religion, which has bequeathed its corruptions to the thousands of modern religious systems, was false and poisonous in its teachings from its very start over 4,000 years ago. In Noah’s day the majority of humans were wrong, and again in Jesus’ day the majority of the Jews were wrong. You may also have concluded that the religion that appeals to highly educated, rich and influential people must be the true one. Yet the apostle Paul declared: “Not many wise in a fleshly way were called, not many powerful, not many of noble birth; but God chose the foolish things of the world, that he might put the wise men to shame; and God chose the weak things of the world, that he might put the strong things to shame; and God chose the ignoble things of the world and the things looked down upon, the things that are not, that he might bring to nothing the things that are, in order that no flesh might boast in the sight of God.”—1 Cor. 1:26-29.
If you do not want to be exploited by selfish, wolflike men masquerading as sheeplike Christians, men who suavely discourage you from making a thorough study of God’s Word, why not associate with those who demonstrate a deep love for the written Word, and who are regularly studying it and applying its precepts in their lives? Shun the company of those who have dethroned Christ Jesus in their lives and set up in his place their own imperfect opinions. The fruits of your own beliefs need to be examined often, for they should harmonize with the attitudes and actions of your Master, Christ Jesus. “Keep testing whether you are in the faith, keep proving what you yourselves are,” is the advice of the Scriptures.—2 Cor. 13:5.
You do not want to become prey to unscrupulous men who will only use you for the advancement of their own power and position, and without any regard for your eternal welfare and happiness. So check the credentials of those who come on the basis of Christ’s name, or who claim to be Christian teachers, and, if they do not prove to be authentic, then by all means obey the Lord’s warning: “Do not go after them.” Rather, seek the safety of the true flock of God’s sheep.