“Watch out for false prophets. They come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ferocious wolves.” Matthew 7:15
What does “Wolf in Sheep’s Clothing” mean?
A wolf in sheep’s clothing is symbolic for someone who outwardly looks harmless and kind with good intentions but inwardly is full of hate, evil and deceit. The apostle Paul warns us of this false teacher in the book of Matthew in the Bible. This person seeks to twist truth and Scripture to fit their own agenda. They deceive their audience with false prophecy and teachings. Wolves teach false doctrine while appearing attractive.
Sometimes the truth can get twisted in this life. Blurred. Manipulated. Lines get crossed. Things once seen as black and white may start to appear grayer. It may seem harder to recognize what’s true or what’s false. What’s light and what’s dark? At the heart of the battle, we face every day, is a real enemy who prowls around seeking someone to devour. (1 Pet. 5:8) He’ll stop at nothing to gain new ground. He and his forces have quoted God’s words since the beginning of time, twisting it, trying their best to manipulate the truth, their main goal only to deceive and lead astray. They know who God is and the Bible says they “shudder” in fear at His name. (James 2:19) They know that God alone will be victorious and no matter what traps are used today to try to distract us away from Him, in the end, they will not win.
Many times the wolf disguised in sheep’s clothing knows God’s Word better than we thought, crafting and twisting it so much, we might even find ourselves feeling confused over what real truth is anymore. So how can we spot a wolf in sheep’s clothing and how can we see through their deception to protect ourselves? First, let’s look at three signs that help you detect one of these individuals.
Signs of a Wolf in Sheep’s Clothing
1. They Love Power and Themselves
This leader will try to gain and hold onto power for their own selfish reasons. Relationships are used and abused solely for the purpose of gaining more control. A wolf in sheeps clothing will use their position to create rules and standards that were never a part of God’s plan. They do not want to empower people with freedom and truth but rather keep them under his power with boundaries.
2. They Refuse Correction and Respond to Criticism with Anger
When you confront a wolf in sheep’s clothing, the response will not be one of humility and repentance. This person will respond with anger, bitterness, and often turn the criticism back on you. Their main goal in life is self-preservation and will not let anyone get in the way of their authority. A wolf will appear meek in front of an audience but will show aggression when confronted.
3. They Use Emotions to Get What They Want
A wolf knows the power of words and emotions to manipulate people. They use guilt, shame, and fear to keep others under their power. A wolf knows when to speak sweet words of compliments and when to use cutting words to fuel insecurity.
4. They lack the Fruit of the Spirit
Galatians 5:22-23 tell us what the characteristics and traits are in the life of a person who is following the Holy Spirit. The wolf does not produce the fruit of the Spirit. They may be able to appear loving and gentle in front of people but behind closed doors, they lack kindness, gentleness, self-control, and other fruits. A wolf gives into sinful natures and will display them when feeling attacked.
The best way to expose the false lies of the enemy is to know the Truth of the One voice who matters most. Know the real and you’ll know what is false.
One way federal agents are trained to detect counterfeit money is by learning how to spot what is “fake,” by understanding first what is “real.” They study real money, for hours and hours, every part of it. They know it so well when the counterfeit is set before them, they immediately know that it’s false. Because they know the real thing.
And so it is with us. As we keep pressing in to know God, who is real, who is Truth, and we set our minds on His Word, spending time there, meditating on it, eventually we become very trained in detecting the “fake.”
How to Spot and Respond to a Sheep’s Clothing: 5 Reminders from God’s Word
1. Watch out.
“Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing but inwardly are ravenous wolves. Matt. 7:15
God reminds us in His Word to “watch out,” “beware,” to stay awake. He knows and understands how difficult it can be to fight this spiritual battle. Some days we get weary, or we get so busy and distracted, we’re not watching anymore for ways we might get tripped up. But he tells us, “Be on your guard; stand firm in the faith; be courageous; be strong.” 1 Cor. 16:13
God desires the best for us and knows how important it is for us to live aware. He freely gives us his strength and protection to stand strong each day, he will never leave us defenseless on our own.
2. Know the real and you’ll know the fake too.
“You will recognize them by their fruits…” Matt. 7:16
God’s Word is clear, it says they’ll be known by their fruits. Not by how much money they have. Not by how many followers they have. Not by how many books they have written or the great things they have done. They’ll be known by what fruit exists in their lives. Is there love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness, faithfulness, and self-control? Are they sharing the gospel of Christ, and pointing others to the forgiveness and freedom that He alone can bring? What do they say about who Jesus is? What do they believe about the authority of God’s Word?
We may have to look more closely than what is on the outside. The world often views “success” and popularity differently than how God sees. What’s at the heart? Eventually, the truth of who they are will be brought into the light. “He will bring to light what is hidden in darkness and will expose the motives of the heart.” 1 Cor. 4:5
We can trust His word to be true and rely on Him for guiding us.
3. Know God’s word and you’ll know when it’s being twisted and manipulated.
“For even Satan disguises himself as an angel of light. So it is no surprise if his servants, also, disguise themselves as servants of righteousness. Their end will correspond to their deeds.” 2 Cor. 11:14-15
Sometimes deception may be hidden well, manipulated and cunning, for the Bible makes clear that even Satan disguises himself as light.
If we don’t know His truth, we will never know when we’re being deceived. Study it. Meditate on His words. Guard them in your heart. “I have hidden your word in my heart that I might not sin against you.” Ps. 119:11
Press in close to God. Spend time in His presence. Pray, talk to Him, listen to His voice through His word. Staying close to His side, living under the protection of His armor and covering, helps us to know when we’re staring straight into falsehood.
4. Trust the discernment and wisdom of God’s Spirit living through your life.
“…false prophets will appear and perform great signs and wonders to deceive, if possible, even the elect. See, I have told you ahead of time.” Matt. 24:23-25
God gives us His Spirit to guide us in discernment and wisdom. “When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth…” John 16:13
5. Surround yourself with other believers you know and trust.
“Knowing this…scoffers will come in the last days with scoffing, following their own sinful desires.” 2 Pet. 3:3
Use caution in who you listen to and choose to take guidance from. Sometimes when we’re in a place where it’s hard to see clearly, maybe because of our own pressing worries or cares, we need a trusted friend who can speak the truth in places we need to hear. This is often true in marriage. Learning to listen to one another and take into consideration what the other might be sensing or discerning can often have great power in saving us from a heap of trouble up ahead if we’ll only heed the warnings that someone we love may speak our way.
“Where there is no guidance, a people falls, but in an abundance of counselors there is safety.” Prov. 11:14
Recognize that sometimes believers may simply disagree. It doesn’t necessarily mean that one is a “false teacher,” but only that both might be doing their best to follow God’s Word and what He’s leading, they just may not agree on everything. We see this in Scripture and we see it all around us today. Let’s not waste time-fighting against ourselves, but recognize who the real enemy is. We can choose to give each other grace and kindness. We can hold on to what matters most, and pursue unity in the body of Christ. Standing strong together, on Christ the Solid Rock.
“And you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” John 8:32
Debbie McDaniel is a writer, pastor’s wife, mom to three amazing kids (and a lot of pets). Join her each morning on Fresh Day Ahead’s Facebook page, http://www.facebook.com/DebbieWebbMcDaniel, for daily encouragement in living strong, free, hope-filled lives. Find her also at http://twitter.com/debbmcdaniel.
This article is part of our larger resource library of popular Bible verse phrases and quotes. We want to provide easy to read articles that answer your questions about the meaning, origin, and history of specific verses within Scripture context. It is our hope that these will help you better understand the meaning and purpose of God’s Word in relation to your life today.