Three Ways to Spot a Wolf in Sheep’s Clothing
by Leslie Vernick
One of the ways bank tellers and merchants learn to distinguish real money from counterfeit is by examining genuine $100 bills over and over again so that they are more likely to spot the counterfeit bills when they see them. In the same way we can learn to recognize destructive people by knowing what to look for.
Some may object to any attempt to identify wolves among us because it sounds uncharitable and judgmental to call someone a wolf. Only Jesus knows a person’s heart so who are we to judge? Yet, Jesus himself warns us that there are those who claim to be believers, they may even be leaders in the church, but they are vicious or ravenous wolves dressed up in sheep’s clothing (Matthew 7:15).
The apostle Paul warns Timothy that there will be people who act religious, but are puffed up with pride, who are unloving, unforgiving, slanderous, and cruel (2 Timothy 3:2-9). Part of spiritual maturity is gaining the ability to discern between good and evil (Hebrews 5:14). Why is this necessary? Because Paul reminds us that even Satan masquerades as an angel of light (2 Corinthians 11:14). Evil pretends to be good.
Sometimes we make a naïve assumption and it gets us into terrible trouble. We assume that if someone claims to be a Christian and talks like a Christian, that means he or she is a Christian.
That’s not true.
Just like there are counterfeit $100 bills that attempt to pass for the real thing, there are those among us who attempt to pass for Christians but underneath they are ravenous wolves. How do we tell the difference?
Jesus said by their fruit you will know them. A wolf can be an expert at talking like a Christian but when you observe his or her behaviors over time, they look more wolfish (aggressive). As the saying goes, the sweetest tongue often has the sharpest tooth. Here are three things to watch out for.
1. Wolves live for the love of power rather than the power of love. Wolves refuse accountability and resist submission to authority. You’ve heard the phrase lone wolf? Wolves in sheep’s clothing have themselves as their highest point of reference. They often use charisma and charm to “win” people over but they do not have mutual or reciprocal relationships. People are to be used, possessed, exploited, or controlled rather than loved.
2. Wolves look like sheep and talk like sheep but they bite like wolves, especially when the sheep are disagreeing or dissenting. Winning and being right are their highest values and they do whatever they need to in order to stay “on top”. When operating in church or religious settings their methods are often underhanded and cunning to seem less aggressive. They don’t want to look like wolves, that’s why they pretend to be sheep.
3. Wolves are experts at deceit. That’s why they are successful at looking like sheep. Remember, even Satan portrays himself as something he is not – an angel of light. Wolves pretend to be good and care about the sheep but those closest to them (their family) know the truth. They’ve been bitten again and again and again.
But the wolf’s ability to maintain his cover is one reason why it’s so difficult for church leadership to believe the sheep (person) who has been wounded by the wolf. They fail to see him as a wolf and assume that it is just two sheep biting one another. Wolves have much sharper teeth and stronger jaws than sheep do. A sheep cannot harm a wolf. A wolf kills the sheep.
It’s interesting that God chose a wolf as a word picture to portray this type of real person. A wolf is a predator. It has a strong jaw and 42 sharp teeth designed to stab its prey to death.
Let’s not naively close our eyes and think that there are no wolves in our churches. They are everywhere.