How to Spot a Wolf
Updated: Apr 30
If you have ever seen the movie Babe (1995 ), you remember that the sheep called all dogs "wolves" but they liked Babe because he was just a sweet-natured "sheep-pig". Actually, the "wolves" were dogs and although the sheep could classify the other barnyard animals correctly, they wouldn't differentiate between wolves and dogs. That was because to them, the dogs looked and acted like the proverbial wolves. In Mathew 7:15, Jesus told us to beware of false prophets who appear innocent but inwardly, they have bad intentions and are false. Maybe you are thinking right now; "Who might be a wolf I know or have just met? So and so has a grey beard and long nails and seems a bit off." If you have to think about it awhile, you probably do not know a wolf - yet. We have clues as to what to look for and if you are born again then the Holy Spirit in you is the Chief Shepherd and will alert you when you happen to run into one. And in these last days, your chances of encountering wolves pretending to be sheep are pretty high.
I really love Psalm 23, mainly because the whole thing is like a retreat: We get to lie down in green grass by serene water with Jesus watching over us, we are led blissfully along paths of safety to a table (with piles of mashed potatoes, vegan gravy, and broccoli - at least that's my table) where there are no enemies and I get anointed with oil. It's amazing. What I really like is that our Shepherd (Jesus) has a rod and a staff. In the first century, the rod was described as more of a club - sometimes with nails on the end for better protection. The shepherd's staff was usually as tall or taller than the shepherd and was either straight or had a crook on the end and was used as a walking stick or for protection. What is not described in the Psalm is the shepherd's sling - but certainly every shepherd had one. We know David did. *The sling was comprised of two straps or strings and a pouch to hold the stone. It was swung once or twice over the head and then the straps were released. The shepherd would use it to startle a lagging sheep by letting the rock drop right behind it or they could lob a stone in front of a sheep going the wrong direction. And if there was an enemy, the shepherd could nail it before it even came close. This is what the Holy Spirit does for us. In John 16:13-14, Jesus is telling the disciples that the Holy Spirit was about to be sent and He would tell them things that were coming. He was going to be their inner sheep dog - alerting them to danger they would not otherwise know.
Some of us are very sensitive to some people due to traumas we have suffered, fear, or because in our professions we had to make quick evaluations of people's characters in order to do our jobs effectively (i.e. police officers, customs agents, soldiers). And this can sometimes be problematic for us as believers because on the one hand we need to be as wise as a serpent and on the other loving, kind and long suffering (harmless as doves). So how do we make appraisals of people without being hyper-critical? How do we in fact recognize a wolf? 1 Corinthians 16:13-14 says; "Watch, stand fast in the faith, be brave, be strong. Let all that you do be done with love". If we are diligent to walk in love, the Holy Spirit will train us to discern immaturity from deceit. If our hearts remain pure (we are continually thinking the best of people), they become a clear conduit for the Holy Spirit. If we remain in Him, and His love is in us then our first motive is not accusation but rather "Father God, I lift up so-and-so before your throne and ask you to help me with discernment. Reveal any prejudices or preconceptions in my heart and open my spiritual eyes to see and ears to hear your voice in this matter clearly." Our hearts should convict us if we are being critical - one clue being that we jump to negative conclusions first. Love thinks the best first (1Corinth. 13:7) and has to be persuaded to believe anything different. We will be less critical and more in tune with the Holy Spirit if we abide in Jesus through prayer and His word, pray in the Spirit daily, and keep a clean heart through regular prayer and repentance. 1 John 3:21 says that if our hearts do not condemn us, we have confidence before God.
Chapter 7 of Mathew begins with instructions on judging and then transitions in verses 16-20 stating that you will recognize a wolf by their fruit. Right off the bat meeting someone it is hard to make an evaluation because we can all make our fruit look perfectly ripe at first glance. But we have the Holy Spirit inside of us and if we listen, He is the most advanced, early-alert system in the universe. The Holy Spirit will give us a "check" or just a little feeling that something is not quite right. Sometimes that's all it is and we may never know anything more or ever see that person again. But the important thing is to NOT ignore a check. This doesn't mean act on it right away, but it does mean go to prayer and ask the Lord. He may instruct you to simply pray for the person, ask the Lord to forgive them of their sins (John 20:23), and bless them. Other times the Holy Spirit will give you more specifics for the sake of protection and (hopefully, ultimately) deliverance for the other person. If we are born again, we ALL can and should discern the enemy. Being filled with the Holy Spirit (which is subsequent to salvation) is so important because He gives us spiritual gifts and heightened spiritual awareness.
Back in the days before the internet and online church, most regular church goers probably met very few true spiritual "wolves". If you have not run across one, you can thank your pastor and under shepherds (hopefully the five-fold ministry is effectively working in your church) for doing a great job protecting the sheep. A diligent shepherd will see the trouble coming and cut it off before it even approaches. After an enemy has a chance to stir up the flock, the shepherd risks losing more than one sheep at a time because of chaos and a stampede. So they keep watch and become trained on how to spot the gait of the regional predator and become experts in scanning the horizon to see a land form out of place. And while it's not hard to recognize an animal that is clearly not a sheep, it is a big challenge when the enemy looks like one. Mathew 7:15-23 is a handy outline for making appraisals:
15 “Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ravenous wolves. 16 You will know them by their fruits. Do men gather grapes from thorn bushes or figs from thistles? 17 Even so, every good tree bears good fruit, but a bad tree bears bad fruit. 18 A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, nor can a bad tree bear good fruit. 19 Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. 20 Therefore by their fruits you will know them.
21 “Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ shall enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father in heaven. 22 Many will say to Me in that day, ‘Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in Your name, cast out demons in Your name, and done many wonders in Your name?’ 23 And then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness!’
And it's not just false prophets we need to watch out for, but Peter also warns us about false teachers (2 Peter2:1-18). It is a really strong warning and I want to include it in entirety:
But there were also false prophets among the people, just as there will be false teachers among you. They will secretly introduce destructive heresies, even denying the sovereign Lord who bought them—bringing swift destruction on themselves. 2 Many will follow their depraved conduct and will bring the way of truth into disrepute. 3 In their greed these teachers will exploit you with fabricated stories. Their condemnation has long been hanging over them, and their destruction has not been sleeping.
4 For if God did not spare angels when they sinned, but sent them to hell,[a] putting them in chains of darkness[b] to be held for judgment; 5 if he did not spare the ancient world when he brought the flood on its ungodly people, but protected Noah, a preacher of righteousness, and seven others; 6 if he condemned the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah by burning them to ashes, and made them an example of what is going to happen to the ungodly; 7 and if he rescued Lot, a righteous man, who was distressed by the depraved conduct of the lawless 8 (for that righteous man, living among them day after day, was tormented in his righteous soul by the lawless deeds he saw and heard)— 9 if this is so, then the Lord knows how to rescue the godly from trials and to hold the unrighteous for punishment on the day of judgment. 10 This is especially true of those who follow the corrupt desire of the flesh[c] and despise authority.
Bold and arrogant, they are not afraid to heap abuse on celestial beings; 11 yet even angels, although they are stronger and more powerful, do not heap abuse on such beings when bringing judgment on them from[d] the Lord. 12 But these people blaspheme in matters they do not understand. They are like unreasoning animals, creatures of instinct, born only to be caught and destroyed, and like animals they too will perish.
13 They will be paid back with harm for the harm they have done. Their idea of pleasure is to carouse in broad daylight. They are blots and blemishes, reveling in their pleasures while they feast with you.[e] 14 With eyes full of adultery, they never stop sinning; they seduce the unstable; they are experts in greed—an accursed brood! 15 They have left the straight way and wandered off to follow the way of Balaam son of Bezer,[f] who loved the wages of wickedness. 16 But he was rebuked for his wrongdoing by a donkey—an animal without speech—who spoke with a human voice and restrained the prophet’s madness.
17 These people are springs without water and mists driven by a storm. Blackest darkness is reserved for them. 18 For they mouth empty, boastful words and, by appealing to the lustful desires of the flesh, they entice people who are just escaping from those who live in error.
We need to be careful not to throw babies out with the bath water (has anyone ever really done this?): Not all prophets are false, there are true prophets just as there are good, solid teachers of the word of God. The bible gives us very clear instructions on how to keep ourselves safe from deceit.
Another key to spotting danger and keeping ourselves safe and sound is the Body of Christ. There is safety in the sheep pen. When we are plugged into a body of believers with a good shepherd and diligent watchmen we have a level of protection from deception that is not found in being a lone "sheep". And with the plethora of speakers, prophets, and pastors appearing on all different internet platforms, we need to be extra diligent to filter what is sound doctrine and what is not. If the speaker is popular, charismatic, and says what we agree with (even if it is not biblically sound) we can be tricked into thinking they are from the Lord. Some are making excuses for very blatant missed prophecies and still thousands follow them on social media. But there is safety in a bible-believing, solid as a rock, Holy Spirit filled church and the fellowship of like-minded believers. We need to be with and be watching out for each other.
We can hardly blame the sheep in the movie Babe for calling the dogs wolves. They did sometimes act like them even if they did it as part of their job for the shepherd. But at the end of the movie, it was shown that the sheep were not stupid (which is what the dogs thought) and the dogs were not really wolves and would commit to treating them more gently. We are really bombarded with having to make appraisals about people on a regular basis. We are sent teachings by various speakers, YouTube videos of this or that person, and we have to have our spirit ears tuned to the Holy Spirit at all times. There are no down times for real shepherds and there are none for the Holy Spirit either. He is watching out for us at all times. Psalm 121 says that He who watches over me does not slumber or sleep, He protects me in the daytime or nighttime and preserves me from all evil. We can rest because we have the Great Shepherd who (if we are listening carefully) will alert us and protect us from deception. We can be safe from deception if we stay spiritually sharp, pray without ceasing and remain in the Shepherd's flock.
"Therefore I will save My flock, and they shall no longer be a prey; and I will judge between sheep and sheep. I will establish one shepherd over them, and he shall feed them—My servant David. He shall feed them and be their shepherd. And I, the Lord, will be their God, and My servant David a prince among them; I, the Lord, have spoken."
*Information regarding the shepherd's rod, staff and sling taken from: www. Manners & Customs: Shepherd life; the care of sheep and goats | AHRC (ancient-hebrew.org)
*Antinomianism: Taken from Webster's Dictionary online.
Bible quotations are taken from the New King James Translation.