Jesus warned, "'Watch out for false prophets. They come to you in sheep's clothing, but inwardly they are ferocious wolves'" (Matt. 7:15).*
The enemy tries to destroy Christians and stop the spread of the gospel by using two strategies: persecuting believers and infiltrating the church. False prophets and false teachers may claim to be inspired by God and may appear to be innocent, harmless, useful, and successful. However, even Satan masquerades "as an angel of light. It is not surprising, then, if his servants masquerade as servants of righteousness" (2 Cor. 11:14-15).
Note that Jesus calls the false prophets "wolves." Not only is the wolf not one of the sheep, but he is also the worst enemy of the sheep. The wolf seeks to attack the sheep and scatter them (John 10:12). He comes to steal truth, kill the faith of weak believers, and destroy the unity of the Spirit.
In Acts 20:29-31 Paul warns the Ephesian elders, "'I know that after I leave, savage wolves will come in among you and will not spare the flock. Even from your own number men will arise and distort the truth in order to draw away disciples after them. So be on your guard!"
Sheep among Wolves
When Jesus sent out the twelve disciples, He told them, "'I am sending you out like sheep among wolves. Therefore be as shrewd as snakes and as innocent as doves'" (Matt. 10:16).
So how can we recognize wolves? They may prophesy, perform miracles, and even drive out demons (Matt. 7:21-23). Outwardly they may have "a form of godliness" (2 Tim. 3:5). But Jesus said that we would recognize wolves by their fruit, not by their gifts.
What is the person's motivation? The prophet Balaam is an example of the dangerous influence of false teachers who try to lead God's people astray. The Moabite king, Balak, hired him to pronounce a curse on the Israelites. God frustrated that plan. Later, however, Balaam "taught Balak to entice the Israelites to sin by eating food sacrificed to idols and by committing sexual immorality" (Rev. 2:14).
A prophet or teacher's doctrine must be sound. The enemy will have his followers teach a message that is 99% truth, just so he can slip in that 1% error. As Paul urged Timothy, we must study God's Word, so we can recognize error and correctly handle "the word of truth" (2 Tim. 2:15).
The Fruit of the Teaching
What is the fruit of the person's teaching? Do his followers exhibit holiness, humility, and love? Or does the person's teaching encourage others to become worldly, self-indulgent, careless, and contentious?
The prophet or teacher's life must line up with Scripture. The Pharisees taught the Law, yet they were proud, arrogant, and covetous. People of integrity have no "skeletons in their closets," or secret sins, that could bring reproach on Christ's holy name if discovered. "'Everyone who confesses the name of the Lord must turn away from wickedness'" (2 Tim. 2:19).To serve God you must turn from wickedness
The apostle John instructs us, "Do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God" (1 John 4:1). When we study God's Word and earnestly seek His guidance, the Holy Spirit within us can help us to "recognize the Spirit of truth and the spirit of falsehood" (v. 6).
©2007 by Howard W. Stevens
*All Scripture verses are from the Holy Bible, New International Version®. Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984 International Bible Society. Used by permission of Zondervan. All rights reserved.