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Wolves In Sheep's Clothing

(Part of a series on the Sermon on The Mount)


Matthew 7:15-23 HCSB
"Beware of false prophets who come to you in sheep's clothing but inwardly are ravaging wolves. (16) You'll recognize them by their fruit. Are grapes gathered from thornbushes or figs from thistles? (17) In the same way, every good tree produces good fruit, but a bad tree produces bad fruit. (18) A good tree can't produce bad fruit; neither can a bad tree produce good fruit. (19) Every tree that doesn't produce good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. (20) So you'll recognize them by their fruit. (21) "Not everyone who says to Me, 'Lord, Lord!' will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of My Father in heaven. (22) On that day many will say to Me, 'Lord, Lord, didn't we prophesy in Your name, drive out demons in Your name, and do many miracles in Your name?' (23) Then I will announce to them, 'I never knew you! Depart from Me, you lawbreakers!'

Introduction

Every now and then we hear about some outrageous cult such as David Koresh and the Branch Davidians or we get a knock on our door from the Mormons or the Jehovah's Witnesses. We are aware of cults but few people are fully aware of the damage they are causing to society. According to the respected Wellspring Institute:

The magnitude of the cult problem is staggering. Estimates of the number of cult members in the United States range well over 10 million. An estimated 2,000-3,000 cults exist in the U.S. Many of those who leave such groups will sustain lasting psychological problems. Few of those will understand the extent or the nature of the damage they have sustained.

To put the problem in perspective, note the following statistics:

The chances of succumbing to a destructive cult are twice as great as those for catching chicken pox.

The chances of contracting measles are approximately 1850 times less than those of joining a destructive cult.

The chances of joining a cult are more than three times greater than the chances of contracting AIDS.

The only social and health problems that exceed the harm inflicted by cults are drug and alcohol abuse, family violence, violent crime, accidents, all forms of cancer combined (cult involvement exceeds the total of any one type of cancer), syphilis, gonorrhea, colds, and flu.

When I was in Australia I used to do cult research and seminars and assist with cult exit counseling. One highly destructive cult in the Australian outback was so ruthless it even employed a hit-man to kill someone who left the group. Other cults broke up marriages and most left people very confused and psychologically damaged. Religion is powerful and affects us deeply and when religion goes wrong it messes people up deeply. On average it takes two to five years to recover from cult involvement, with some people never recovering.

That is why Jesus tells us to be very careful about the spiritual teachers that we listen to. We should not believe just anyone who makes religious claims, we should stand back and check them out to see the fruit on their lives. If the fruit is bad – as with David Koresh or the Moonies or Scientology – then you should stay clear of it.

False Prophets

Well what is a “false prophet”? The Greek word here is “prophetess” and means someone with spiritual or ethical insight, even Greek mathematicians and philosophers were called “prophetess”. It is closely equivalent to “spiritual expert” or “guru” or “seer”. It is a very broad word for a spiritual expert of some sort and is not exactly the same as the Old Testament prophets but includes them as well. It is basically just someone with spiritual or ethical leadership based on insights and teachings. A false prophet is just basically a bogus expert on spiritual matters. They do not have to make prophesies about the end times, or have dreams and visions, they can just teach that which is wrong and lead the sheep astray.

Wolves In Sheep's Clothing

These bogus spiritual experts are called 'wolves in sheep's clothing” this is Jesus quoting a well-known parable of Aesop.

The Wolf in Sheep's Clothing (From http://www.aesopfables.com/)

A Wolf found great difficulty in getting at the sheep owing to
the vigilance of the shepherd and his dogs. But one day it found
the skin of a sheep that had been flayed and thrown aside, so it
put it on over its own pelt and strolled down among the sheep.
The Lamb that belonged to the sheep, whose skin the Wolf was
wearing, began to follow the Wolf in the Sheep's clothing; so,
leading the Lamb a little apart, he soon made a meal off her, and
for some time he succeeded in deceiving the sheep, and enjoying
hearty meals.

Moral: Appearances are deceptive.

The false prophets are like the wolf in sheep's clothing and their real intent is to devour the flock. They have the appearance of sanctity but are inwardly greedy, manipulative and exploitative. Paul says that they will appear to be “ministers of righteousness” while in fact being servants of Satan.

2 Corinthians 11:13-15 HCSB (13) For such people are false apostles, deceitful workers, disguising themselves as apostles of Christ. (14) And no wonder! For Satan himself is disguised as an angel of light. (15) So it is no great thing if his servants also disguise themselves as servants of righteousness. Their destiny will be according to their works.

2 Timothy 3:1-7 MKJV Know this also, that in the last days grievous times will be at hand. (2) For men will be self-lovers, money-lovers, boasters, proud, blasphemers, disobedient to parents, unthankful, unholy, (3) without natural affection, unyielding, false accusers, without self-control, savage, despisers of good, (4) traitors, reckless, puffed up, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God, (5) having a form of godliness, but denying the power of it; even turn away from these. (6) For of these are those who creep into houses and lead captive silly women loaded with sins, led away with different kinds of lusts, (7) ever learning and never able to come to the full knowledge of the truth.

Acts 20:29-30 HCSB I know that after my departure savage wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock. (30) And men from among yourselves will rise up with deviant doctrines to lure the disciples into following them.

False teachers would not get too many followers if they told the truth such as: “I am just after your money” or “I am really just a fake who wants his ego boosted”. They have to tell lies and make false representations and some of them are very good at it.

Generally speaking if someone is “too good to be true” or “too smooth” or “too perfect” then they are hiding something. Real people have visible faults and imperfections. People like the apostle Peter or Thomas are real people with real humanity. Fake humanity is the sign of an actor or a hypocrite.

Christians have to learn the difference between character and personality. Personality is the exterior mask that people wear. It is how they project themselves to others and is not their true self. Character is the deeper self. Some people with boring personalities can have great character and some people with wonderful personalities can be charlatan's and rogues. Here in California the cult of personality is strong and religious fakes abound. We have to be a lot more careful about who we choose to follow.

You Shall Know Them By Their Fruit

OK then how do we know true from false? Jesus says “you shall know them by their fruit”. The fruit of the ministries of David Koresh and Jim Jones and the Reverend Moon is obvious. Ruined lives. If a ministry clearly produces neurotic and bizarre individuals such as Scientology has with Tom Cruise, then that is a sign that it should be avoided. If a ministry makes people highly guilt-ridden and anxious and rigid and unnaturally conformist like the Jehovah's Witnesses does then you clearly have a problem. Or if there are massive family problems such as with the polygamist Mormon fundamentalist break-away groups then you know you are not looking at a good tree with good fruit.

On the other hand if I go to a church and experience sound bible teaching and love and the people are normal and are free to be themselves and are growing in God, then that is good fruit. If the people go on to lead good lives and raise good families then that is a sign of good fruit in the ministry.

It can take some time to work out if a ministry has god fruit or bad fruit but there are certain warning signs:

Attacks on Jesus and On God

All cults draw the person away from the truth concerning Jesus Christ ; this is done in a number of ways:

(1) By denying Jesus Christ is God.

(2) By identifying Jesus with other bible characters or spiritual people e.g. by saying that instead He is the archangel Michael or Satan's brother conceived when the Father had sex with Mary.

(3) By saying that Jesus was god with a small g and that we all can become god, as the Mormons (Latter Day Saints) believe.

(4) By saying God is "The Force" or some sort of creating/evolving energy, not personal, does not possess the ability to love, forgive, hold judgment etc.

(5) By saying Jesus did not come in the flesh but is instead a divine principle a Cosmic Christ or other such being.

(6) By seeing Christ as just human nature achieving at top potential - human potential. we all have "Christ in us" and our job is to "get in contact with it" and achieve our inner potential. However this "Christ" is not a historical person

(7) Jesus not historical - " Christ consciousness" is substituted for faith in a historical Jesus.

(8) Jesus not God, became the Christ when he attained Christ-consciousness at age 30.

(9) Two Jesus theory - outer historical and inner mystical Jesus.

(10) Jesus one of many ascended masters

(11) Jesus just a good man, prophet or teacher.

(12) Holy Spirit not God but a force emanating from God.

If a group teaches any of these things it is NOT historical, biblical Christianity. Such a group is not teaching the truth about God as recorded in the Scriptures and should be avoided by Christians.

The Characteristic Behaviors of Cults

Cults are remarkably alike in that they exhibit certain "odd' behaviors in order to appear more spiritual than the truth and freedom that is in Jesus Christ. In the end though these "super-spiritual behaviors" are profitless and often make a person eccentric, bizarre and spiritually proud.

(1 Timothy 4:1-7 NASB) But the Spirit explicitly says that in later times some will fall away from the faith, paying attention to deceitful spirits and doctrines of demons, {2} by means of the hypocrisy of liars seared in their own conscience as with a branding iron, {3} men who forbid marriage and advocate abstaining from foods, which God has created to be gratefully shared in by those who believe and know the truth. {4} For everything created by God is good, and nothing is to be rejected, if it is received with gratitude; {5} for it is sanctified by means of the word of God and prayer. {6} In pointing out these things to the brethren, you will be a good servant of Christ Jesus, constantly nourished on the words of the faith and of the sound doctrine which you have been following. {7} But have nothing to do with worldly fables fit only for old women. On the other hand, discipline yourself for the purpose of godliness....

Our first four behaviors from the above passage are:

1. Involvement with spirits - which deceive them.
2. Forbidding marriage
3. Dietary restrictions on normal foods
4. Ungodly Superstition

We see cults forbidding marriage, or arranging marriages or in the case of David Koresh claiming all women belonged to him. Most cults have some dietary restrictions and forbid certain kinds of foods , not out of common sense or health reasons but but out of the desire to "be spiritual" or attain "energy" or to seem pure and exalted above the common lot of mankind. Thus people substitute food for character and handling for holiness. They think "I am good person because I do not eat pork" rather than "I am a good person because I love God and my neighbor." This leads to a false sense of spirituality that is so common in cults.

In his letter to the Colossian church Paul writes:

(Colossians 2:16-23 NASB)
Therefore let no one act as your judge in regard to food or drink or in respect to a festival or a new moon or a Sabbath day-- {17} things which are a mere shadow of what is to come; but the substance belongs to Christ. {18} Let no one keep defrauding you of your prize by delighting in self-abasement and the worship of the angels, taking his stand on visions he has seen, inflated without cause by his fleshly mind, {19} and not holding fast to the head, from whom the entire body, being supplied and held together by the joints and ligaments, grows with a growth which is from God. {20} If you have died with Christ to the elementary principles of the world, why, as if you were living in the world, do you submit yourself to decrees, such as, {21} "Do not handle, do not taste, do not touch!" {22} (which all refer to things destined to perish with the using)-- in accordance with the commandments and teachings of men? {23} These are matters which have, to be sure, the appearance of wisdom in self-made religion and self-abasement and severe treatment of the body, but are of no value against fleshly indulgence.

Here Paul lists a few more behaviors associated with the false spirituality of cults:

5. Legalism - do not handle, do not taste, do not touch.
6. False humility
7. Harsh treatment of the body -especially for so called "purification"
8. Worship of angels (and other such beings)
9. People going into great detail about what they have seen in the spiritual realm.
10. Enormous spiritual pride
11. Experience takes over, Christ is no longer central and no longer a source of life.
12. Emphasis on religious festivals, new moons and Sabbath days.
13. Their regulations appear to be wise but are in fact ineffective for restraining fleshly indulgence.
14. Self-made religion - worship made up by man rather than truly revealed from God and inspired by God


The apostle Peter also had a few words to say about this self-deluded form of worship:
(2 Peter 2:18-19 NASB) For speaking out arrogant words of vanity they entice by fleshly desires, by sensuality, those who barely escape from the ones who live in error, {19} promising them freedom while they themselves are slaves of corruption; for by what a man is overcome, by this he is enslaved.

Thus we see that cults are frequently:

15. Boastful
16. Promise false "freedom" - many cults do this.
17. Appeal to the lusts of the flesh - a wise sales tactic
18. Slaves to sin and corruption

The final words must be with Jude the brother of Jesus who writes:

(Jude 1:8-16 NASB)
Yet in the same manner these men, also by dreaming, defile the flesh, and reject authority, and revile angelic majesties. {9} But Michael the archangel, when he disputed with the devil and argued about the body of Moses, did not dare pronounce against him a railing judgment, but said, "The Lord rebuke you." {10} But these men revile the things which they do not understand; and the things which they know by instinct, like unreasoning animals, by these things they are destroyed. {11} Woe to them! For they have gone the way of Cain, and for pay they have rushed headlong into the error of Balaam, and perished in the rebellion of Korah. {12} These men are those who are hidden reefs in your love feasts when they feast with you without fear, caring for themselves; clouds without water, carried along by winds; autumn trees without fruit, doubly dead, uprooted; {13} wild waves of the sea, casting up their own shame like foam; wandering stars, for whom the black darkness has been reserved forever. {14} And about these also Enoch, in the seventh generation from Adam, prophesied, saying, "Behold, the Lord came with many thousands of His holy ones, {15} to execute judgment upon all, and to convict all the ungodly of all their ungodly deeds which they have done in an ungodly way, and of all the harsh things which ungodly sinners have spoken against Him." {16} These are grumblers, finding fault, following after their own lusts; they speak arrogantly, flattering people for the sake of gaining an advantage.

19. Boastful to the point of rejecting all authority, even that of angels.
20. Pollute their own bodies
21. Without shame
22. React abusively against whatever they do not understand.
23. Live by instinct and run headfirst into evil.

Some cults involve the promotion of the grossest immorality under the banner of "love-ins' and David Koresh's gross immorality was so he could "experience the depths of sin" for the world. These 23 points cover most of the behaviors commonly associated with cults in Scripture. Any one of them should be a "red flag" to a Christian. When three or more of them are present, the group is almost certainly wandering away from the will of God.

You Have To Walk Your Talk (Being A Great Communicator Is Not Enough)

After talking about good fruit and bad fruit Jesus goes on to outline the need for a godly life:
Not everyone who says to Me, 'Lord, Lord!' will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of My Father in heaven.

Being very religious is not enough. Lip-service does not fool God. If you say “lord, Lord” then you should obey the one who you are calling Lord! Jesus makes quite clear that obedience is necessary when He says: but only the one who does the will of My Father in heaven.

Grace does not mean that you have a license to sin. You have to walk the talk. Some Christians seem to think that being a communicator is enough. That if they are good at witnessing or writing or the Internet and can explaining Christianity to others, then that is enough, so that God will be pleased with their communicating and they can go and have an affair or be greedy or proud or supercilious. Wrong! Christians have to walk their talk. Even if you have a television audience of twenty million people you still have to live a godly life. Many televangelists and Christian conference speakers live more like film-stars than saints. There are exception, people like Bill Bright and Billy Graham did both – they were a godly men and great communicators.

False Miracles In The End Times

“On that day many will say to Me, 'Lord, Lord, didn't we prophesy in Your name, drive out demons in Your name, and do many miracles in Your name?' (23) Then I will announce to them, 'I never knew you! Depart from Me, you lawbreakers!'”

These verses refer to the last days many bogus ministries will arise and do false miracles by the power of Satan.

(2 Thessalonians 2:8-12 NKJV) And then the lawless one will be revealed, whom the Lord will consume with the breath of His mouth and destroy with the brightness of His coming. {9} The coming of the lawless one is according to the working of Satan, with all power, signs, and lying wonders, {10} and with all unrighteous deception among those who perish, because they did not receive the love of the truth, that they might be saved. {11} And for this reason God will send them strong delusion, that they should believe the lie, {12} that they all may be condemned who did not believe the truth but had pleasure in unrighteousness.

Satan is a great counterfeiter. He devises false teachers and false prophets (2 Peter 2:1) , false apostles with false gospels (2 Cor 11:1-15) and false miracles (2 Thess 2:9). In the end times these will combine into a powerful deception that will even seem to threaten the existence of the church itself. Scripture states seven times that false miracles will mislead many (Matthew 7:21-23, 24:24, Mark 13:22, 2 Thess 2:8-12, Rev 13:13,14, 16:14,19:20) and it seems that this will involve a large section of the world's population (the Greek word for many has the connotations of a majority). Those deceived will believe that they are serving God in the name of Jesus when in fact they are "workers of iniquity".


Here is a "artists impression" of what I believe this final deception will be like:

It will be breathtakingly spectacular with great wonders happening. Fire will fall from heaven to earth on command. People will be spectacularly and genuinely healed. There will be triumph over the forces of nature and a sense that a new "magical realm" has arrived on earth. It will appear to be a wonder-full breakthrough into the instant and easy life. Many people will talk of Utopia being realized and world peace a certainty. The Beast, an apparently benign dictator will appear to be both militarily and spiritually invulnerable. There will be a centralized rule of law on earth under him. The slogan will be something like "Peace through strength" ... "and they worshiped the beast, saying, "Who is like the beast? Who is able to make war with him?" (Rev 13:4) The world will sparkle with magic and dazzle the senses. God and Christianity will seem strangely irrelevant, morals as things of the past. The promise of instant gratification will over-ride everything and people will wonder and be in awe of this marvelous new age, its "promise" and its "freedom". It will suddenly feel OK to be selfish and wonderful to take part in magic.

A false prophet will emerge who will at first appear to be saintly, lamb-like, and meek.. "He had two horns like a lamb and spoke like a dragon." (Rev 13:11) He will win the trust of many. When all the world is convinced then he will lead them into worshiping the image of the Beast. People will follow first of all because of the cunning promises, then because of the great signs he performs and lastly out of the sheer power of economic compulsion. Then as blasphemy increases and Christians are persecuted God's judgments will be poured out on the Earth and the "magical kingdom" shown to be a powerless sham. Few will repent. Most will try harder in their magic and harden in their rebellion until on one day they all assemble at a place called Armageddon to do battle with God - and lose.

The false miracles at the end of the age will have one main object - the deception of the whole earth into following an idolatrous system of worship - " it deceives the inhabitants of earth, telling them to make an image for the beast that had been wounded by the sword and yet lived;" (Rev 13:14) . The end-times religion will be both idolatrous and magical. Idolatry is the substitution of the creature for the Creator. Magic is any system that claims to give people access to God's power without having to accept God's will.

This false religion, led by a false prophet will have enormous power and be able even to call fire to fall from heaven in the presence of all (Rev 13:13). The deception will be enhanced by appearing to have a superficial resemblance to Christianity (Matt 24:24) and may even use the name of Jesus in its magical formulas ... "have we not prophesied in Your name, cast out demons in Your name, and done many wonders in Your name?" (Matt 7:22). The "masterminds" will be an "unholy trinity" - the dragon, the beast and the false prophet. They will be potent sources of demonic spiritual power which will work false miracles. (Revelation 16:13-14)

The focus of this deception will be the world leaders, the deceiving spirits will " go abroad to the kings of the whole world, to assemble them for battle..." . However, the net is a wide one and will catch everyone who is greedy for economic gain. "Also it causes all, both small and great, both rich and poor, both free and slave, to be marked on the right hand or the forehead, so that no one can buy or sell who does not have the mark, that is, the name of the beast or the number of its name" (Rev 13:16-17) .

In fact unless God has written your name in the Book of Life you will fall under this deception. (Revelation 13:8 ) It will be a multi-faceted assault on the Truth by the forces of evil. Paul describes it as "every kind of wicked deception for those who are perishing," ( 2 Thess 2:10) there will not be a deception missing from Satan's plan -every kind of deception will be there! And prominent among all these deceptions will be "all power, signs, lying wonders,.." (2 Thess 2:9).

Conclusion

Spiritual deception is alive and well on planet earth. It is practiced by everyone from the poor old Jehovah's Witnesses to Muslim suicide bombers to the government of North Korea and the cult of Kim Jon-Il. It affects hundreds of millions of people globally and will increase as we approach the End Times. We need to be aware of it and to be wise and very careful about who we choose to believe.

This article may be freely reproduced for non-profit ministry purposes but may not be sold in any way. For permission to use articles in your ministry, e-mail the editor, John Edmiston at johned@aibi.ph.