In 2010, I was asked to go to Afghanistan as a trainer for the Afghan National Army (ANA). I had returned from a 12 month tour three months prior to this request. I was chosen because I was a range coach and a Non-Commissioned Officer. Unlike most military experiences, I had the option to accept this assignment since I had recently come home. At the time, I was struggling with different personal issues, but I was intrigued by the prospect of going back on this assignment. I would get the opportunity to go on patrols, instruct on different weapon systems than was generally taught in my current role, and it would have been a much needed fresh start. This would necessitate providing a supporting role to the Afghan Army, who would make up a significant portion of those I would accompany in battle. At the time, ANA troops were turning against their handlers regularly, making this assignment a great unknown. Nobody knew the difference between a true and false individual. The similarities between Afghanistan and Vietnam were striking. There were no uniforms that mattered. The enemy was everywhere, and nowhere at the same time. The person you would build a degree of trust with would be the one to stab you in the back, literally. What do you do when appearances, speech, and behavior are not easily indicators of a person's convictions and intention? How do you defend yourself against those who are suppose to be on your team? How would we discern the wolves in sheep's clothing?
Sadly, I see similarities between my time in Afghanistan and current Christian structures. There are enemies we know. Those are the flesh, the world, and the devil (Matt. 13:18-23, Eph. 2:2-3). The flesh is our fallen, sinful nature characterized by corrupt inclinations and disordered passions. The world is the system of political and social institutions indifferent to or in opposition against God's design. The devil is the fallen angel Lucifer along with the demonic host and fallen angels that influence the world's system and entices fleshly passions against God. We recognize the work of these three spiritual foes by their direct opposition to biblical truths. Like a direct external, uniformed, and obvious enemy on the battlefield, these enemy combatants let their intentions be know through direct opposition against God, the Church, and each individual believer for the intended purpose of turning hearts against Christ and dragging souls to Hell. Christians are fighting this spiritual war for the hearts and minds of humanity, revealing our spiritual war (Eph. 6:12).
Then there are enemies within the ranks. These are wolves in sheep's clothing, playing a role contrary to their real character. These are people with whom contact represents a dangerous threat to biblical faith. Such people lure their prey through imitating the prey. Remember, the prey is the true, biblical faith of a Christian. To snatch away one's faith is to corrupt it, leading to apostasy. This always happens gradually in stages, with those who appear as a Christian, teacher, pastor, prophet, apostle, a ministry, or friend. Yet prolonged exposure to such individuals leads to unsound doctrine, doubting Christ's ministry, leaving the Church, denying Christianity for another religion or no religion at all, and spiritual regression.
There are five ways to identify a wolf among sheep:
1). Wolves do not seek to empower, but take power for themselves.
2). Wolves appear sweet, but they bear their teeth when confronted.
3). Wolves manipulate through emotions to get what they want.
4). Wolves charm their intended prey with flattery, gifts, and kindness. When the prey's guard is down, the wolf comes out.
5). A wolf's story is full of holes. What they say does not line up.
Each of these five characteristics of a wolf can be revealed through comparing what they say and do to the four Gospel accounts of Christ's words and deeds. The early church was defined by learning and adhering to the apostles doctrine (Acts 2:42). The Great Commission includes Christ instructing the apostles to teach all new disciples to do what He taught (Matt. 28:20). As the ultimate goal of a wolf is to devour a believer's biblical faith, anything, no matter how subtle, that leads to establishing a pattern of unsound doctrine, doubting or denying Christology, forsaking the assembling of believers together, denying Christian faith, or sees uncanny spiritual decline is the result of a wolf among the sheep. It is the responsibility of a good pastor to remove the wolf and keep them away from the fold. It is the responsibility of the congregation to let the pastor know when there is a suspected wolf in the fold, if the pastor has not noticed already.
You will not know sound biblical doctrine if you do not study the life, ministry, and works of Christ (Christology). It will be impossible to discern the savvory, sweet, alluring words of a false prophet or false teacher if Christ is not hidden in your heart. To know the Word is to know Christ, for Christ is the Word made flesh (John 1:14). If your pastor is not teaching the full counsel of the Gospel, he is not preparing you to see the wolves among the sheep. If you are not spending time reading and understanding scripture on your own, you're denying the very life giving message of Christ that will guard your hearts and minds against the many wolves masquerading as true believers (Matt. 11:29, Phil. 2:5-11).
In these times, many wolves are rising, coming into the church, and deceiving many (Matt. 24:9-14, 2 Pet. 2:1-3, 1Tim. 4:1-5, 2 Thess. 2:3). If you do not know the Word, you are at risk of falling prey to the delusions of spiritual wolves, who seek to devour your faith. I encourage us all to get in the Word today. Read scripture, and seek understanding. I am always here to help answer any question you have, and guide you through the Word. Please reach out.