Possessing righteous judgment is imperative. It literally is a matter of spiritual life-or-death. Being able to discern a wolf in sheep’s clothing from a sheep is eternally essential.
Jesus’ clear teaching on this matter is: “Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ravenous wolves. You will know them by their fruits. Do men gather grapes from thorn bushes or figs from thistles?” (Matthew 7:15-16).
Note these four D’s in Jesus’ instruction about these pernicious spiritual predators:
False teachers Do exist. They are not some imaginary spiritual bogeyman, concocted by the overheated imaginations of Bible writers. Every one of the eight New Testament penmen have written sobering words of warning about these spiritual killers. Peter declares, “there were also false prophets among the people, even as there will be false teachers among you, who will secretly bring in destructive heresies, even denying the Lord who bought them, and bring on themselves swift destruction” (2 Peter 2:1). John commands, “Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits, whether they are of God; because many false prophets have gone out into the world” (1 John 4:1). Jude warns that “certain men have crept in unnoticed, who long ago were marked out for this condemnation, ungodly men, who turn the grace of our God into lewdness and deny the only Lord God and our Lord Jesus Christ” (Jude 4). Paul writes, “Now the Spirit expressly says that in latter times some will depart from the faith, giving heed to deceiving spirits and doctrines of demons, speaking lies in hypocrisy, having their own conscience seared with a hot iron” (1 Timothy 4:1-2).
False teachers are Dangerous. “Beware” stresses the need to be continually on guard against; it necessitates spiritual alertness and purposeful effort. Ravening wolves are not harmless, cute pets; they are ruthless predators who are never full. They intend to kill quickly, cunningly, and as often as possible.
False teachers are Deceptive. A wolf and a sheep are fairly similar in natural size and general appearance. The added camouflage of sheep’s clothing makes the identity of the wolf ever more difficult to nail down. This deception is intentional.
False teachers are Discernable. How impossible it would be to “beware of” a false prophet if you could not identify them. Like a grapevine and a fig tree a false teacher can be identified; he is discerned by the fruit he brings forth. If his teaching does not harmonize with God’s word—if it perverts God’s grace into license to sin and/or denies the authority of our Lord and His written word into every aspect of your life, then you can know he is a false teacher. Every time.