Mark Alan Williams
Beware Of Wolves In Sheep’s Clothing
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After a conversation at lunch this week about the bestselling book The Shack, I was thinking of writing about “wolves in sheep’s clothing.” I wasn’t sure I would write something however until just a few hours later a pastor told me what has happened recently at one of the oldest churches in our area. The senior pastor has been dismissed for adopting a “universalist” position such as that suggested in The Shack. When I heard that, I knew immediately I had to write this article.
CC Image courtesy of Sean MacEntee on Flickr
Perhaps you have no idea what “universalism” means. In a nutshell, it is the heresy that ALL are saved, whether they believe in Jesus or not. Salvation is universal. In the words of another author, “love wins” – that is, love conquers all and it doesn’t matter what a person believes or if they trust in Christ.
To learn more on this subject, see these articles I wrote:
Five Questions for Those Who Think That Many Roads Lead to Heaven
I grieve for that church nearby, for the pastor who has been drawn into this heresy and for so many who are being subtly influenced by universalism.
Apparently he and others disregarded Jesus clear warning: “Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing but inwardly are ravenous wolves.” (Matthew 7:15 ESV)
Let me be clear, we are not talking about a side issue, a non-essential. I would not be concerned if the issues were small theological issues, such as end times theology, or the mode of baptism or whether a church should have elders or deacons or some other structure.
Instead, we are talking about the very heart of the Christian faith: the sacrifice of Jesus on the cross for the payment of our sins, and the necessity of receiving salvation through faith in Christ.
We are talking about the very essence of Christianity.
In the verse above Jesus gave clear teachings about wolves in sheep’s clothing:
To beware means to be on the alert, to be vigilant, and to watch out. Jesus is telling us to be active, not passive, regarding false teaching.
If you are not on the alert for false doctrine and false teachers, you are not obeying Jesus instruction.
2 Timothy 2:15 instructs us to, “Study to shew thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth.”
02. “…of false prophets”
We are to beware of “false prophets.” What are false prophets? False prophets are those who look like prophets—they are nice guys, they are persuasive, they are clever, they seem spiritual and holy.
The problem is that while they are in sheep’s clothing and seem harmless, they disseminate false teaching and are inwardly “ravenous wolves.”
Jesus teaching is quite clear. However, when Christians ignore His warning, and read the writings and listen to the teachings of the false prophets of our day, they become deceived—sometimes in subtle ways and other times in big ways.
Are you being deceived?
But Jesus wasn’t finished. He goes on with an even stronger warning:
“You will recognize them by their fruits. Are grapes gathered from thornbushes, or figs from thistles? So, every healthy tree bears good fruit, but the diseased tree bears bad fruit. A healthy tree cannot bear bad fruit, nor can a diseased tree bear good fruit. Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. Thus you will recognize them by their fruits.” (Matthew 7:16-23)
Many Christians have bought the lie that it is wrong to judge. They quote the first part of this chapter in the book of Matthew, “Judge not lest you be judged.” (Matthew 7:1) The problem is that people stop there and don’t study the rest of Jesus’ teaching in this chapter.
In the first verse Jesus is talking about being judgmental. But here and elsewhere the Bible clearly tells us to be discerning or judging. Two times in this short passage above He tells us we will “recognize them by their fruits” (v. 16 & 23).
A mature Christian is a discerning Christian—not judgmental but discerning.
A mature Christian is a discerning Christian—not judgmental but discerning. | CLICK TO TWEET
But Jesus wasn’t done yet. He got even more serious. The passage continues with the strongest warning imaginable:
“Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. On that day many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?’ And then will I declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness.’” (v. 21-23)
Wow, this passage blows me away. It clearly points out that not everyone will enter heaven, not even everyone who says to Him “Lord, Lord.” This is the diametric opposite of the teaching of universalism.
Even more vividly, it says some who will not enter heaven are those who seem to “prophesy” in His name, and “cast our demons” and do many “mighty works.” What will Jesus have to say to them? “I never knew you: depart from me, you workers of lawlessness.” (v. 23)
These are the “false prophets” Jesus was talking about who are inwardly ferocious wolves. They look really good—they have an appealing message, they draw people in, they seem to have a great ministry. But beneath all of this is a denial of essential doctrines of the Christian faith.
Are you being vigilant and discerning or are you being drawn in?
Are you being vigilant and discerning or are you being drawn in? | CLICK TO TWEET
Finally, let me give you two recent examples of “wolves in sheep’s clothing” to beware of:
01. Love Wins by Rob Bell
I strongly suggest you read Albert Mohler’s review of Rob Bell’s book, Love Wins titled “We Have Seen All This Before: Rob Bell and the (Re)Emergence of Liberal Theology”
He points out in his review that Rob Bell has nothing new, it is simply an old heresy packaged cleverly for modern readers and a new generation. Mohler writes:
Bell clearly prefers inclusivism, the belief that Christ is saving humanity through means other than the Gospel, including other religions. But he mixes up his story along the way, appearing to argue for outright universalism on some pages, but backing off of a full affirmation. He rejects the belief that conscious faith in Christ is necessary for salvation, but he never clearly lands on a specific account of what he does believe.
02. The Shack by Paul Young
This novel has sold over 20 million copies making it one of the best selling Christian publisher books of all time. Why am I concerned about something so popular? Because Jesus warned, “Woe unto you, when all men shall speak well of you! for so did their fathers to the false prophets.” (Luke 6:26 KJV)
Randy Alcorn wrote a very helpful, balanced review of the book. I recommend you follow this link and read all of it, and other helpful reviews he references.
Alcorn expresses his concerns about various issues including the author’s universalism. Here are just two paragraphs:
I once saw someone who calls himself a “Christian universalist” defending his position that all will be saved. This universalist recommended a book that everybody should read: The Shack. Now, I don’t believe in guilt by association. Some unorthodox people have liked some of my books. I’m just saying that since this guy was defending universalism when he recommended The Shack, he, at least, understood it to be on his side.
I don’t think Paul Young would necessarily appreciate that. On the other hand, it would have been very easy for Paul, by changing the wording of a few sentences here and there, to shut the door on universalism. He could have had God articulate the biblical and orthodox viewpoint of historic Christianity, that salvation comes in believing in Jesus Christ and His work on the cross on our behalf, and that to not accept God’s gift of eternal life in Christ is to invite an eternity in Hell. Paul hasn’t chosen to make that clear, which he could by revising future editions of The Shack. But though he’s been aware of these concerns for a long time (I first shared these with him when The Shack had sold probably one hundredth of the copies it has now sold), as far as I know he has never made the changes he could so easily have made.
Some might think this universalist slant in The Shack is no big deal. I disagree. It is huge—the very center of our faith is the need for personally receiving Jesus Christ.
In conclusion, both these books are several years old and some might suggest that I am “too late into the game.” However, we’re continuing to see devastating fallout, such as the pastor above who had to be released by his church due to the influence of “Christian universalism.”
So, this is still a very relevant topic today! Beware of false teachers—wolves in sheep’s clothing!
Note: There are many ministries I can enthusiastically endorse. For a list, see my Recommended Resources page.