Matthew 7:15 warns us of the dangers of false prophets who come dressed in sheep's clothing but who are inwardly ravenous wolves. This biblical story, of course, provides the origin of the colloquial phrase, "a wolf in sheep's clothing." Each of us has used this phrase at one time or another to describe people who appear to be bearers of goodwill but who truly harbor something quite the opposite.
As I was pondering this idiom in my morning quiet time, it occurred to me that I have rarely been guilty of its charge. That is, I am almost never passive aggressive or underhanded. However, I have been all-too-frequently guilty of its antithesis; I have manifested as a sheep in wolf's clothing. You see, I am inherently a goodnatured person. I've always desired to help others, be a team player, treat people with respect, obey my authorities, protect the innocent, and, when possible, keep the peace. The notes of my heart-song are gentleness, authentic humility, grace, and mercy. What is more, I am a child of God, indwelled by the Holy Spirit, and renewed through the atoning blood of Christ. However, more often than I'd like to admit, I find myself getting angry with or otherwise putting up obstacles between myself and others. Sometimes I even lash out and say or do things that I later regret. And when I allow my passions, frustrations, and idealism to get the better of me in these ways, I harbor a great deal of guilt. You see, I know I am a sheep, but to the world, I so often appear as a wolf.
Naturally, this is all part of the human condition and the result of living in a fallen world. As Paul laments in Romans 7:14-20, "We know that the law is spiritual; but I am unspiritual, sold as a slave to sin. I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do. And if I do what I do not want to do, I agree that the law is good. As it is, it is no longer I myself who do it, but it is sin living in me. For I know that good itself does not dwell in me, that is, in my sinful nature. For I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out. For I do not do the good I want to do, but the evil I do not want to do—this I keep on doing. Now if I do what I do not want to do, it is no longer I who do it, but it is sin living in me that does it" (NIV). Paul clearly recognizes the unfortunate reality of sin in our lives, and, consequently, this passage has been utilized by Christians throughout the generations to bring solace to their self-condemnatory souls. If Paul is a sinner, then we're in good company, right? But, I must admit, this perspective on Romans 7 gives me little comfort. As a sheep displaying wolverine features, I am want to offer myself such easy passport. Indeed, my guilt and regret are sometimes nearly unbearable.
Fortunately, Paul doesn't stop with Verse 20. Just a few sentences later in Romans 7:25, he exclaims in apparent revelatory joy, "Thanks be to God, who delivers me through Jesus Christ our Lord!" You see, the real point of Romans 7 is not to offer the believer license or simply to satiate the weary soul. It is to drive the sinner to the cross. Paul's recognition of sin only serves the purpose of encouraging repentance and submission. In my case, Paul's admonition is one of re-donning. That is, he is exhorting me to cast off my wolf-skin and to recover and put on the white-as-snow sheepskin that was so graciously gifted to me through salvation. Of course, I cannot do this without the power, wisdom, and grace of God, and, so, as Paul notes, I must seek deliverance. I must give up my self-reliant pride and rest in the atoning work of Christ and the empowering work of the Spirit. Is this easy? Of course not! But if I am to live with spiritual integrity, then it is deliverance I must seek. When sheep dress up as wolves, they disgrace the Kingdom and destroy their own souls.
So, to all of you sheep in wolf's clothing out there, don't be comforted; rather, be challenged. Stop trying to rationalize your sinfulness and start taking it to the foot of the cross. Cease making excuses, and start making progress. Be one of the delivered! Submit yourself to Christ, repent of your sins, and allow the Holy Spirit to fill you. It's time to take responsibility for the clothes we wear. It's time to trade fur for wool.