"Take heed therefore unto yourselves, and to all the flock, over the which the Holy Ghost hath made you overseers, to feed the church of God, which he hath purchased with his own blood. For I know this, that after my departing shall grievous wolves enter in among you, not sparing the flock. Also of your own selves shall men arise, speaking perverse things, to draw away disciples after them."(Acts 20:28-30)
I've always found it interesting that our blessed Lord chose "sheep" as a picture or type of His chosen people. By nature, sheep are timid creatures, actually unable to protect or provide for themselves in any way. That is a wonderful illustration of man by nature, including God's elect who were chosen in Christ before the foundation of the world. As sheep, we are prone to fall prey to a variety of problems and predators, of which Paul warned the elders at Ephesus before he departed. If you notice, Paul didn't warn them of attacks coming from OUTSIDE THE CHURCH, but actually coming from WITHIN THE CHURCH, by those "wolves" who "enter in among you". The word translated "wolves" in the original means 'cruel, greedy, DESTRUCTIVE men'. The word translated "enter in" in the original means 'arise or COME INTO EXISTENCE'. So Paul was warning them that MEN WITHIN THE CHURCH would come in to existence, revealing themselves as cruel, greedy, destructive men, to the point that they would not spare those who were the "flock", meaning to seek the destruction of God's redeemed sons and daughters. Our Lord warned us: "Beware of false prophets, WHICH COME TO YOU IN SHEEP'S CLOTHING, but inwardly they are ravening wolves."(Matt.7:15) The word our Lord used translated "come" in this verse means 'to come into being, arise, come forth, show itself, find place or influence'. How do they "find place or influence"? Most think it is by a outwardly holy or pious walk. The Pharisees possessed these traits, but Christ wasn't referring to them by His words in this passage. These "wolves" 'find place or influence' by their doctrine, i.e., their teaching and instruction. They say all the right words, even using a lot of the phrases and Scriptures God's true shepherds use, those phrases that perk up the sheep's ear and heart. Paul spoke of these "wolves" in this manner: "For such [are] false apostles, deceitful workers, transforming themselves into the apostles of Christ .And no marvel; for Satan himself is transformed into an angel of light. Therefore [it is] no great thing if his ministers also be transformed as the ministers of righteousness; whose end shall be according to their works."(II Cor.11:13-15) Paul says they have the ability to "transform" themselves, just like Satan himself. The original Greek word is ' metaschematizo', which is a compound word. 'Meta', which means or implies 'to change', and the word 'schematizo', which means 'a figure or fashion. So these false prophets change themselves into "preachers of righteousness". The word "righteousness" in this verse means 'the doctrine concerning the way in which man may attain a state approved of God'. Sinners CANNOT attain a state of approval by the outward transformation of their character and conduct, or even by their attempts to keep God's holy law - "Knowing that a man is not justified by the works of the law, but by the faith of Jesus Christ, even we have believed in Jesus Christ, that we might be justified by the faith of Christ, and not by the works of the law: for by the works of the law shall no flesh be justified."(Gal.2:16) If that isn't how they accomplish this feat, how do they do it? They talk about Christ; they talk about grace; they encourage church attendance and fellowship; they even use the Word of God and the truths set forth in God's words. We know that to be the case, because they are "wolves in sheep's clothing". So they cloak themselves in a RIGHTEOUSNESS they do not trust, a RIGHTEOUSNESS they do not possess except in word, and do so for a temporary period in order to trouble and discourage the flock.
I am not troubled by those who come or approach the flock over which God has given me the oversight as "wolves" in wolves clothing. A message of works salvation, or progressive sanctification, or Lordship theology CANNOT and WILL NOT move those sheep who are Christ's. But I am deeply troubled by those individuals who appear in a temporary fashion as "preachers of righteousness", who are intent on causing harm to any sheep or lamb they can deceive.