“Bible characters” is the term people have applied to those who are named in the Bible as if they are characters in a novel. But truthfully, they are real people, although some folks would like us to believe that they are fantasies or allegorical figureheads for illustration purposes. It spins out this way to me: If Jesus talked of Noah and the flood, of Abraham and Lot, of Jonah being swallowed by a big fish, I tend to want to believe Him.
Otherwise, the entire thing ends up in a pile of trash, not worth the time of day. If Jesus lied about those things, He is not God in the flesh, and if He is not God, He can save no one. But thankfully, that’s not the way it is! “All the promises of God in [Christ] are YES and AMEN!” (2 Corinthians 1:20).
Demas was one of the apostle Paul’s followers. His reality is a great caution to anyone who has come to Christ with an intent to follow the Lord as a dedicated disciple. Demas is mentioned in three of Paul’s letters, two of them about A.D. 62, when Paul was first imprisoned in Rome. This is when he wrote letters to the Colossians and that short letter, Philemon.
There is no mention of when Demas came on the team, and when Paul wrote his second letter to Timothy, about A.D. 67, he concluded with this statement, “Demas has forsaken me, having loved this present world, and has departed for Thessalonica” (2 Timothy 4:10). How would you like to have that epitaph on your tombstone?: “He loved this present world.”
Two questions pop out before us as we think of Demas. One, was he saved; two, did he choose to go astray? The first would almost have to be “yes,” to have travelled with Paul very long, and it had to have been at least eight to ten years. The second question is one we want to explore because his departure has implications that could reveal some basic truths of the Christian life that every disciple must learn and practice on a daily basis.
Of course Demas chose to depart from Paul, but it may not have been an abrupt, kneejerk decision. Why did he go to Thessalonica? Paul did not mention him in his letters to the Thessalonians, but then, those were written about A.D. 52-53, possibly long before Demas came on the scene.
Some have speculated that he may have been from Thessalonica and was returning to his home base, and it could be, then, that Demas heard the gospel when Paul was in that city in the early 50’s. Perhaps he had learned of their struggle with false doctrines and false teachers, and he was drawn to some of that teaching. Luke reports in Acts 17:11 that they, the Thessalonians, were not so quick to check out and accept the Word of God and Paul’s teaching as were the Bereans. Thus, Paul had to write two letters to the Thessalonians and none to the Bereans.
How a Downward Spiral Can Begin
At the beginning, in the Garden, the serpent whispered to Eve, “Did God really say that?” And the seed of doubt was sown in her mind with a subtle sureness that only a master deceiver could accomplish. Doubt in what God has said, whether it is a promise He has made, or a warning or command He has given, sets a turning point that the devil latches onto with the full support of the evilness of our own flesh fully committed.
Two Scriptures come to mind:
“Therefore let him who thinks he stands take heed lest he fall” (1 Corinthians 10:12).
This reminds me of the observation made by the late Lorne Sanny, former president of The Navigators, who said, “You never outgrow the need for the basics, such as overcoming temptation.”
The next passage speaks of the broad difference between certain choices:
“For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world, and loses his own soul? Or what will a man give in exchange for his soul” (Mark 8:36-37)?
I would add a clarification to that statement which would target it more directly to those who are saved and who are not losing their own soul: “Or, losing all that is valuable to the soul.” As 1 Corinthians 3:11-15 tells us, one can cheapen his redemption to the point of building only wood, straw and stubble on the foundation of Christ in his life and end up being saved “as though by fire.”
Another thing I recall Lorne Sanny saying was “Few end well.” And do we see that truth magnified around us!
In the business world there is a parable of a person who struggles up the ladder of success in the corporate arena, stepping on the necks of those in his pathway, only to find when he reaches the top that his ladder is leaning against the wrong wall! No doubt, somewhere in that time-frame comes the “mid-life crisis” that occurs so often. Then, finally, is the time for a reality check. The wisdom of Proverbs 3:5-6 rings out like a bell’s clanging:
“Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways acknowledge Him, and He will direct your paths.”
In the parable of the sower of the seed in Mark 4, as he sows the seed, some falls on various kinds of bad soil and fails to produce. One such “bad soil” is described in this way:
“Now these are the ones sown among thorns; they are the ones who hear the word, and the cares of this world, the deceitfulness of riches, and the desires for other things entering in choke the word, and it becomes unfruitful” (Mark 4:18-19).
How many of us actually have a “thorn-infested” foundation in the Lord? It truly is a scary thing and should awaken in us a desire for a renewal of the fear of God abiding in us, as Proverbs 1:7 says:
“The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge, but fools despise wisdom and instruction.”
Before I was saved there was a struggle within me that wanted Jesus to be in my life and bring the peace and confidence that I saw in the lives of that new family I had come to know. But nothing happened except that the heaviness got heavier and heavier.
I even told a pastor who shared the plan of salvation with me that I wanted to receive Christ, but I did not know what to pray and nothing happened. He gave me a small book by Charles Spurgeon titled All of Grace. The next night I came to a verse of Scripture, Romans 5:6:
“For when we were yet without strength, in due time Christ died for the ungodly.”
That one word, “ungodly,” hammered at me until I realized that I was ungodly, and Christ had died for me on the cross. I did not know that I was a sinner! I was a “good boy” who tried to please Mom and not get into trouble, but that guilty “innocence” had begun to wear thin around the edges.
That peace that I had longed for came to me, but my life turned upside down. Family members told me I was “stupid” and friends ridiculed me. Even so, I was baptized and joined the church; after that life-changing experience had happened! I recount all of this for the reader to recognize, as I have, that becoming a Christian is not just being born in America of Christian parents, or being baptized and joining a church.
The words of Jesus are absolute and sure in John 3:3 that “You must be born again.” And that is the work of God when a person learns from the Word of God that he or she is a sinner against God, turns from that to God for salvation.
When Jesus asked His disciples, in Matthew 16, “Who do you say that I am?” Peter answered, “You are the Christ , the Son of the Living God.” Then Jesus spoke to this very answer, saying, “Flesh and blood have not revealed this to you, but My Father who is in heaven.”
As Peter learned, and we have to learn, true spiritual life is a revelation and gift from God. We cannot obtain it as unrepentant sinners, for only then do we know about God and Jesus Christ, we do not know them.
It seems to be a growing problem in churches and in families all across the nation and the world, that young people grow up as youngsters in a Christian home not really knowing that truth, then graduate from high school and leave home for college or other ventures, shaking off their so-called “Christian behavior” to seek out the pleasures of the world. It is not unlike that dangerous decision of Demas, and in these cases, there is no true foundation in Christ.
God did not abandon me in those early days, but the struggle no doubt built in me a determination that otherwise would not have come about. He brought along people who helped me, kept me in the Word, memorizing scripture and seeking help.
Demas was a man of like passions as we find in ourselves; let’s not allow “the world to squeeze us into its own mold,” as J. B. Phillips paraphrases that part of Romans 12:2. Let’s not think we stand when we really cannot—on our own. Let’s keep renewing our minds in the Word of Truth.