If someone as steeped in the Holy Spirit and discerning as Paul can be duped, is it any wonder that some people today can deceive us by pretending to be a blood-bought believer in Jesus Christ? In Paul’s various epistles, he had the habit of mentioning faithful followers of Christ. He told of how they helped him in his times of need, and he asked the various churches to which he wrote to welcome some of these men in their journeys. If someone during that time were to chronologically read all of Paul’s letters, how surprised he would have been to see that a man – whom Paul trusted – had turned away from the Lord! How could this person whom Paul acknowledged as a fellow worker in Christ have done that? Indeed, how could Paul have been so misled?
In Colossians 4:14 we see this reference:
Luke the beloved physician greets you, as does Demas.
Luke, of course, is the writer of the Gospel of Luke. He was faithful to the end. But, what about Demas? This is a curious case. A little earlier in Colossians 4, Paul also mentions Onesimus. His short letter to Philemon regards this runaway slave, so both epistles were likely written in about the same time frame. In fact, Philemon 24 says:
and so do Mark, Aristarchus, Demas, and Luke, my fellow workers.
There again is Luke, but so is Demas. Paul states that both are fellow workers in the Lord. This would indicate that Paul believed Demas to be saved, filled with the Holy Spirit, and bearing fruit for God’s Kingdom.
However, something happened between these letters and the ones written to Timothy. Consider what Paul says in 2 Timothy 4:10:
For Demas, in love with this present world, has deserted me and gone to Thessalonica. Crescens has gone to Galatia, Titus to Dalmatia.
Demas, this fellow worker in Christ abandoned Paul! The lure of the flesh overcame him. How could this be? Was Demas really born again? Or was he saved and through his own free will chose to forsake Christ? That’s a thorny question in itself. The reality, though, is that in some manner, shape, or form, Demas turned away from faith in Jesus Christ. He loved this present world and re-entered it.
We read in 1 John 2:15:
Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him.
From this we know that Demas did not have the love of God in him. How tragic! And how perplexed Paul must have been. He obviously trusted this man to mention him in the same breath as Luke. Had Demas never truly repented and given his life to the Lord? We simply don’t know, and Paul had no clue. This is a warning for us today.
There are those around us who profess Jesus as Lord. Yet, they are wolves in sheep’s clothing. They may be fellow congregants in the church, or they may actually be shepherds and leaders of the flock.
This has been an issue in the 10/40 Window for some time in Islamic nations, and likely other countries with different religious traditions. There have been situations in which a Muslim has seemingly given his life to Christ, but he is a pretender and infiltrator of the church. His understanding of Christianity is so deep that he can put on a completely false front to deceive everyone around him so they think he is a genuine believer. At the appropriate time he reveals himself by betraying the church and bringing persecution down on it.
This is astounding when we consider how the Holy Spirit works in the heart of many Muslims and/or God’s supernatural Word convicts them. But not people like these who are of the flesh and in the world.
Should we really be surprised? Look at what Paul says in 2 Corinthians 11:14:
And no wonder, for even Satan disguises himself as an angel of light.
Such deceptions are on the rise in these latter days. We do well to judge our brothers and sisters by examining their fruit. I hate to be suspicious of one who is seemingly my fellow worker in Christ, but there are usually telltale signs. The advice Ronald Reagan gave concerning the Soviet Union and its promises holds true today: “Trust but verify.”
Jesus Himself in Matthew 7:18 counseled us:
A healthy tree cannot bear bad fruit, nor can a diseased tree bear good fruit.
The same holds true for a church at large just as it does for an individual. What is being preached? Do the works of the church line up with Scripture? If these are at odds, be careful if you’re in such a church! False doctrine usually has a strong relationship with that which is true. It’s very subtle. How can someone tell the difference? Only by knowing the Word of God can a person discern teaching that is contrary to it.
Despite how Demas turned from Christ and from aiding Paul, the Lord sustained him. He also had much opposition from many other quarters. Yet, Paul could always praise and glorify the One who had delivered him and promised him eternal life. In the midst of these treacheries, Paul was able to say in 2 Timothy 4:18:
The Lord will rescue me from every evil deed and bring me safely into his heavenly kingdom. To him be the glory forever and ever. Amen.
Let us keep that hope as God’s promise to us as well through all our dark and troubling days.