Paul lists two final people among his co-workers at the end of Colossians, and one of them is among the Bible’s most tragic figures:

Luke the beloved physician greets you, as does Demas (Colossians 4:14).

Luke we’ve heard of; he’s the author of the gospel that bears his name, as well as the book of Acts. He was an educated man who, through his rich histories, actually wrote more words of the New Testament than anybody else — even Paul himself.

Demas is far less familiar, mentioned briefly only three times in scripture. Two of those mentions are simply his name, here in Colossians 4:14 and in the companion book to this one, Philemon (verse 24). Demas is listed in line among Paul’s faithful fellow workers for the gospel in Rome.

Demas’ third appearance is heartbreakingly more specific, though. We find it in the last part of the last letter Paul wrote before he was martyred for Jesus:

For Demas, in love with this present world, has deserted me and gone to Thessalonica (2 Timothy 4:10).

Paul says nothing else, but he says enough. Demas, for now, has not fought the good fight, kept the faith, finished the race (2 Timothy 4:7). He has left to find himself in the present world — cheated on future glory with Christ in an elicit affair with the glittering now.

When we think about loving this present world, we likely jump to longings for money or experiences or comfort. But those are just the bruises covering the broken bones of our idolatries:

There is autonomy, the idol of choice. We worship our life and our time as our own, kneeling at the altar of do we want, have what we want, be exactly who we want.

We are not able to rest or love or feel joy until we’ve ordered our worlds as we wish.

We make commitments and resolutions but don’t pray about either choosing or keeping them, confident our own desires for our life match God’s.

We have trouble choosing, whether at a restaurant or in a relationship, because we fear not being fully satisfied in our choice.

We continue in addiction or vice far past the time we even enjoy it, because the power to choose it alone convinces us we have control over our lives.

There is security, the idol of self-preservation. The sanctuaries of our hearts are ordered for our emotional and physical protection.

We don’t practice thankfulness and gratitude for people or purpose or things, rehearsing instead the anxiety of losing what we have.

We stay up Googling news stories or symptoms or solutions out of fear, stressing about scenarios that never come to pass.

We avoid opportunities that might stretch us or grow us, afraid to expose our weaknesses or upset our self-crafted peace or order.

We fear God won’t be good enough to us, shrinking back from anticipated tragedy because we don’t trust Him to be enough and eternity to make us whole.

There is affinity, the idol of opinion. We must live in a culture or community or marriage where our ideals are continually mirrored, fulfilled, and supported. Everyone must think and feel like we do for us to find peace; we can’t rest in the quiet prayer and courage of opposition and trust.

We derive our security from our surroundings instead of our salvation, feeling peace only if the majority of people believe and behave like we do.

We depend on our relationships or work to complete and commend us in every way, because we do not see the love of our Savior as enough.

We trust in our politics more than our God; our candidate must be elected, or the world will spin beyond His control.

When society — or a friend — no longer shares our values, we shrink back in fear and or lash out in anger instead of walking in truth and love.

I do not know the ways in Demas fell in love with this present world. I only know how I have been there — believing all of the above and more. The promised freedoms of finding and loving myself have always led me to prisons of fear.

In the end, I beg God for the strength to stand — to not desert like Demas — to have courage to stay in the  heart and mind I had when I first heard the truth.

I ask Him to help me believe so completely in eternal life that I will risk not having my every desire met in this one.

Above all I plead Jesus, who loves me and owns me: If we are faithless, he remains faithful— for he cannot deny himself (2 Timothy 2:13). I hope Demas did, too; I hope he came back home.

For if we cannot find ourselves in Christ, we are looking for someone we were not created to be.