Remember Lot’s wife. (Luke 17:32)
This short line contains three words that are some of the most chilling in the Bible. They speak directly to those who profess to be God’s people, and bring to mind one of the most simple but dramatic events recorded in the Bible. A lot of discussion happens around the ‘reality’ of Lot’s wife turning into an actual pillar of salt. Many in the world regard this as being ‘impossible,’ and many others propound the assurance that there must be some ‘scientific explanation.’ For many, it’s a myth, an allegorical depiction with moral import. Yet the Bible not only records it as actually happening in Genesis 19:26, but Christ Himself highlights it in today’s verse as a dramatic reminder of what happens to those who profess with their mouths but do not commit in their hearts. To Jesus, there was no doubt as to the authenticity of the ‘story.’ He validates it by using it in the context of ‘life or death,’ the ultimate choice and the ultimate test of everyone who professes to follow Him. Lot’s wife makes for a powerful and sobering reminder.
The story of Lot’s wife is message for here and now, for a church filled with those who profess Christ but whose hearts are not committed.
There no doubt is a scientific explanation for how Lot’s wife was turned into a pillar of salt – God, who created this universe, created science too. Every scientific process and effect originated in Him, and acknwledging science does not diminish God in the slightest. In fact, the incredible detail, logic, and sheer scope of scientific discovery only magnifies the God who not only created it all but also holds it together by His will. The focus on ‘following science’ is simply a man-made excuse to avoid the real truth so dramatically and harshly illustrated by the event. It’s far easier to delve into the ‘can it be and how’ than it is to face the critical truth it thrusts forward and the eternal consequences in places before us.
The context of today’s verse catapaults Lot’s wife into centre stage in a drama that is unfolding right here and right now. Jesus speaks of the end times and of His second coming, and He leaves no room for equivocation. Today’s verse is a warning we cannot take lightly. It is a reminder that, as the world spirals to a confrontation of ‘cosmic’ proportions, we need to step back and take stock of spiritual commitment. And we need to do it now. He highlights the moment by reminding us that this age will be as it was in the days of both Noah and Lot. Sodom and Gomorrah stand as an unequivocal statement that destruction will come to the ungodly, just as it did in the flood. When God makes these kinds of promises, we would do well to listen.
It’s critical that we pause for a moment to define the word ‘ungodly.’ Surprisingly, this is an attitude that we can readily say was displayed in Lot’s wife, and it’s important that we discover why. Our immediate response, if we profess to follow Christ, is to regard the ungodly as those who do not. But the very crux of Christ’s message relates to commitment. Remember, He is speaking to those who are God’s people, not the Gentiles, i.e. the unsaved. He’s drawing a distinction between those who speak with their mouths what they do not commit to in their hearts. It’s a message of crucial relevance in today’s church, where so many have been seduced by wrong doctrine or comfortable Christianity. Like the church of Loadicea, we say the right words but our hearts are lukewarm.
The word ‘lukewarm’ adds a deeper dimension – it means neither hot nor cold. It implies mixing, dilution, and impure. This is exactly the attitude that resulted in Lot’s wife being turned into a pillar of salt. She exemplifies the double-mindedness that has infiltrated the church. It’s worth noting that she did not disagree with Lot. She agreed to leave the city, she agreed to obey the Lord, she packed what was essential and followed her husband out. In everything, she spoke as was expected of her. To all appearances, she was a committed, obedient believer.
But in her heart, her commitment was diluted. Shed treasure the things the city represented – the fine possessions, the sophisticated way of life, the excesses of the world the city offered. Sodom had seeped into her soul and seduced her, diluting her love for God. While she said all the right things, and seemed to do them too, Lot’s wife was double-minded. In her heart, she tried to serve two masters. While her eyes were fixed ahead in the direction of God, she was safe. The moment she turned to look back, her destruction was assured.
Lot’s wife’s disobedience was not in simply looking back. It was the longing in her heart, her emotional tie to the things that God had condemned, that sealed her fate. Even there, in the moment of divine punishment on a sinful city, her heart identified with the things she held dear. In effect, she chose Sodom and Gomorrah – death and destruction – over life and safety in God. In the moment of reckoning, she was judged by her choices. Her heart revealed the truth – that her words were empty and her apparent obedience was simply outward form. She did not fully believe in her heart what she spoke and evidenced in her actions.
There is an interesting reference in the story to how Lot’s wife, after Lot requests salt for his heavenly visitors, goes around Sodom banging on doors and asking for salt for their exalted guests. This, perhaps, answers the age-old question as to ‘why a pillar of salt?’ Her action in this manifested the same bond with the city – her intention was to let everyone know how important they were. She was, essentially, seeking the respect and approval of man, an attitude tied very closely to the reality that her nature found identity in the sinful city. But how perfect are the tiny details in God’s dealings with us? Just as salt became the symbol of the desires of her heart, so her punishment reflected it too. We are, indeed, judged according to our desires and our deeds.
We cannot avoid the very literal truth that Christ points out in today’s verse. Lot’s wife is you and I. We all face the same choices. We must all look at our hearts and decide which master we will follow. We all must acknowledge the reality that our commitment may be diluted, lukewarm, and double-minded. Jesus goes on to say that ‘Whoever seeks to save his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life will preserve it.’ (vs 33) The message is clear. This is the crux of the matter. Being single-minded means that it’s God alone. We do not mix the things of God and the things of the world. We lay down our lives, totally and completely, in utter faith and obedience. There is no other way to eternal life.
It’s so easy to slide into complacency and rely on truths such as ‘once saved always saved’ to secure eternal life. But the Bible tells us that we must first believe in our hearts and then speak with our mouths, not the other way round. Our commitment to Christ must first be the treasure of our hearts, and then what we speak will have truth and relevance. In an age where the things of the world, of the flesh, and of the devil pervade everything, the story of Lot’s wife is crucial. The reality is that, unless we are ‘hot’ for God – totally and completely surrendered, obedient, and zealous for His glory – we may well be among those whose perceived faith is mixed with a desire for the world, and who are unable, in the glorious and terrifying day of His coming, to look only on Him with unshakeable hearts.
Of course we will still sin and still be tempted. We will fail and fall, make mistakes and wrong decisions, and will remain weak and utterly dependent on Him. That is the natural state of each one of us. But Jesus is not talking perfection. He’s talking heart commitment, the overriding desire to live as a surrendered, obedient child. He’s essentially saying ‘remember Lot’s wife and examine your hearts.’ Today, if we have to choose between something of the world and something of God, what decision will we make? Whoever is not for Him is against Him. There are no buts or maybes.
So many ‘believers’ professed Christ in a moment of sweeping emotion or without real conviction. They were carried away by a fleshly response rather than a spiritual. Many of these are in our churches, going through the motions, saying what is expected, living, to all intents and purposes, as ‘real’ believers. But, like Lot’s wife, their hearts are diluted, mixed, and double-minded. They live with one foot in the church and one in the world, and though we may not see it, their Christian walk remains one of looking back, hankering for things that are not of God and indulging themselves when they can. God’s way is clear. We are to follow Christ without looking back. We are to look ahead to eternity and leave Sodom and Gomorrah to God.
Today’s verse is a dramatic and powerful reminder to examine our hearts and make the most critical decision of our lives – are we for Christ or against Him? Will we leave behind the things of the world and live only in the things of God. We can be sure that if we make the right decision, He will be there in grace and power to enable us to live it. But, while we get ourselves right with Christ, let us also pray for the multitudes who will perish, even though they profess faith in Jesus. There will be many who will, like Lot’s wife, perish in the final confrontation – many who may be in the pew beside us every Sunday.
It’s a harsh warning and a grim reality, and Jesus never speaks glibly or without relevance. From here on, let the message in our hearts and on our lips be His message to the double-minded amongst us: ‘Remember Lot’s wife.’
Father God, we thank You that You love us enough to bring reminders of what is really critical in this life. Help us to never look back, to fix our eyes on You and walk only towards Your light and eternal life. Help us, too, to pray for those who profess Jesus but whose hearts do not. Guide us and teach us to pray for those who face Your eternal judgement, to intercede for them and love them, just as You do.