Then the Lord rained on Sodom and Gomorrah sulfur and fire from the Lord out of heaven. And he overthrew those cities, and all the valley, and all the inhabitants of the cities, and what grew on the ground. But Lot’s wife, behind him, looked back, and she became a pillar of salt. (Gen. 19:24–26)

Everyone has a past. Some of us have logged spectacular moral failures, while others of us have managed to confine our sins to less horrifying categories. The longer we know Christ, the more we come to realize that all sin is spectacular when measured against the plumb line of God’s holiness. All sin is a spectacular exercise in self-focus and self-worship.

Saving faith frees us from sin’s power—it enables us to choose what God wants over what we want, and over time it aligns our wants with his. Instead of wanting to make much of ourselves we learn to want to make much of our Maker. But if we are honest, we still harbor places of self-worship in our heart of hearts. As we get better at setting aside one area of sin we often get better at concealing another. As much as we long to move forward in grace, we find our past still pulls at us.

But it’s not enough to recognize and regret our sin. To leave it behind, we must learn to hate it.

And this is where I begin to think about Lot’s wife. You remember her—raised a family in a city known for its sexual depravity, had to be physically dragged out of her hometown to avoid its imminent destruction, checked her rearview mirror, and, presto-change-o, turned into your favorite popcorn flavoring. Pretty high up there on the “Weird Stories of the Bible” list.

But when we look at it closer, her brief story has much to teach. The sense of the phrase “looked back” is that she “regarded, considered, paid attention to.” In other words, dragged free of her life of self-focus and set well on her way to freedom, Lot’s wife looked longingly and lingeringly on her past. Even as it was being consumed by the fiery wrath of God.

I think that a clue to understanding her demise lies in what she was turned into. God could have ended her life in any way, converted her to or covered her in any substance. But Genesis tells us specifically that she became a pillar of salt. To the modern ear salt is a reference to a popular seasoning, but this is because we enjoy the benefits of refrigeration. For thousands of years the primary function of salt was not as a seasoning but as a preservative. An apt metaphor for Mrs. Lot.

What if God had shown mercy to Lot’s wife? What if she had been allowed to flee the wickedness of Sodom to a better place, all the time harboring in her heart a love for her past? The virus of Sodom’s wickedness would have gone with her to her new home, preserved deep within her, waiting its chance to emerge and infect other lives. Rather than allow her to preserve the cherished memory of Sodom in a new place, God preserves her as a pillar of salt. She becomes a memorial for the preservation of evil, a warning to all who might see her frozen in her half-turned gaze of longing.

I am Lot’s wife. I preserve deep within me a memory of sin savored in years past. I see my sin, but I do not hate it. I linger on the idea of re-engaging it, even in my newfound freedom. And I risk spreading it to the lives of those around me. God have mercy.

If your spiritual gaze were frozen at this instant, on what would it be fixed? Every day is a choice to look forward toward life-giving grace or backward toward sin-saturated death. Will you choose self-focus or God-focus? How will you be memorialized? As someone who preserved the pleasures of sin or the profit of sanctification?

My prayer is that the memory of our past sins would be laced with the pungent odor of the fires of Sodom—the reek of God’s wrath exterminating the godlessness of our former days, the aroma of God’s grace pointing us toward new life, eyes fixed on our Savior.

Remember Lot’s wife. Whoever seeks to preserve his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life will keep it. (Luke 17:32–33)

Editors’ note: Register to hear Jen Wilkin speak at our 2016 National Women’s Conference, June 16 to 18, in Indianapolis.