I recently bought a bargain that cost me more than it saved. For a mere penny I purchased 14 CDs from a mail-order company, and I promised to buy four more at “regular club prices” over a year. (The fish never see the hook—only the bait.) What a deal! So I mailed in my penny.     

I quickly received a big box of CDs. As I tore it open, out fell an invoice for shipping—for each of the 14 CDs. What’s more, over the course of the year, I discovered that “regular club prices” meant the company didn’t intend to lose a dime on my penny purchase. At the year’s end I averaged the amount spent on each CD—it wasn’t what I bargained for. Today, the unused CDs sit on my shelf while my money sits in their bank account accruing interest.

What’s so terrible about the whole deal is that the fine print—which I never bothered to read—clearly spelled out the terms. The quick benefit so enthralled me that I didn’t consider the real price tag.

Some poor decisions cost you in dollars; others require more substantial withdrawals. But all eventually demand more than the penny you thought you were spending.

A believer named Lot paid through the nose for his poor decision. Lot had many hungry flocks to feed, and the city of Sodom had a quick solution—plenty of green grass. The Scripture tells us: “Lot looked up and saw that the whole plain of the Jordan was well watered, like the garden of the LORD, like the land of Egypt, toward Zoar. (This was before the LORD destroyed Sodom and Gomorrah.) So Lot chose for himself the whole plain of the Jordan” (Gen. 13:10–11).

Lot made this decision without talking to God. The land simply looked good, so he chose it “for himself.” But choosing to dwell in the best of the land may have been the worst of decisions, for the text includes the ominous note: “This was before the LORD destroyed Sodom and Gomorrah.” (Lot should have consulted his real estate agent: “Location, location, location!”)

Illusory benefits often cloak the reality of poor decisions. We know this, and yet, we make choices daily which can affect us for the rest of our lives—often from the impulse of a glance. We run red lights and stop signs, we date (or even marry) charming unbelievers, and we move to another town only then to inquire about a good church.

The question we must frequently ask ourselves is: “How will this decision affect me spiritually? How will this affect my relationship with God?” Lot failed to ask this question. And you have only to read a few chapters further to see the results—the devastating results—of making a decision based solely on appearances.

Some time later, when God determined to toast Sodom for its sin, He graciously warned Lot of the destruction so he and his family might escape.

Lot’s response, however, was extraordinary: “But he hesitated . . .”  (Gen. 19:16, NASB).

What? Why would Lot hesitate to run from destruction? Why would a believer hesitate to leave a life of compromise? For starters, because leaving Sodom would require admitting failure. It would mean accepting he’d made a bad choice.

It makes sense then, after two decades of prosperity, that when God told Lot to leave his house, his land, his investments—everything with which he had grown comfortable—“he hesitated.” So the Lord had to drag Lot’s family out kicking and screaming.

Ignoring the warning not to look back on Sodom’s destruction, “Lot’s wife looked back, and she became a pillar of salt” (Gen.  19:26). Centuries later, Jesus Himself would say: “Remember Lot’s wife!” (Luke 17:32). And we should. That pillar of salt stands as a monument to all who fail to take God’s word seriously.

Yet, to me, here is the most sobering phrase Moses appended to the description of the city’s destruction: “Then the LORD rained down burning sulfur on Sodom and Gomorrah—from the LORD out of the heavens. Thus he overthrew those cities and the entire plain, including all those living in the cities—and also the vegetation in the land” (Gen. 19:24–25).

I find that last phrase haunting. God overthrew “the vegetation in the land”—the very thing that initially attracted Lot to Sodom. Here we acquire the painful principle that even the “benefits” of sin we relinquish in time. What initially seemed so attractive to Lot—what so quickly satisfied his need—had brought him what all fleshly decisions eventually bring: a temporary benefit with long-term regret.

Regardless of your decision—be it a move, a marriage, a profession, a purchase—base your choice on more than the immediate benefit. Ask yourself: “How will this decision affect me spiritually?”—because your spiritual life is your life. Since Lot failed to ask this question, Peter tells us: “Lot, a righteous man, . . . was distressed by the filthy lives of lawless men (for that righteous man, living among them day after day, was tormented in his righteous soul by the lawless deeds he saw and heard)” (2 Pet. 2:7–8).

Maybe you’ve known Christ all your life, but like Lot, you live in Sodom (or perhaps you just visit there on weekends). Or maybe you struggle with the right decision because you’ve already invested too much in the wrong one. You know the right course to take, but you hesitate. And like Lot’s wife you keep looking back, longing for the benefits of the compromise you should be fleeing.

The command to “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength” (Mark 12:30, emphasis added) reveals that God tolerates no rivals. How can we love the Lord with all we have if we have a divided devotion?

Lot’s failure teaches us to read the fine print. Before we pay a penny for sin, we should consider the real price of a divided heart. And where we have compromised, we should immediately run to the forgiving arms of our precious Lord Jesus—and not look back.

Wayne Stiles (Th.M. 1997) serves as pastor of Denton Community Church in Texas.