The struggle to un-love ex-sins is a lifelong battle that goes down inside the epicenter of the human heart. Addicts will tell you their tales. Whether it’s drugs, porn, alcohol, gambling, or another dark member of the addictive pantheon, once they sink their fangs into you, getting free won’t happen fast or easy. They rewire your brain, quite literally. They manhandle your life. These gods chain you to their altars.

But it’s not just addictions. It’s the long, stained list of bad behaviors. The back-biting gossip. The serial cheater. The workaholic husband. We inculcate loves and lifestyles that ink our souls like a tattoo gone bad. Even the environment in which we live, work, or socialize can do it. Just as the smell of cigarettes sticks to our hair and clothes, long after we’ve walked away from smokers, so the aroma of the past travels with us into the future.

Just ask Lot and his daughters. Your Sunday School teacher probably skipped over this R-rated episode. Lot and his girls were spared the fire and brimstone that scorched Sodom, but Sodom had already scorched parts of their hearts with its fearful flame. And healing wasn’t going to happen overnight. They’d walked the streets of that city too long. Its assumptions and illusions had seeped into their souls, transmogrifying them from the inside out, so that even when they “fled to the mountains,” they packed Sodom in their suitcase. When both girls, on successive nights, got dad drunk and had sex with him, they were just having a cultural moment.

The Jesus with a Heart of Moses

I know a thing or two about living in Sodom. In fact, I’ve lived in more than one city by that name.

One was a Sodom of immoral rebellion, neon signs winking lasciviously through the twenty-four hour night. I staggered through its slums, intoxicated by lust, living from pleasure to titillating pleasure. Streets wound in serpentine courses through a city whose infrastructure catered to citizens who loved being lost. We all swore our fidelity to a three-word creed: follow your heart.

But it was the other Sodom, a deeply religious city, whose siren songs sank most deeply into my psyche.

But it was the other Sodom, a deeply religious city, whose siren songs sank most deeply into my psyche. I processed through its neighborhoods, Bible in hand, cross dangling round my neck. All the streets were straight, and all the people were, too. Churches graced every corner of Sodom, their steeples rising tall and proud over bastions of morality. Inside them, the pews were packed every Sunday as we listened with rapt attention to sermons on the sinfulness of the world, the corruption of the culture, the wrongness of our times and the rightness of our religion.

Jesus was proclaimed from the pulpits of this religious Sodom. He was a Jesus who, when he rode astride the clouds in the eschaton, would gather all humanity before him. And, one by one, movies of our lives would be played on a cosmopolitan screen in a cinematic revelation of our deepest, darkest secrets. Woe betide those whose bad deeds outnumbered their good.

In this Sodom, we had a Jesus with the heart of Moses whose gospel was a new and improved law. My only consolation was found when, taking stock of my life, I found that I had not strayed from the straight and narrow, like so many others had done. In this religious city, the Ten Commandments stood up and said, “Come to me, all you who are weary and heavy laden, and I will teach you how to please God.”

When Christ Visits Sodom

One of the most shocking—and delightful—truths I’ve discovered is that the Son of God haunts the streets of the cities of Sodom, too. He recognizes no boundaries, walks through all manmade walls to seek and find those who are chained to the altars of false gods. It doesn’t matter if you’re smoking meth, guzzling whiskey, or getting stoned on self-righteous legalism, Christ will not walk away as if you’re a lost cause. No situation is too sketchy, too polluted, or too Pharisaical for him to barge in and start forgiving people left and right. Every morning, Jesus gets up and journeys to the religious and irreligious cities of Sodom to shoulder captives and carry them forth into the liberation of his love.

Some of us—actually, all of us—look back, like Lot’s wife, nostalgically yearning for one more stroll through those streets. We too turn into pillars of salt. But Jesus, the patron God of lost causes, will not lose us. With one kiss of absolution upon our salty lips, he refashions us once more into pillars of grace who follow him farther into freedom.

He doesn’t unshackle us from Sodom to chain us to Sinai.

And that’s where he took me, and where he’s taking all of us—deeper and deeper into the promised land of liberation. It is for freedom that Christ has set us free,” Paul says (Gal. 5:1). He has no ulterior motive. He doesn’t unshackle us from Sodom to chain us to Sinai. He’s not leading us back under the condemnation of a law that he himself died to keep. In him, we are free—free to be justified by grace, free to live as image-bearers of the Almighty, free to love and laugh and live as those over whom even the angels rejoice.

Our Sodoms will always be there, wooing us back to their streets. But Christ will always be there as well, loving us back to the Father. Sometimes that love hurts. Sometimes it feels good. But it is always the love of a Savior whose mission is to redeem sinners, no matter what it takes. If your arm is sore because Jesus has been dragging you away from slavery, then rejoice. If your heart is happy because Jesus has been showering you with forgiveness, then rejoice. Whatever he’s doing, he’s doing because you matter more to him than anything else in the world.