Luther on why we Christians can receive temporal punishment for disobedience even though we still have faith in Genesis 19:26
26. But Lot’s wife behind him looked back, and she became a pillar of salt.
Hence this is a sign or lesson and a warning not to allow ourselves to be hampered in our calling, as Peter in John 21:20 looked back at John but was rebuked by the Lord. For everyone should stick to his own calling and not concern himself with what others are doing. At the present time the papists beset us a great deal with the example of a former age during which everything lay in darkness. “Your doctrine,” they say, “is new and unknown to our ancestors; therefore if it is true, all our ancestors have been condemned.” They, too, are looking back and thus disregard the word they have before them. For what concern is it to us what kind of judgment God pronounced on those who departed this life in times past? The Word of God is being preached to us today; we must hear and receive it without any argument. We must not become questioners who ask God why He has brought the sound doctrine to light at this time and not in former times.
Thus this account teaches us to remain steadfast, for he who wants to be a Christian must not change his purpose: he must not look for another way or another Gospel. In this one and only way there is salvation; if you enter upon another, you have perished and are like Lot’s wife. But so far as Lot’s wife is concerned, this example is instruction for us rather than a condemnation of the woman, who, I fully believe, was saintly and was saved; for one should have no other presupposition concerning God’s mercy, especially since she has a splendid testimony of the life she has previously led, inasmuch as the angels themselves bring her out and she follows her husband.
But you will say: “Why does she perish in this manner?” My answer is: She was overcome by human weakness and, contrary to the angels’ command, looked back toward those awful crashes. For this disobedience she suffers a temporal punishment. Nevertheless, her soul is saved, as Paul says (1 Cor. 5:5) about the incestuous man. Therefore one must hold fast to this teaching—that the saintly woman is compelled to suffer this punishment—in order that it may reach all succeeding generations. Christ says (Luke 17:32): “Remember Lot’s wife.”
But one must by all means entertain the hope that Lot’s wife was not condemned for this reason. For there are many such examples in Holy Writ; they show that God afflicts His saints with temporal punishments in order that they may not perish with the world. And Paul says (1 Cor. 11:32): “When we are judged by the Lord, we are chastened, so that we may not be condemned along with this world.” Accordingly, Lot’s wife was chastened; but she was not condemned. In like manner, Aaron’s sons, who were offering strange fire, were castigated as a sign for others and were not condemned (Lev. 10:1 ff.). I have the same conviction about the prophet who was killed by the lion (1 Kings 13:24). In that instance the body suffered because of disobedience; but nothing befell the soul, evidently in order that we may be admonished to fear God and may strictly keep the commands of God. Thus this pillar is truly a spice and the salt of wisdom; it admonishes us not to look back but to persevere, and, as Paul puts it (Phil. 3:13), to “strain forward to what lies ahead.”
Luther’s works, vol. 3: Lectures on Genesis: Chapters 15-20 p 299-300