Monday, 14 May 2012

Where's purgatory?

I was in a conversation recently with a lady from a Roman Catholic background, and she asked me my views on purgatory.

I told her that I had a couple of problems with it: firstly, it's not scriptural - there's not a mention of it in the Bible, and in fact the Bible teaches the opposite; and secondly, it's not sensible - the notion of it just doesn't hold together.
In response to my first problem she asked me how come the RC church puts so much emphasis on it if it's not in the Bible. I told her that that was really a problem for them to answer, and their attempts to do so are embarrassingly weak (perhaps more on that later, but in the meantime here is a good wee article). The strained (indeed, shattered) interpretation of 1 Corinthians 3 cannot stand on its own, never mind stand against the passages that teach that there is no condemnation for the believer, that being absent from the body means being at home with the Lord, and that moral perfection is effected upon seeing the Lord (see here).
In response to my second problem she said she thought that the idea made good sense, so I asked her why, what did she think purgatory did to and for people? She told me that if we aren't in a state of grace, or if we aren't good enough yet for heaven (but not bad enough for hell) then purgatory purifies us. I told her that she doesn't realise how holy God is or she wouldn't be talking about us not being bad enough for hell. I told her the Bible teaches that none of us is good enough for heaven, and we are all bad enough for hell. This led to a brief overview of the first five chapters of Romans in which Paul shows the fact that all of humanity is guilty, helpless and deserving of God's wrath, but Christ has died for our sins, and if we put our faith in Him we are justified (as a once-for-all act, not an ongoing process). So our guilt is removed, we are declared righteous before God, and our acceptance depends on Christ, not us.  
She said, but if that's the case then you have carte blanche to live in sin then because you're saved and it doesn't depend on you at all! I told her that's exactly what Paul expected people to say after hearing the teaching of chapters 1-5, because he begins chapter 6 by saying
What shall we say then? Shall we continue in sin that grace may abound? Certainly not! How shall we who died to sin live any longer in it?

So my friend's reaction shows us that my understanding of the way of salvation is the same as the apostle's Paul - I'm in good company!  Paul says the believer won't continue in sin, not because they are trying to earn salvation, but because Christ has freed them from the dominion of sin and given them new life.

I will write in a bit more detail on this subject later, but for now just remember there's only one "purgatory" in the Bible - it's the cross at Calvary (see Hebrews 1 v 3), and that's where and how sins can be purged; not by our suffering, but by Christ's.  If we are relying on His finished work and accepted sacrifice then we will never suffer for our sins, but if we aren't then we will suffer for our sins, and not for a few years, but for eternity.