Purgatory in the Word: A Response and Defense of Purgatory

Purgatory in the Word: A Response and Defense of Purgatory

By: Rigo Vega

Retrieve from: http://www.facebook.com/notes/rigoberto-vega/purgatory-in-the-word-a-response-to-charles-stanleys-a-word-about-purgatory/363421784987

A dear friend of mine sent me this article by Charles Stanley, who I often enjoy listening to on the radio for his deep expositing and clear biblical teaching. Though I have a deep respect for this great teacher and minister who was one of the first Christian preachers I listened to early in my spiritual walk with the Lord, I must now disagree with him. True to his style, I’ll argue from Scripture.

I argue that not only is Purgatory based on ancient Jewish and Christian practice, but that it is based on Scripture, albeit implicitly or not. In fact, I believe most Protestant Christians believe in Purgatory or are open to accepting the teaching when it is properly explained to them. I was once at an Intervarsity Christian Fellowship meeting when a visiting speaker, a Pastor, was teaching on sanctification and quoted Romans 8:29: “For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son…” (see also Colossians 3:10). The Pastor mentioned that although Christians contribute nothing towards their justification, because it is by faith alone (Protestant view) and the imputation of the righteousness of Christ upon us and not by our works (forensic view of justification), he acknowledged that Christians must cooperate with the work of the Holy Spirit in our sanctification. At first, I wondered, if it’s possible to cooperate with God’s grace towards sanctification, why is it “anathema” to suggest that we can cooperate with God’s grace for our justification? But then an even greater question occurred to me.

The Pastor went on to explain how Christians are responsible for their growth in holiness by reading the Word, prayer, and conforming ourselves to the character of Christ. He said, no one will ever be perfectly holy, because we are sinners until the day we die, but after we die we will be conformed fully to the likeness of Christ. At which, I shouted internally and desperately wanted to ask him “What would you describe the process or event in which a Christian is made perfectly holy and conformed fully to the likeness of Christ after he dies?

But first, in case, there might be those who think the Pastor was off in his explanation and that we don’t need to be sanctified once we are believers, I present the following Scriptures: “”Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect” (Matthew 5:48) and 1 Thessalonians 4:3 says “It is God’s will that you should be sanctified”. Though Acts 26:18 says we are “sanctified by faith” in him, Scripture also says we are “sanctified in Christ Jesus and called to be holy” (1 Cor. 1:2). Furthermore, “Since we have these promises, dear friends, let us purify ourselves from everything that contaminates body and spirit, perfecting holiness out of reverence for God” (2 Cor. 7:1). Though some might point to Hebrews 10:14 which says, “because by one sacrifice he has made perfect forever those who are being made holy.” Hebrews also says “Make every effort to live in peace with all men and to be holy; without holiness no one will see the Lord” (Hebrews 12:14). It is clear to me that after looking at all of the biblical data, in Hebrews 10:14 the author is speaking of the sufficiency of Christ’s sacrifice to make us perfect in that we are perfectly cleansed from all of our sins, but clearly we are still called to live and grow in holiness.

Why is it important that we need to be perfected? Well, because that is what the process of final purification which Catholics call Purgatory actually is, the completion of our sanctification by which we are made perfectly holy. The Bible teaches clearly that “without holiness no one will see the Lord” and regarding Heaven it says “Nothing impure will ever enter” (Rev. 21:27). So then, what about our impurities? What about our sins which haven’t been confessed or dealt with properly in our lives? How am I freed from my attachments to sinful things and areas of imperfection? How am I actually made perfectly holy? A forensic view of salvation which states that a sinner is only declared righteous by God, rather than actually being made righteous by God, leaves no room for answers to these questions. It also leaves no room for the following bible passages:
11 For no one can lay any foundation other than the one already laid, which is Jesus Christ. 12 If any man builds on this foundation using gold, silver, costly stones, wood, hay or straw, 13 his work will be shown for what it is, because the Day will bring it to light. It will be revealed with fire, and the fire will test the quality of each man’s work. 14 If what he has built survives, he will receive his reward. 15 If it is burned up, he will suffer loss; he himself will be saved, but only as one escaping through the flames (Romans 3:11-15).

Jesus Christ is the foundation, because it is through his merits that he gained salvation for us and he justifies us, but we must build on it through good works. If our works are good, we will receive our reward, but if our works are burned up in the “fire” then we will suffer loss, we ourselves will be saved, but by “escaping through the flames.” Are you following these words from St. Paul? The fire will test the quality of “each man’s work.” Where does this fire come from in Scripture? Read Isaiah 6: 1-7. Isaiah acknowledges he is a man of “unclean lips” but the angel purifies him by touching his mouth with a “live coal.” The fire purges Isaiah of his guilt and atones for his sins. What or who is the fire? Catholics proclaim “Our God is a consuming fire” (Hebrews 12:29: also see Deut. 4:24). Though it is clear St. Paul is referring to judgment day as the “Day,” he is also referring to our personal judgment which happens right after we die since that is when we will be judged 1st.

And so, when you get justification wrong and you diminish the need for working towards our sanctification, than of course, you are left wondering, doesn’t the doctrine of Purgatory demean the power of the blood of Christ to wash away and atone for our sins? No, because Purgatory isn’t about forgiveness from the eternal consequence of our sins which affect our position in the family of God, it is about the secondary effects of sin which are temporal and need to be dealt with in this life or in “the age to come” (Matthew 12:32).

In 2 Samual 12, God forgives David and removes the eternal consequence of his sin, but David still suffers an earthly/temporal punishment: “”The LORD has taken away your sin. You are not going to die. 14 But because by doing this you have made the enemies of the LORD show utter contempt, [a] the son born to you will die.” This is one of many examples one could point out. In Leviticus, the sinner brings a ram to the priest to atone for his sins (the roots of confession), but he must also make restitution for whatever he has stolen or seek reconciliation with those he has sinned against. These earthly/temporal effects of sin are what need to be dealt with by restoring what our disobedience has broken. A popular analogy is the broken window analogy. If I break your window, you can forgive me if I say I’m sorry, but the window is still broken. The next step is for me to pay for the window so that everything is as it once was before my sin. The chaos of sin needs to be restored fully and we have a part to play.

Jesus said regarding being reconciled with our brother, “I tell you, you will never get out till you have paid the very last copper” (Luke 12:59). In Purgatory, all the debts we haven’t paid in this life are paid for, and all of our lack of holiness, charity, and purity, is dealt with and purified in the fire of God’s love. This is, in part, the doctrine of Purgatory which is so often rejected and maligned. I will close with a quote from the Catechism of the Catholic Church. Purgatory is a “purification, so as to achieve the holiness necessary to enter the joy of heaven.” Rather than being a 2nd chance at heaven it is for those “who die in God’s grace and friendship, but still imperfectly purified” (CCC 1030). It notes that “this final purification of the elect . . . is entirely different from the punishment of the damned” (CCC 1031).

(Notice, I defended the doctrine of Purgatory without quoting the Holy Book of Maccabees. Take that Luther!).

May the souls of the faithful departed, through the mercies of God, rest in peace!

God Bless You,
Rigo Vega