Some people are taught to deal with their guilt by placing confidence in the doctrine of “purgatory.” I suppose you could compare it to a student working on a project to gain “extra credit” to make up for some bad grades. Unfortunately, the doctrine of purgatory provides false hope because it is based not in fact, but in fantasy.
The Catechism of the Catholic Church defines purgatory as a “purification, so as to achieve the holiness necessary to enter the joy of heaven,” and is for those who are said to be going to heaven but are nevertheless “still imperfectly purified.” (CCC 1030) According to the Catholic Encyclopedia, purgatory is “a place or condition of temporal punishment” for a Christian after death. The punishment and purification process in purgatory is said to “purge” away certain sins that still require cleansing.
So what’s the problem with this theory? Well, the problem is that this doctrine is not rooted in Scripture. And on top of that, it invites sinners to assume the blood of Jesus and the cross of Christ are not enough to make a believer completely holy in God’s sight. Man needs “more” purification, or so goes the misguided line of reasoning.
In reality, every believer is already completely holy in God’s sight as a result of the Savior’s sacrifice on the cross 2000 years ago. This complete cleansing flows from the miracle of the cross. (1 Peter 2:24,25) Thankfully, every Christian is already “seated with Christ in the heavenly realms.” (Eph. 2:6) The complete purification of a sinner’s soul occurs the moment the new birth takes place (John 3:6,7) in a person’s heart through faith in Christ. (John 1:12; John 3:16)
“We have been made holy through the sacrifice of the body of Jesus Christ once for all.” (Hebrews 10:10)
This astounding declaration is not man’s opinion. It is God’s Word on the matter, period.
Now either the sacrifice of Jesus on the cross has the power to make a believer completely holy in God’s sight, or it doesn’t. And if it does, then who do you suppose would be interested in trying to water down the biblical doctrine of justification through faith? (Gal. 2:16) Does that sound like something God would do, or is the doctrine of purgatory more in line with doctrines the devil would likely spout?
Since Satan is “the father of lies,” (John 8:44) our invisible adversary tells unbelievers: “You’re good enough to get into heaven by your sincerity and your morality.” Meanwhile, he uses a different line of deception when accusing believers: “You’re not pure enough! You know you’re a terrible person. And you call yourself a Christian…ha…what a joke!”
The devil hopes to take our eyes off Jesus and the cross where our redemption was earned “once for all.” (Romans 6:10) If the prince of darkness can’t convince you to reject the cross, his minions work overtime trying to get you to “add to the cross.” Satan knows that when it comes to a person’s approach to salvation, “Jesus plus something equals nothing.” Adding to the cross is just as deadly as rejecting the cross, and no one knows this fact better than the devil himself.
Remember, Satan is an individual angel who has been manipulating a team of evil angels (demons) for thousands of years. And so he has had plenty of time to refine his craft. The devil doesn’t want you to know the truth, whether you are a believer or an unbeliever. Either way, Lucifer’s bag of tricks and seductive lies are lined up and always ready to be unleashed at a moment’s notice.
No wonder Scripture warns believers to beware of demonic doctrines.
“The Spirit clearly says that in later times some will abandon the faith and follow deceiving spirits and things taught by demons….they forbid people to marry, etc.” (1 Timothy 4:1,3) And of all the dangerous doctrines that have been conjured up over the centuries, the doctrine of purgatory is a real doozy!
The Holy Spirit certainly did not invent the doctrine of purgatory and will never guide you to add something to the cross in your quest to be completely purified.
The reality for the believer is that “the blood of Jesus Christ cleanses us from all sin” (1 John 1:7) so that we are now “holy in God’s sight, without blemish and free from accusation.” (Colossians 1:22)
Everyone who has been converted through faith in Jesus is instantly forgiven, saved, justified, born again, and redeemed on the front end of their relationship with God. The miracle of conversion is available to man because of the perfection of Christ’s sacrifice 2000 years ago, as well as the power of Christ’s holy blood that was shed on the cross for our sins.
Believers don’t need any “more” purification in order to be holy in God’s sight. And the idea that man could somehow be punished or purified in purgatory as a way of preparing his soul for heaven is foreign to the Bible. In fact, this doctrine stands opposed to the teaching of the Gospel and to the biblical message of grace.
Here is a helpful acronym to remember the meaning of G-R-A-C-E: “God’s Riches at Christ’s Expense.”
The doctrine of purgatory, on the other hand, could be summed up this way: S-P-A-C-E, or “Special Punishment a Christian Earns.”
GRACE or SPACE? Which approach will you rely upon for complete purification before God? Christ being punished unto death in your place, or you being punished after death to merit some extra purification for your sins?
The Bible provides us with the only way a sinner is purified before Almighty God: “By one sacrifice He has made perfect forever those who are being made holy.” (Hebrews 10:14) Could it be any clearer?
The focus in the New Testament is always on the punishment Jesus endured for our sins, and not on some supposed punishment a Christian receives in “purgatory.” Such a diabolical doctrine strips the cross of Christ of its glory, while ignoring the full atoning power of the Savior’s blood to completely wash away the sins of a believer.
Isaiah prophesied 700 years before Christ’s crucifixion, “The punishment that brought us peace was upon Him.” (Isaiah 53:5) Rather than giving us the punishment we deserve, God took the punishment upon Himself in order to redeem us from sin, death, and the devil.
And so today, you either have complete forgiveness through Christ alone, or no forgiveness whatsoever. The forgiveness of sins is not given out in parts. Every converted person is purified completely today; right now; prior to their death. If you are waiting until after you die to have all your sins washed away, you will be waiting a very long time to say the least.
Purgatory is nothing more than a seductive and deceptive myth. If truth be told, this doctrine is “all talk” and “no action,” no cleansing, and no purging away of sins.
And where does that leave a person who has gone to their grave while relying upon the false promises of purgatory? When it comes to life, death, and eternity, there are no do-overs.
“It is appointed unto men once to die, and after that the judgment.” (Hebrews 9:27)
Aside from Scripture, we wouldn’t know what happens to a soul the moment a person dies. Only God’s Word correctly informs our mind and our conscience on such lofty matters.
One biblical passage that has been used in attempting to defend the doctrine of purgatory is 1 Corinthians 3:10-15. But those who do so misinterpret the true meaning of this text. I wrote about the real meaning of this passage in an article entitled, “The Biblical Distinction Between ‘Gift’ and ‘Reward.”
At the end of time, a believer’s works will indeed be tested with fire to see if the works were done with the right motives. That is to say, were they done by someone trying to shine the light and focus on himself; or instead, trying to shine the light on Christ and keep the focus on the Savior?
Regarding the works of a believer on that day…”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. If what he has built survives, he will receive his reward. If it is burned up, he will suffer loss; he himself will be saved, but only as one escaping through the flames.” (1 Cor. 3:13-15)
Did you catch that? It describes the man who gets into heaven because he received the free gift of eternal life, and so he was saved; and yet, he “suffers loss” of certain rewards that he would have received if his motives had been different in his service for Christ. He will still of course enjoy a fantastic life in heaven forever, and he will not be even slightly jealous in heaven of anyone’s else reward. (Jealousy and the like are only found on earth, and not in heaven.) Before the believer enters heaven, however, the work he completed on earth will be tested with fire to see how much of it was noble, selfless, and Christ-centered.
This testing is very different than the false doctrine of purgatory.
Eternal life in heaven is a free gift and cannot be merited by man’s efforts, either in this life, or in the fictional realm of “purgatory.” Rewards, on the other hand, are taught in Scripture as a way God has chosen to bless His children for their works on earth. But if you are not in the family of God through faith in Christ, then the promise of heavenly rewards does not apply to you. It only applies to God’s children.
The apostle Paul wrote these words to believers reminding them of the way they entered God’s eternal family: “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith – and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God – not by works, so that no one can boast.” (Eph. 2:8,9)
Once the gift is received through faith, salvation is secure. There is no need for any further purification in order to be justified before God. And this explains why the theory of purgatory is so dangerous. Purgatory is a pernicious man-made doctrine that contradicts Scripture and opposes the cross of Christ.
There is nothing man can do to add to what Christ accomplished on the cross. Any attempt to add to the Savior’s sacrifice is doomed to fail, and will lead a person to place a measure of faith in something other than the finished work of Christ on the cross.
When those in Galatia were being goaded by the Judaizers to add circumcision to the basis of their eternal hope of salvation, Paul warned them sternly: “That kind of persuasion does not come from the one who calls you. ‘A little yeast works through the whole batch of dough.'” (Gal. 5:8,9)
In other words, the moment you attempt to add something to Christ’s sacrifice on the cross as the basis of your justification before God, you are on the verge of losing everything.
Paul went so far as to inform the folks in Galatia: “You who are trying to be justified by law have been alienated from Christ; you have fallen away from grace.” (Gal. 5:4)
And so the bottom line is this: What am I relying upon in order to be pure in God’s eyes? Am I trusting Christ alone and the blood He shed on the cross for my sins? Or am I planning to bear some punishment myself after I die in order to be “purified” to the point of complete perfection?
If so, be careful what you wish for. Those who are determined to receive punishment for their sins should realize that the only people who are punished after death are those who will be punished in hell forever. (Matthew 25:41)
And I know you don’t want to receive eternal punishment, correct? So don’t dabble with the diabolical doctrine that spews forth the following concept: “A little bit of punishment after death is good for the soul.” Yeah right. Don’t believe it for a second.
Amidst all of its rotten fruit, perhaps the most offensive aspect of this dangerous doctrine is simply this: The teaching of purgatory is a slap in the Savior’s face because it proudly proclaims to do something that only the blood of Jesus has the power to accomplish. (Revelation 1:5)
Dan Delzell is the pastor of Wellspring Church in Papillion, Neb.