Purgatory: Does it exist?
My first thought on this is that a lot of people certainly hope such a place as Purgatory exists. But what’s the truth about this? Can people count on this?
In His earthly ministry, Jesus Christ warned about the danger of some long-held traditional beliefs of that time.
9 And he said unto them, Full well ye reject the commandment of God, that ye may keep your own tradition. [Emphasis added]
Even Solomon talked about these things in his day. Sometimes things that may seem to make sense are totally wrong.
12 There is a way which seemeth right unto a man, but the end thereof are the ways of death. [Emphasis added]
There were many beliefs at that time that had become common beliefs but were scripturally unfounded. Such is the case for certain beliefs today.
I can understand how this subject of Purgatory could be a sensitive subject for some people. There are many who have grown up in a home where the belief in Purgatory was taught and assumed to be correct. Currently I attend a Bible class each week that’s conducted by a former Roman Catholic. He sometimes mentions things he once believed but has rejected because of what he’s learned in his pursuit of the truth in his studies of the Bible.
Beliefs for all of us, right and wrong, are often formed that are hard to unseat. But as I often say, three of the hardest words to utter are— “I was wrong!” But I can completely understand all this because I, too, came up with a Baptist background where I eventually discovered that some of what I’d been taught and came to believe was wrong. As you probably know, most churchgoers rarely drift away from their own denominational beliefs, assuming the things they were taught must be right. For many, they don’t even give all this a second thought because church is sadly more of a social activity than it is anything else.
The subject of Purgatory is one I could simply choose to avoid, but what would that accomplish? Wouldn’t that be irresponsible on my part if I had information about this that could be quite helpful to people?
I’ve found that most Catholics know very little about this place called Purgatory. There are other Catholics who doubt its existence. But for those of you who are unfamiliar with this subject, what is Purgatory? The Catholic Encyclopedia states: “Purgatory [Latin, “purgare,” to make clean, to purify] in accordance with Catholic teaching is a place or condition of temporal punishment for those who, departing this life in God’s grace, are, not entirely free from venial faults. [According to Catholicism, “a venial sin is a lesser sin that does not result in a complete separation from God and eternal damnation in Hell as an unrepented mortal sin would, or have not fully paid the satisfaction due to their transgressions.”] The Catechism of the Catholic church defines Purgatory as a purification, “so as to achieve the holiness necessary to enter the joy of heaven,” which is experienced by those “who die in God’s grace and friendship, but still imperfectly purified” (CCC 1030).
As with all these articles I write, we must go to what are truly the Scriptures for a correct understanding of things. It is foolish to rest one’s beliefs on anything but that. This is true even with things where there’s a majority of people believing it. However, there’s no doubt that some traditions are to be readily accepted and believed. In other words, not all traditions are bad. Note the comment made by the apostle Paul about this.
II Thessalonians 2:15
15 Therefore, brethren, stand fast, and hold the traditions which ye have been taught, whether by word, or our epistle. [Emphasis added]
But please notice that he says those traditions need to be based on the truth of his epistles. There are some other traditions held by people that are totally false. They may be completely sincere in what they believe, but, as with other areas of life, that sincerity alone is not enough.
3 But he answered and said unto them, Why do ye also transgress the commandment of God by your tradition? [Emphasis added]
Therefore, we must beware. The only Scriptures that are totally reliable are those contained in Bibles with 66 books that exclude the Apocryphal books that some add. The Apocryphal books are a collection of pre-New Testament works by Jewish writers, many collected in the Septuagint, a Greek translation of Hebrew texts including the 39 canonical books of the Old Testament. These books are considered Scripture by the Roman Catholic Church and the Eastern Orthodox Church, but not by Protestant denominations.
As we’ve noted, during our Lord’s earthly ministry, He clearly warned about some traditional beliefs. There are certainly some in this case that are contrary to the teachings of the 66 books of a traditional Bible. Such IS the case with the apocryphal books contained in some Bibles. There are teachings in these Apocryphal books that conflict or contradict other related teachings of the Bible and are therefore to be rejected.
The basic problem with the teaching of there being a Purgatory is that the Bible tells us Christ already “purged” our sins with His blood “by Himself.” This fact should never be ignored.
3 Who being the brightness of his glory, and the express image of his person, and upholding all things by the word of his power, when he had by himself purged our sins, sat down on the right hand of the Majesty on high: [Emphasis added]
To purge is to rid or remove. In this case, it was Christ who once and for all removed the sin problem between man and God through His sacrificial work on the cross. Christ died for us and for the sins of all mankind of every generation.
II Corinthians 5:21
21 For he hath made him to be sin for us, who knew no sin; that we might be made the righteousness of God in him. [Emphasis added]
Christ’s purging of our sins at the cross is a part of the gospel message. One can’t even be saved apart from believing that He accomplished this purging on the cross. Christ dying for our sins is a vital part of our gospel message.
I Corinthians 15:1-4
1 Moreover, brethren, I declare unto you the gospel [the good news] which I preached [proclaimed] unto you, which also ye have received, and wherein ye stand;
2 By which also ye are saved, if ye keep in memory what I preached unto you, unless ye have believed in vain.
3 For I delivered unto you first of all that which I also received, how that Christ died for our sins [this was His work of purging our sins] according to the scriptures;
4 And that he was buried, and that he rose again the third day according to the scriptures: [Emphasis added]
Nothing at all needs to be added to this. That includes any additional purging of sins or anything else.
8 For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God:
9 Not of works, lest any man should boast. [Emphasis added]
It is faith alone in what God provided through what Christ accomplished that provides immediate and eternal salvation. When Scripture tells us Christ was seated at the right hand of God it demonstrates clearly that what Christ accomplished in purging our sins was completely acceptable to God the Father. Because our sins were held against Christ, they’ll never be held against us. The natural law of double jeopardy forbids that. What Christ accomplished completely satisfied the payment for sin that God’s justice demanded. It need never be paid again.
33 Who shall lay any thing to the charge of God’s elect? It is God that justifieth.
34 Who is he that condemneth? It is Christ that died, yea rather, that is risen again, who is even at the right hand of God, who also maketh intercession for us. [Emphasis added]
But apart from the salvation God imparts to people while they are still living on this Earth, there is no hope for them. Death makes things final for those rejecting God’s means for their salvation. We are told that they will spend all eternity in terrible and unending suffering.
II Thessalonians 1:8-9
8 In flaming fire taking vengeance on them that know not God, and that obey not the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ:
9 Who shall be punished with everlasting [AIONIOS = everlasting] destruction from the presence of the Lord, and from the glory of his power; [Emphasis added]
We see an example of this given by Jesus Christ during the time of His earthly ministry. As you’ll see in this story, there’s not even a hint that there’s such a place as Purgatory or a chance for this man to ever escape the torment of Hell and the Lake of Fire.
19 There was a certain rich man, which was clothed in purple and fine linen, and fared sumptuously every day:
20 And there was a certain beggar named Lazarus, which was laid at his gate, full of sores,
21 And desiring to be fed with the crumbs which fell from the rich man’s table: moreover the dogs came and licked his sores.
22 And it came to pass, that the beggar died, and was carried by the angels into Abraham’s bosom: the rich man also died, and was buried;
23 And in hell he lift up his eyes, being in torments, and seeth Abraham afar off, and Lazarus in his bosom.
Please notice that the rich man immediately found himself in the eternal torment of hell.
24 And he cried and said, Father Abraham, have mercy on me, and send Lazarus, that he may dip the tip of his finger in water, and cool my tongue; for I am tormented in this flame.
25 But Abraham said, Son, remember that thou in thy lifetime receivedst thy good things, and likewise Lazarus evil things: but now he is comforted, and thou art tormented.
26 And beside all this, between us and you there is a great gulf fixed: so that they which would pass from hence to you cannot; neither can they pass to us, that would come from thence.
27 Then he said, I pray thee therefore, father, that thou wouldest send him to my father’s house:
28 For I have five brethren; that he may testify unto them, lest they also come into this place of torment.
29 Abraham saith unto him, They have Moses and the prophets; let them hear them.
30 And he said, Nay, father Abraham: but if one went unto them from the dead, they will repent.
31 And he said unto him, If they hear not Moses and the prophets, neither will they be persuaded, though one rose from the dead. [Emphasis added]
Who would ever want to spend even a few seconds in such a place, let alone all eternity! But just think! This man has been there for many centuries but is no closer to the end of his torment than he was the day he first entered that place. But something similar can be said of those who’ve now entered Heaven. There’s no end for their time in Heaven either.
23 For the wages of sin is death; but the gift of God is eternal [AIONIOS = eternal] life through Jesus Christ our Lord. [Emphasis added]
God’s grace and the place called Heaven is eternal and available to all. When people miss it, they have no one to blame but themselves. And, as I said when I started this article, to think that an unbeliever can after death escape the torment of an eternal sentence of suffering is only wishful thinking. Why would anyone even want to take a chance at having to face such eternal misery. As the apostle Paul once told a Philippian jailor, “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved…”
Eternal salvation is only a step away. Why not receive Jesus Christ as your Savior now? God knows your thoughts. In fact, there never was a time when He did not know what you were thinking. Therefore, even as you’re reading this, you can choose to accept Jesus Christ as your Savior. Being YOUR Savior, you’ll never have to be concerned again as to where you’ll spend eternity. I pray you’ll put your faith in Him right now.