The Problem with Purgatory

The other day I tweeted:

This was my response to finding out that the Vatican is apparently offering the Pope’s social media followers special indulgences as an incentive for keeping up to date with Church posts. In other words, the Pope’s followers could theoretically be given less time in Purgatory after they die. You can read more about this news here and here.

I’m a big fan of Pope Francis, but I find the concept of Purgatory to be an absurd teaching for a Christian to believe in. (Not to mention that Twitter or Instagram could have much to do with one’s post-mortem suffering…)

500 years ago the Protestant Reformation began in part as a reaction to this kind of silly doctrine. Unfortunately, it’s still all too common today.

The idea of Purgatory can be described as a place souls go to after death to be purged of sin, to be purified, to atone for misdeeds. It is thought to be a waiting place for those who are not fully qualified to enter into God’s Presence in Heaven.  It is a realm for the continuing process of suffering, whereby one becomes ready for an eventual entrance into Glory. Some call it “temporal punishment,” in order to contrast it with the everlasting nature of Hell’s fire.

(I might note that Purgatory does not sound altogether different from the type of sanctification process that many Protestants look forward to on this side of eternity.)

The problem with Purgatory is that Jesus already fundamentally purified our identity through His work on the Cross (see Romans 6:6-11). Beyond this, there is no retribution to be paid for our disobedience (see Isaiah 53:3 and 1 John 4:18). Further, Christ already brought us into God’s joyous Presence (see Ephesians 2:6). The Gospel doesn’t tell us to wait until death to start enjoying this reality. We are currently “in Christ Jesus, who has become for us wisdom from God—that is, our righteousness, sanctification and redemption” (1 Corinthians 1:30).

In other words, our union with the Divine is not predicated on us going through a process of purification. His Presence and our righteousness is a free gift, independent of any continuing maturity that we still need.

His Presence and our righteousness is a free gift, independent of any continuing maturity that we still need.

We are not becoming one with Him. We ARE one with Him.

We can all humbly say with Paul, “I have been crucified with Christ, and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself up for me” (Galatians 2:20). We are in that level of oneness with the Lord, forever. And we did nothing to merit it.

Paul warns us to be careful not to be deceived by any doctrines that encourage our self-righteousness. His words are applicable to all of us, whether we have been looking forward to Purgatory or to any other process of pushing ourselves to become what the Lord declares that we already are.

Colossians 2:8-14,

See to it that no one takes you captive through philosophy and empty deception, according to the tradition of men, according to the elementary principles of the world, rather than according to Christ. For in Him all the fullness of Deity dwells in bodily form, and in Him you have been made complete… When you were dead in your transgressions and the uncircumcision of your flesh, He made you alive together with Him, having forgiven us all our transgressions, having canceled out the certificate of debt consisting of decrees against us, which was hostile to us; and He has taken it out of the way, having nailed it to the cross.”

Our redemption is complete. Let’s not settle for believing any other message.

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