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Entries in Purgatory (2)

Tuesday
Sep182018

Your Personal End Times: What is after death? III

Various passages.  This sermon was preached by Pastor Marty Bonner on September 16, 2018.

Over the last several weeks we have established that all people will face their physical death and that what they experience next will be one of two possible situations.  Keep in mind that we are not dealing with the special case of those who are alive at the resurrection.  Those who belong to Christ when they die will immediately go to be with Christ in heaven at the right hand of the Father.  Those who do not belong to Christ go to torments in Hades, or The Grave.  There are other beliefs that are floating around out there, which I believe to be in error.

Soul Sleep

There are many passages throughout the Bible that use sleep terminology for physical death.  Even the resurrection is spoken of in Daniel 12 as waking up out of the dust of the earth.  There are some who teach that these verses prove that the soul or spirit is not conscious during death.  A person would simply die and then the next thing they would experience is the Resurrection day.  There are also some verses that seem to imply that the dead are not aware.  However, these verses are saying that they are not aware of earthly things, not that they are unaware of the spiritual place in which they find themselves.  The imagery of sleeping is not used to teach that such is happening.  It is a euphemism that is typical when speaking of the dead.  Other passages make it abundantly clear that they are conscious and aware of the spiritual things around them.

Next we will deal with the most abundant belief about the afterlife that has no biblical basis.

Is purgatory a biblical teaching?

First let’s explain just what purgatory is.  Purgatory comes into play when a believer dies.  It teaches that sin after salvation can be absolved or forgiven, but the guilt cannot.  Thus all believers who die are saved, but many are not pure.  The pure go immediately into the presence of God and Christ, as we have already said.  However, Christians who are not pure go into a temporary place of fiery pain until they have been “purged” of all their guilt.  Then they will be allowed to go into the presence of God.  Purgatory is not the same as the place of torments in Hades, but sounds an awful lot like it.

It is also taught that certain prayers, righteous works, and even monetary gifts that are given in this life can lower the amount of time that we will have to spend in purgatory, perhaps even lower it to zero.  These are called indulgences.  In fact, a person can obtain indulgences on behalf of family members and other believers who have passed away and may still be in purgatory.

This teaching was one of many that Martin Luther opposed in the 16th century when he nailed his 95 theses to the Wittenburg Castle church door.  He quoted a popular jingle of the day, “As soon as the coin in the coffer rings, the soul out of purgatory springs.”  Of course, such teachings led to all manner of corruption in the name of bringing money into the treasury of the Roman Catholic Church, and in the name of rich people being able to indulge themselves in sin due to the fact they could purchase indulgences against any guilt.

It is important to note that this was a doctrine that was particular to Rome and the western Churches.  When the Eastern Orthodox churches and the Roman Catholic Churches separated in AD 1054, 400 years followed of trying to reconcile their differences, which was never accomplished.  The teaching of purgatory was one of these doctrines that the Eastern Church never adopted.  Martin Luther and the other Protestant Reformers also came to reject this teaching.

Rome puts forth several defenses of this teaching, which were found lacking by all the afore mentioned parties.  Let’s look at a couple of the passages put forward.  The first is 1 Corinthians 3:12-14.  It is said that the testing fire in this passage is purgatory.  This is an untenable interpretation for several reasons.  Paul is talking about the work that is done to build the Church of Jesus Christ.  If anyone builds on anything other than Jesus Christ, it is compared to using wood, hay, and stubble for building materials.  The passage does emphasize that this judgment does not affect salvation, but notice just what is subjected to the fire.  The person is not subjected to the fire, but rather the works that we have done for Christ are tested.  That which is according to Christ is rewarded as precious gold and silver, but that which is founded upon our own thinking, or the thinking of others besides Christ, will not survive and will not become reward to us.  However, some will protest that verse 15 uses the phrase, “he himself will be saved, yet so as through fire.”  Both the English translation and the Greek language use the word “as,” which is used to introduce a simile or comparison, not a literal teaching.  This judging fire isn’t literal.  It is symbolic of Christ’s judgment of our works and the rewards or lack thereof that will be given to us.  It, in no way, teaches that the soul spends an amount of time in purgatory so that guilt can be purged.

Another passage used is 1 Peter 3:18-22.  Here Peter makes a comparison between Jesus and Noah’s ark.  In Noah’s days, God was patient with the wicked giving them opportunity to respond to the preaching and life-testimony of Noah.  Only those in the ark were saved from the waters of judgment.  Similarly, we are in a time in which God is being patient with the world and allowing people opportunity to enter Christ through faith and water baptism.  In this case Christ becomes a spiritual ark.  Yet, note verse 19.  Here it says that by the Spirit Jesus went and preached to the spirits in prison (clearly intended to be Hades).  The wicked are in prison in the sense that they are being punished and awaiting judgment.  The righteous are in prison in the sense that they can’t get out without God’s help.  Note our previous sermons on what the righteous experience in Hades. 

Pro-purgatory interpreters see the term “preached” as an offer of salvation.  Thus they see people in a prison who are given an opportunity to get out.  This is not quite what purgatory teaches, but even then that is not what is meant.  The word “preached” does not mean “to offer salvation.”  It simply means to proclaim.  When we proclaim the Gospel to people on this earth, it includes an offer of salvation.  However, if Jesus proclaims anything to those in Hades, it is his victory over death.  This would be bad news to the wicked in Hades, and good news to the righteous.  The righteous will now be allowed to go with Christ into heaven, but the wicked remain.  It is one thing to use human logic and reasoning to make sense of what is clearly taught.  It is quite another to use human logic and reasoning to promote something that is not clearly taught.  This passage in no way pictures the righteous paying for their guilt and getting out when they have paid it off.

Lastly, there is a passage in the apocryphal book of 2 Maccabees that describes Judas Maccabees having a sacrifice offered on behalf of some Israelites who had died because they found out after their deaths that they had objects dedicated to false idols on their persons.  Judas hopes that the offering will offset their sins and buy them grace from God.  Now 2 Maccabees is not Scripture, nor does it explicitly or implicitly say that it is a word from the Lord.  Just because someone in Israel believed something and the priests of his day went along with it, does not mean that God would honor it.  Nor that these souls were actually in a place of purging.  If anything, it is a religious “Hail Mary” that would help everyone feel like they did the best they could in light of a horrible revelation.  Even more powerful than what I have just stated, is the fact that Jesus rejected most of the teachings and beliefs of the Israelites of his day.  Whether Sadducee or Pharisee, Samaritan or Jew, Jesus spent most of his career correcting their false ideas.  Thus, even if 2 Maccabees taught a doctrine of purgatory (which it clearly does not) that would not mean we would automatically adopt it without a word from Christ or His Apostles.

Faulty interpretation is not the only problem with the doctrine of purgatory.  The adoption of it creates difficulties in other doctrinal areas that are clearly taught in the Bible. This doctrine rejects the final and full sufficiency of Christ’s once-for-all atonement.  In fact 1 Peter 3:18, a passage cited above, starts out with the words, “Christ also suffered once for sins,” that is our sins.  Isaiah 53:5 states that the Messiah was wounded for our transgressions.  He was bruised for our iniquities.  The chastisement for our peace was upon Him, and by His stripes we are healed.  It is clear that the death of Christ was a suffering and painful experience that made for us peace and healing.  Thus the belief in purgatory diminishes the work of Christ on the cross to merely making it possible for us to pay for our sins, which is heresy.

The doctrine of purgatory also creates an unbiblical idea of penalty and guilt.  This doctrine divides the forgiveness of God into two categories, absolution and expiation (removing guilt).  Although both concepts are biblical, they are simply two ways of looking at a singular process of forgiveness.

Another problem with the doctrine of purgatory is this.  It distorts the biblical teaching of grace by infusing human merit into it.  It ends up creating a system of self-atonement works, both in this life and in purgatory.  Either we have received all of God’s grace as a gift, or it is not grace, but a payment.  You can’t have both and remain orthodox.

Lastly, it confuses the judgment of God by creating the concept of a remedial punishment.  Christ takes our punishment and judgment upon Himself that we might become the children of God, not that we might remediate our own punishment.

These last four points are not original to me.  So I am crediting Michael F. Ross of Christian Research Institute for them.  An article of his on the subject can be found at: http://www.equip.org/article/is-purgatory-a-biblical-concept/ (as of 9/18/2018).

What about conditional immortality or annihilationism?

Quickly I will point out another issue that is brought up by people regarding our experience after death.  Annihilationism is the belief that those who do not belong to Christ are annihilated, i.e. go out of existence spiritually, either at their physical death or at a spiritual death in the Lake of Fire.  A related, but somewhat different view called conditional immortality ends up at the same place as annihilationism.  It says that humans do not inherently have immortality.  A person goes out of existence unless God intervenes and gives them immortality.  Thus they see all the righteous being immortal, but all the wicked as being annihilated.

The problem with these views is Scripture itself, especially the teaching of Christ.  In Mark 9:43-44, Jesus says,

“If your hand causes you to sin, cut it off.  It is better for you to enter into life maimed, rather than having two hands to go to hell (Gehenna), into the fire that shall never be quenched—where their worm does not die and the fire is not quenched.”

 He repeats this formula two more times, but changing it to your foot causing you to sin, and then your eye.  Here we can see that Jesus emphasizes that Gehenna is a fire that shall never be quenched.  Why would we fear going into  the fire that is never quenched if we are just going to be annihilated?  He is clearly not talking about Hades here (Revelation 20:14 states that Hades will be thrown into the lake of fire), but rather the Lake of Fire (also called the Second Death).  Jesus also quotes from Isaiah 66:24.  The imagery there is that the wicked will be thrown into a fiery place where the fire is never quenched and their worm never dies.  What is meant by this phrase “their worm never dies?”  Some see it as a reference of their body and soul.  Others believe that it refers to their death.  Just as the flames are never quenched (i.e. never run out of fuel) so the worms never die because they never run out of flesh to eat.  This metaphor could be taken both ways.  Either the person is never completely destroyed by this destructive death, or the destruction they face is simply far worse than what is in this life.  Yet, note that nothing is said to “declare” that the soul goes out of existence.  Alongside of this in Revelation 21, Why would God resurrect sinners bodily just so that He can make them instantaneously go out of existence when they are thrown into the Lake of Fire?  Couldn’t that have been done in their spirit state?  Another point, Daniel 12 states that some will awaken from the dust of the earth to everlasting shame and contempt.  How can they have everlasting shame and contempt when they no longer exist?  The Church has always held that even the souls of the wicked will be conscious and await judgment.  To teach otherwise is to fight against the clear teaching of Scripture.

Let me close this by recognizing that the most important thing in all of this talk is the assurance that we can prepare ourselves now to avoid a bad situation after death.  If you haven’t made your peace with God, I challenge you to hear His offer of salvation and turn to Him in repentance and with faith in Jesus.  Flee to Jesus today.

Purgatory audio

Tuesday
Jun112013

Understanding the Gospel III

We are so far removed from the events of the Protestant Reformation in the 1500’s that it has become increasingly more common to find people who think of it as “much to do about nothing.”  Were the events of that era simply over-reactions to the definitions of words?  I think that when you make an honest investigation into the debates and events of that period you will find that there are and still remain very big differences.

Real Differences

I will only point out two very big differences, but they should suffice to demonstrate that the answer is not just to pretend like they are not important.  First, the reformers called the Church back to the Scriptures; “sola scriptura” (only scripture) was their motto.  Over the years extra teachings and Church practices had been added to the point that much of what was taught and done was at least extra-biblical and in some cases even unbiblical.  But even deeper than this, the Gospel itself was being turned on its head.  The reformers wanted the Church to go back to the Scriptures and simply teach and be what the Scriptures promoted.  They were rejected, branded heretics, and punished wherever possible.  Thus the Protestant groups were formed.

Let’s look at the teaching of purgatory.  It cannot be supported from the Bible.  However, it was reasoned from Jewish writings that were not Scripture, and from further twisting biblical texts from their obvious meaning.  Why would such a belief that was not accepted from the beginning become acceptable later?  Over time a mentality had been developed that the work of Jesus is not enough for our salvation.  His death on the cross for our sins was not enough suffering.  To truly be clean enough to enter the presence of the Father would require a time of “purging” in a place of punishment.  Each individual would remain in purgatory for various amounts of time until they had paid for their sins.  Clearly no godly person would claim to be perfect in their following of Christ and so it was easy for people to fall into the trap of accepting such a teaching.  However, a people who need to pay for their sins become a people who are easier to control, manipulate, and subdue.

Another teaching called Indulgences goes along with the concept of purgatory.  The Pope could dispense special indulgences by which an individual could reduce their time in purgatory through prayer, extra devotion, and even financial giving.  Thus in Luther’s day indulgences had become so bad that a Dominican Preacher had coined the phrase, “As soon as a coin in the coffer rings, the soul from purgatory springs.”  Though this wasn’t exactly what the Church was teaching, it demonstrates the effect this doctrine was having upon the clergy and the laity.  When my giving, or devotions can release me, or even another, from years of purgatory, I have a vested interest in doing far more than I would if no such place existed.  At the heart of these teachings is the idea that somehow a person needs to pay for their sins.  This diminishing of the work of Christ and exaltation of the work of man is core to the gospel and, in fact, can affect one’s salvation.

Jesus had come to be viewed like this.  He had purchased a vast, unlimited treasury of grace over which he had put the Church leadership in charge.  This had the effect of placing a mediator between believers and Christ.  Yet, Scripture teaches us to personally come to the Throne of God for Grace and that Jesus Christ is our mediator before the Father.  Who ever heard of a mediator for a mediator?  This redundancy is not only illogical, it was damaging to the spiritual life of many.  Hebrews 4:16, says” Let us therefore come boldly to the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy and find grace to help in the time of need.”  Even if leaders sit on earthly thrones that have been made for them, that is not the throne this verse refers to.  Also, in Hebrews 10:19-22 we have, “Therefore, brethern, having boldness to enter the Holiest Place by the blood of Jesus, by a new and living way which He consecrated for us through the veil, that is, His flesh and having a High Priest over the house of God, let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water.”  Jesus is the High Priest to which we are to draw near with a heart full of assurance and faith.  This is what makes for our cleansing and salvation before the Father. 

These very real differences are still active today.  Neither group has changed their views on these issues, though some may redefine their importance.  With this in mind let’s go to James 2:14.

What is Saving Faith

In verse 14 James speaks to a person who posits the theoretical position that they have faith in Jesus but do no personal works.  James asks, “Can such a faith save him?”  The rhetorical answer is no.  However, notice that James recognized that the word faith was not a special word that could mean anything to anybody and still retain its power.

Now Paul had made it very clear in his letters that our works cannot save us.  Ephesians 2:8,9 says, “it is by grace you are saved through faith, and that not of yourselves.  It is the gift of God not by works lets any man should boast.”  Thus man can only be made clean before God by the grace that comes through putting our faith in Jesus Christ and His work.  We can only approach God through the works of Jesus and Him alone.  Our reliance and trust upon Christ and Him alone are an essential part of a faith that has the power to save.  This involves recognizing our own sin and thus need for Christ’s work of atonement (covering it).  It also involves accepting not just what Jesus taught about the Gospel, but also about himself.  He is the Son of God, born of miraculous birth, lived a sinless life, died a substitutionary death, was powerfully resurrected, exalted to the throne of God, and given Kingship over all the earth.

In this context James goes on in verses 15-17 to point out that if we truly have faith in Jesus how could we not love each other as he did?  In reality he is not promoting the idea that our works are essential to salvation, but that they are a part of the equation of the Christian life.  So what part do they play?

The Relation Between Faith, Works, and Salvation

Salvation here is the immediate spiritual work of becoming a child of God who stands to inherit all the promises of God that are still future.  This is also referred to as justification.  It is the point at which God declares that our sin has been dealt with and we now stand worthy to receive his adoption and inheritance along with Jesus.

In simplified form, the formula for salvation according to the Roman Catholic Church looks somewhat like this:  Faith in Jesus + Personal works (mediated by the Church Leadership) = Salvation.  The Protestant position refused to put our works on the same side of the equation as Jesus.  Thus the modified or biblical formula is this: Faith in Jesus and His work = salvation + Good works as a part of His Church.  Notice that our works in the second equation do not help our salvation, but rather are a result of our salvation.  This is huge, because the Bible has many harsh judgments against those who think they can approach God by their own works.  Yet, it is clear that we need to pursue good works as a believer in Jesus.

Final Thoughts

God is not the author of disunity.  But neither is He the author of the traditions and “additions” of men to the Gospel, whether they be Roman Catholic or Protestant errors.  Unity must always be around Christ himself and his word, rather than on the rationale and position of any man or group of men.

Understanding Gospel III audio