Should Be If Not
Q. Is there such a thing as Purgatory in the Bible? If there isn't one there should be! I don't think it's fair that Christians can behave badly and do terrible things yet end up in an eternal, glorious heaven.
I don't think it's fair, either. But, I don't base my opinions on what I think or feel. The Bible gives us our standard or rule to live by. It's what God says in His Word that counts - not our logic or opinions.
Extremes - Cheap Grace or Faith/Works
Having said that, I think Christians have gone to one of two extremes: The first extreme is "cheap grace" preached especially these past one-hundred years in Protestant churches. In their determination to reject anything the Catholic Church teaches regarding salvation through works and not by faith, the Protestant church has ignored some shocking things in their New Testament. The other extreme is the Catholic Church's teaching of faith-through-works salvation.
Grace through Faith - not Works
The truth lies somewhere in-between in our heavenly state and during our lives on earth. Please understand that we have looked up every verse the Catholic Church proposes as evidence for the traditional idea of purgatory and found nothing to support this idea (New Catholic Answer Bible 2005, H-2) except for one passage in their Apocrypha. According to the Bible we are saved by grace through faith - nothing more or less. Paul writes,
"For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing - it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast" (Ephesians 2:8, ESV).
Heavenly Socialism or Inequality?
There is nothing in that passage that allows for salvation through works. However, for those who are believers there is clearly inequality in heaven. What is shocking is that Protestant Christians find this almost impossible to believe. We have all been thoroughly indoctrinated into believing a kind of bland, heavenly socialism - where everyone is equal, where everyone possesses the same joy and where everyone is rewarded with equal gifts in heaven.
This is an obnoxious lie being furthered by gospel teachers who think they can preach grace, prosperity and health for all without any consequences for bad behavior here on earth or in heaven.
Losing in Heaven?
While it is true that all believers enter heaven because they have accepted that the Lord died for their sins, it is also true that bad behavior will result in loss and shame. For example, the Bible is clear that we can lose out on some of our rewards in heaven.
"Watch yourselves, so that you may not lose what we have worked for, but may win a full reward" (2 John 1:8). The "full reward" spoken of here is confirmed by 2 Corinthians 5:10 which explains that we will be judged for everything we do - the good as well as the bad. For the bad things we do we may suffer loss at the judgment seat of Christ and in the Kingdom of heaven.
The New Testament teaches that we can feel shame before the Lord in heaven.
"Little children, abide in Him, so that when He appears, we may have confidence and not shrink from Him in shame at His coming" (1 John 2:28).
How many Protestants "shrink" from this bible passage? The idea that we can feel shame before the Lord in heaven is ignored or rejected by almost everyone. Yet, there it is - for all of us to read and believe if we choose to.
The Bible teaches that at least some of our suffering may be due to our behavior here on planet earth:
"For he who eats and drinks, eats and drinks judgment to himself if he does not judge the body rightly. For this reason many among you are weak and sick, and a number sleep" (1 Corinthians 11:31).
"When believers do not properly judge the holiness of the celebration of Communion, they treat with indifference the Lord Himself - His life, suffering, and death…God put the worst offenders to death, an extreme but effective form of church purification," notes famous bible teacher John MacArthur (Study Bible 1997, 1746).
Turned over to Satan
Even more frightening the Bible warns that errant, sinning Christians can be "delivered to Satan" during this lifetime if they refuse to repent and change their bad behaviors:
"I have decided to deliver such a one to Satan for the destruction of his flesh, so that his spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord Jesus" (First Corinthians 5:5).
MacArthur warns "this is equal to excommunicating the professed believer. It amounts to putting that person out of the blessing of Christian worship and fellowship by thrusting him into Satan's realm, the world system…This refers to divine chastening for sin that can result in illness and even death" (notes from MacArthur Study Bible, 1997).
A shocking revelation to many Protestants is that the Apostle Paul wrote Galatians 5:19-21 to Christians who had already "entered" the kingdom. He was warning born again Christians of what they must not do if they expect to receive their "full" inheritance in the kingdom of God. Paul writes,
"Now the works of the flesh are obvious: sexual immorality, moral impurity, promiscuity, idolatry, sorcery, hatreds, strife, jealousy, outbursts of anger, selfish ambitions, dissensions, factions, envy, drunkenness, carousing, and anything similar, about which I tell you in advance - as I told you before - that those who practice such things will not 'inherit' the kingdom of God" (HCSB).
This is so horrifying to modern day Protestants that many deny the reality of this passage and insist it must apply only to unbelievers.
Read for Yourselves - Eph., Cor.&Col.
Yet, as if this were not shocking enough, Paul repeats the same warning of the possibility of diminished inheritance in his letter to the Ephesians, Corinthians, and to the Colossians as well! Let's read it for ourselves:
"For this you know with certainty, that no immoral or impure person or covetous man, who is an idolater, has an inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and God" (Ephesians 5:5).
"Or do you not know that the unrighteous shall not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived, neither fornicators, nor idolaters…nor swindlers, shall inherit the kingdom of God" (1 Corinthians 6:9-10).
…"knowing that from the Lord you will receive the reward of the inheritance. It is the Lord Christ whom you serve. For he who does wrong will receive the consequences of the wrong which he has done, and that without partiality" (Colossians 3:24-25).
Note that Paul is not stating over and over, "unbelievers won't inherit the kingdom." That fact is already known. No, Paul is reaffirming again and again that believers may not inherit all they were meant to in heaven should they continue on with their sinning, erring ways.
Not Positional Truth but Rewards
Paul is not putting into question the positional truth of our salvation. Instead, he is asserting the strength or weakness of our personal relationship with Christ in the kingdom of heaven. Those who behave poorly will not inherit as much as those who behave well in the here and now.
"The incredible truth is that the believer can have a place close to the ruling King of kings in the coming kingdom if he faithfully labors for the Lord Jesus and endures in this life (Matt. 25:14-22, Luke 19: 15-19, 2 Tim. 2:5, 11, Heb. 3:14)" (Benware 2002, 136-140).
This has to do with our rewards in heaven - not our position as believers - but our rewards and assignments in the kingdom.
So in conclusion, the Catholic Church got some things right when they teach "The traditional image of cleansing purgatorial fire comes from such biblical passages as 1 Corinthians 3:11-15, which speaks of those who "will be saved, but only as through fire" (3:15)…" (Answer Bible 2005, H-2).
However, the idea of "cheap grace" promoted by the Protestant church is something to be challenged and cleared up by careful study of the New Testament. It will put to rest the idea that carnal believers get away with evil and have nothing to account for when they enter heaven.
Note that what we think about this fact is irrelevant. Scripture teaches payback for what we do - whether on earth or in heaven. We need to study it for ourselves, believe it and then act upon it.
Benware, Paul. 2002. The believer's payday. Chattanooga, TN: AMG.
Dillow, Joseph. 2006 ed. The reign of the servant kings. Hayesville, NC: Schoettle.
The New Catholic Answer Bible, NAB. 1991. Wichita, Kansas: Fireside.