Question: I’ve recently heard some rather persuasive arguments by Catholics for purgatory. 1 Corinthians:3:12-15 teaches a purification by fire of believers after death. Hebrews:12:14, “holiness, without which no man shall see the Lord,” says we must be made absolutely pure to enter heaven, as does the statement, “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God” (Mt 5:8). What about such scriptures?
Response: In 1 Corinthians 3 it is the believer’s works, not the believer himself, that will be tested by fire. Nor is Paul speaking of literal fire any more than he is of literal wood and gold. He is speaking metaphorically, calling some works wood, hay, stubble (which fire burns) and others gold, silver and precious stones (which fire purifies). There is nothing here (or elsewhere in Scripture) to support Catholicism’s heresy that flames in a mythical purgatory purge the individual and thereby expiate his sins. Paul is dealing entirely with the quality of works one has done for Christ and what reward will therefore be received, if any.
Elsewhere Paul says, “We must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ; that every one may receive the things done [i.e., works] in his body, according to that he hath done [worked], whether it be good or bad.” In Revelation:22:12, Christ says, “And, behold, I come quickly; and my reward is with me, to give every man according as his works shall be.” Entrance into heaven is not the question, but the reward the Christian will receive in heaven, the crowns we will cast at the feet of our Lord who redeemed us (Rv 4:10).
Paul likens the Christian life to running a race for a prize: “[T]hey (athletes) do it to obtain a corruptible crown; but we an incorruptible [crown]” (1 Cor:9:25). Paul called his converts his “crown of rejoicing” (1 Thes:2:19; Phil:4:1). There are other crowns to be earned as well: “Henceforth there is laid up for me a crown of righteousness” (2 Tm 4:8); “ye shall receive a crown of glory” (1 Pt 5:4); “be thou faithful unto death, and I will give thee a crown of life” (Rv 2:10). It is possible to slack off in the Christian life and thus lose, not our salvation, but a crown we had previously won: “hold that fast which thou hast, that no man take thy crown” (Rv 3:11). Salvation is by grace alone, but the reward we receive is based upon our works, which will be tested and their quality revealed at the Judgment Seat of Christ.
As for verses such as Matthew:5:8 and Hebrews:12:14, the Scripture is clear that we do not attain to a personal holiness or purity that qualifies us for God’s presence. We are purged of sin not by our own suffering here or in some mythical purgatory, but through faith in the blood of Christ that was shed for our redemption: “when he [Christ] had by himself purged our sins” (Heb:1:3); “And almost all things are by the law purged with blood; and without shedding of blood is no remission [purging of sin]” (Heb:9:22); “the blood of Jesus Christ his Son cleanseth [purges] us from all sin” (1 Jn:1:7); “they...washed [purged] their robes, and made them white in the blood of the Lamb [Christ]” (Rv 7:14). There is no blood shed in purgatory (even if such a place existed) and thus no purging of sin there. The same is true of the Mass, which is called “an unbloody” perpetuation of Christ’ s sacrifice on the cross and thus of no value in cleansing sin.
Peter declared, “For Christ also hath once suffered for sins, [He] the just for [us] the unjust, that he might bring us to God [not to purgatory]” (1 Pt 3:18). In contrast, Catholicism says that though Christ endured the eternal punishment for sin, we must personally suffer the temporal punishment to become pure enough to enter heaven. Not only does the dogma of purgatory contradict the Bible, but there is an obvious contradiction within the dogma itself. Christ’s death, it is said, couldn’t purify us because that requires personally suffering for our sins. Yet it is also taught that after our death Masses said for us, the good deeds and suffering of the living on our behalf (such as the stigmata of a Padre Pio), rosaries being said for us, etc., can reduce or even eliminate purgatorial suffering entirely—so we don’ t have to personally suffer after all! Amazingly, what Christ’ s redemptive death on the Cross couldn’t accomplish, the repetition of the Mass, penance, rosaries, good works, etc. can accomplish. (For a further discussion, see A Woman Rides the Beast.)