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A Plenary Indulgence

"In demonstration of true apostolic liberality, I hereby declare a jubilee, granting plenary indulgence to all souls now in purgatory."

If some pope of the future should issue such a decree, it would undoubtedly make headlines in the newspapers of the world. But would it be news in heaven? The book of heaven is the Bible, and this book says not a word about purgatory.

If indulgences can help, then true sympathy for those suffering in the fires of purgatory might well suggest one grand indulgence ending all this suffering at once. Tetzel, who went through Germany in 1517 selling indulgences to finance the erection of St. Peter's, said, "The very moment that the money clinks in the bottom of the chest, the soul escapes from purgatory and flies free to heaven." But a moment's reflection should make us realize that a coin is not sufficient payment for sin, and that no mere man can thus free a sinner of his due punishment.

However, Jesus came to bring his people something better. He worked out a perfect salvation. He not only bore all our guilt by his death on the cross, he bore also our punishment—all of it. That is why the apostle Paul can say, "There is therefore now no condemnation to them that are in Christ Jesus" (Rom. 8:1). Christianity begins with forgiveness of sins: "Being justified freely by his grace, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus" (Rom. 3:24). This is good news—too good, perhaps, for despairing sinners to believe at first sight—and that is why the Bible repeats it again and again. "In whom we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, according to the riches of his grace" (Eph. 1:7). You will notice that it does not say, "according to the goodness of your heart," or, "according to your faithfulness in your religion," but, "according to the riches of his grace." Again Paul says, "By grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God: not of works, lest any man should boast" (Eph. 2:8-9). We look to the blood of Calvary as the full price of our salvation.

Yet the Council of Trent has said, "If any one shall say, that justifying faith is nought else but confidence in the divine mercy which remits sins for Christ's sake; or that it is this confidence alone by which we are justified; let him be anathema." The apostle Paul himself would surely be placed under such anathema, for this is precisely what he did say.

Justification in the Bible is not a process. It is an act of God which takes place the moment a man puts his faith in Jesus Christ. By it a guilty sinner is viewed as though he had never sinned, and is clothed with the perfect righteousness of Christ. "God is just, and the justifier of him that believeth in Jesus" (Rom. 3:25).

Perhaps you have labored all your life in a search for forgiveness. Even now you are not sure of deliverance from hell—and the Bible has much to say about the certainty of hell. You may end your search here and now. God has sent forth his Son as the Savior. That means that he actually saves men by his death on the cross. Christ's death does not merely make salvation possible, leaving you to work out your share of the saving task. He did it all. He said, "It is finished!"

From the starting point of faith alone, we proceed to bear the fruit of faith in good works. Faith which does not produce works is a dead faith, to be sure. But here is the first step: Justification by faith alone. Only faith in Christ and his death for sin—and that faith alone—can win full pardon for your sin. Are you trusting him as Savior?

To learn more about Jesus and the eternal life he has purchased for his people, please contact a pastor near you by using our church locator to find a church in your area.

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