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Question and Answer

Purgatory and Good Works


My main question is about purgatory. Personally, my belief from the Bible is that eternal life that we do not deserve is through Jesus Christ, who has given us this gift by mercy and grace. Then what is the point of purgatory? In my view it seems like a second hell where you suffer and so forth. But God has given us salvation freely through his love. Doesn't it cheapen what he's done for us? I don't understand and I see nowhere in the Bible where it once mentions purgatory. Also faith and good deeds. It is only through Jesus Christ that we can find heaven, right? And we can not earn our way to heaven by good deeds.


You are definitely not confused. The doctrine of purgatory is not in the Bible! Those who die in Christ go immediately to be with Christ. Consider the thief on the cross (Luke 23:39-43): Jesus said to the thief who called on Him, "Truly I say to you, Today you shall be with me in paradise [that is, heaven]." The apostle Paul wrote in 2 Corinthians 5:8, "We are confident, yes, well pleased rather to be absent from the body and to be present with the Lord."

I love those verses because my wife of 57 years has been with the Lord for nearly five years. I miss her, but I do not grieve for her. She is with the Savior she loved. It is true that we'll all have to wait till Jesus comes to be raised from the grave (John 5:28-29 & 1 Cor. 15:51-55). But all our dear ones who died believing in Christ are now in the presence of Jesus.

Purgatory is not in the Bible, but is a Roman Catholic doctrine which teaches that, at baptism, all sins till then are forgiven, but sins committed after baptism must be atoned for by suffering a sort of hell in purgatory. According to Roman Catholic belief, through masses for the dead, through good things that the "saints" have done, through pilgrimages, penance, etc., these numberless years in purgatory can be shortened for us or for our loved ones who are there—not in hell nor in heaven. (Not all Catholic believers are counted as "saints," but only the most super-holy people who allegedly do more good deeds than God requires)

But the Bible teaches that all our sins are forgiven when we are born again through faith in Jesus. John 3:16 implies it and other verses clearly teach it, such as Psalm 103:3, John 13:38-39, and Hebrews 7:25.

As to James 2:14-15, James is using the word "justify" with a different meaning than Paul does in Romans 3:21-26 and 5:1. In Romans Paul says that, through faith in Jesus' blood and righteousness, God pardons our sins and considers them as though we had never committed them. He laid them on Jesus. God cannot punish us and Jesus for the same sins!

James uses the word justify as evidence of faith. There's an old saying that "we are justified by faith alone, but not by faith which is alone." In the Sermon on the Mount Jesus said, "By their fruits you shall know them," that is, you'll know the difference between true and false teachers by their fruits—the way they live!

There are many differences between Protestants and Roman Catholics. The outstanding difference is the way we and they look at grace and works. Ephesians 2:8-9 says it best: "By grace are we saved through faith; and that [faith] not of yourselves, it is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast."

So "Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and you will be saved" (Acts 16:33), and that is by God's grace. That is, if we have faith and heed the Bible, we will believe on Jesus. And that's a gift of grace; it's free. So we can be thankful that we believe and are saved, but we must never boast about it.

Read also, however, Eph. 2:10: "For we have been created in Christ Jesus [that is, saved] unto [or for] good works that God has prepared beforehand that we should walk in them." God's gracious gift of faith is the root of salvation but good works are the fruit.

Roman Catholics put faith and works together as the root. Justification (by faith) is mixed with good works in the Catholic teaching. That means ultimately that Jesus, with our help, saves us!

If you have other questions, I'd be happy to help you find answers. God bless you.

About Q&A

"Questions and Answers" is a weekly feature of the OPC website. The answers come from individual ministers in the Orthodox Presbyterian Church expressing their own convictions and do not necessarily represent an "official" position of the Church, especially in areas where the Standards of the Church (the Scriptures and the Westminster Confession of Faith and Catechisms) are silent.

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