Your own personal Purgatory
“Necessity is the mother of invention”. War is a catalyst for innovation. In both of these statements, there is a truism; advances in technology do not come out of a vacuum. There must be some catalyst that starts the process.
This is also true of theology. The Nicene creed was a response to the heresies of Marcionism and arianism. Augustine wrote against Pelagianism. The five points of Calvinism were written to counter the five points of Arminianism. It was no different during the German reformation.
The catalyst for Martin Luther, though, was a Dominican prior named Johannes Tetzel. Tetzel was commissioned by the Pope to sell something called indulgences. They were kind of like a “get out of purgatory free card”, except you had to pay money for them. The entire system of indulgences played on the fears of people and gave them false comfort that some of their sins could be paid for so they would do less “hard time” in Purgatory.
Purgatory was first conceived by St. Augustine. It was an invention of his mind. Unfortunately, it isn’t found in scripture at all. So, when Johannes Tetzel came to sell indulgences near to Luther, Luther became unglued. He wrote the 95 Theses in response to this bad theology. It was also the spark that lit the German reformation of the church.
It would be hard today to find many people that believe in heaven and hell. The majority might acknowledge a heaven, but hell is too hard to consider. Purgatory wouldn’t even be on the map of our secular culture. Yet, you would never know this by how people live.
Society is busy. I mean, people are running around all the time. They move from one task to another breathlessly. Sometimes, this is to cover up or avoid some issue in their lives. The past hurts from high school, getting turned down for a promotion, failing to get a job that would have meant so much, are all scenarios that cause people to spiral downwards. Or, it could be that guilt or shame from a past event has cast a shadow over life.
Some will handle these disappointments and difficulties by telling themselves that there will be other opportunities. They take a positive mental approach. Others fall into a defeated response and spiral down to dwell in defeat. They banish themselves to a personal purgatory that has no clear end date. They are trying to pay for their sins of failure. They are trying to pay the price for guilt.
If you want to know where purgatory is located, you need look no further than your fellow man. Whenever a person cannot overcome guilt, failure(s), or shame (or all three), the knee-jerk reaction is to self-punish. The thinking is that sin can somehow be paid for if I just keep punishing myself long enough or hard enough.
And, purgatory on earth has no end date. The reason for this is that the human conscience continues to accuse long after the misdeed is over. It beats a person over the head and never lets forgiveness enter the picture. Why? Because the Old Adam in us wants to be the savior. And the Old Adam thrives on guilt. He thrives on shame. He thrives on failures or perceived failures. The Old Adam has something to do when there is sin to pay for.
But this is simply purgatory on Earth. It is never-ending. It gets nowhere. A person’s life becomes defined by either doing good works to pay for them, or living in self-condemnation. People dwell in personal purgatories.
At this Easter Season, we are called to return to the cross. It is there that Jesus took all of your sin. Not only your ‘acceptable sin’. Not just your imperfections. God’s Son was sent to take the deepest, worst and most vile of your sins and mine. He came to take the ones that are being recalled on a daily basis and destroying you from the inside. He came to take and be punished for all of the sins in your closet. And He paid for the closet, too. In short, there is no sin that doesn’t fall under God’s payment plan.
Your conscience will tell you otherwise. It wants to take back the sins that Jesus paid for so that the Old Adam has a self-redemption project. In the world of temptation, that is a doozy! Yet, you were baptized. You were washed clean in His blood. You were given His Spirit. You were welcomed and are welcome in His church. Even as a person who still sins. Why? Because the personal purgatory program has been successful? No, but because Christ was. He even died for your self-condemnation. He died for the sin of trying to take back your sin. He died for trying to save yourself through good works, piety, or strict and cruel self-treatment. He died for these because you cannot pay for your own sin. Only He can do that. Only He did that.
As a result, Romans 8:1 tells you, “Therefore, there is no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus”. Is that hard to believe? You betcha. That’s why God had to repeat it throughout the New Testament. Jesus came to die for sinners. The greater your sin, the greater your God. The greater your guilt, the greater the grace, the greater your self-condemnation, the greater your Justifier. Christ alone is your savior.
And because of this, there is no need for Purgatory; either personal or eternal. Remember, you have been crucified with Christ. You no longer live, but the life you now live, you live by the faithfulness of the Son of God who gave Himself for you. Guilt is crucified, shame is slayed and sin is done away with. Jesus is the God of your total forgiveness and resurrection. Abandon personal purgatories and look to the cross. Christ alone is your savior.