“Indeed, there are Christians of many stages of spiritual maturity and growth in holiness and many, probably most, die far short of perfection... Faced with what seems to be this obvious empirical reality, the question remains about the fate of such persons. There are four broad possibilities. First, we might say that they go to heaven with their sins, imperfections, and the like intact, so heaven is not in fact essentially sinless. Second, we might think they will simply be lost and never make it to heaven if they die without actually becoming completely holy. Third, we might say that at the moment of death, God makes people holy by an instantaneous, unilateral act, however imperfect, sinful, and immature in character they may be. Fourth, we may say that the sanctification process continues after death with our willing cooperation until the process is complete, and we are actually made holy through and through” (Jerry Walls, Purgatory: The Logic of Transformation. New York: Oxford University Press, 2012, page 6).
In my last post, I examined the first three of Jerry Walls’ views on sin and eternity. The first one argues that Christians enter heaven with their sins intact---thus, heaven is sinful rather than sinless. I argued there that God, being light and having no darkness in Him (we are told from 1 John 1:5), cannot have sin enter into heaven. The apostle Paul goes so far as to say that flesh and blood cannot enter God’s kingdom (1 Cor. 15:50). Scripture refutes the first view. The second view is also refuted by Scripture because we know that the saints of God will spend eternity with Christ and reign with Him (Rev. 22:3, 5). Therefore, at least a multiple number of believers will go to Heaven. Although believers are imperfect on this earth, they enter Heaven by an act of God whereby they are made complete in an instant. Even 1 Corinthians 15 says that we are “changed in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye” (1 Cor. 15:52). I argued there that if God can give us new bodies in an instant, He can certainly make us holy in an instant. This is the third view, which most Protestants and I uphold, according to Dr. Walls.
Today’s post will explore the fourth view. I will repeat it here for our understanding:
“Fourth, we may say that the sanctification process continues after death with our willing cooperation until the process is complete, and we are actually made holy through and through” (Walls, Purgatory: The Logic of Total Transformation. New York: Oxford University Press, 2012, page 6).
According to Dr. Walls, Protestants often disagree with Purgatory as a sufficient doctrine because they say, “It’s not found in the Bible.” Don’t get me wrong: Purgatory does not exist in the Bible, in any form. Even in the Greek translation of the New Testament (or the Septuagint, the Greek translation of the Old Testament), we have no mention of “purgatoria” or any word similar to this one. It is not there in explicit terms---but many who argue for the doctrine believe it to be there implicitly. For them, it is there in principle, though not bearing the title we have come to place upon it. John Salza, in his The Biblical Basis for Purgatory, argues that the prison Jesus refers to in His teaching (about agreeing with the adversary quickly, see Matthew’s Gospel) refers to purgatory.
However, there are other biblical ways for the Christian to combat Purgatory as a doctrine other than to say, “it’s not in the Bible.” Let’s assume Dr. Walls’ theory for a moment---that is, that sanctification continues after death. If we do, the Scriptures themselves pose problems for Dr. Walls and purgatory. Why? Because of the institution of marriage.
Let’s say that a man marries a woman, and a woman marries a man. Both married couples have trouble throughout their marriages: in each marriage, both partners struggle with faithfulness and fidelity toward their spouses. Each partner wonders what his or her life would be like if he or she decided to have an affair on the side. Each partner works late hours, so his or her spouse would never know otherwise, would never suspect cheating. Both partners in each marriage choose to cheat on one another with other married people, exacerbating the problem. In the last twenty years of their marriages, both sets of partners come to salvation in Christ and give up their unfaithful ways; they pledge to be faithful to one another and never eye another person, ever again. While they still struggle with fidelity, they have never had an affair against the other from the moment they came to faith in Christ.
After a scenario such as this, you would think that the two couples would be ready for heaven, correct? Dr. Walls would say that, while their hearts are inclined toward God, they may still need some sort of moral and spiritual transformation before entering glory:
“Now let us consider our unfortunate cowboy in light of this analysis...let us extend his story and assume he is a Christian believer, albeit one who is obviously rough around the edges, and clearly not very faithful at this point of his life. Let us assume, moreover, that before he died he repented of his sin and sought forgiveness for his murder, and even acknowledged that his desire for vengeance was wrong. Even if we assume all this, including that he was forgiven before he died, it is doubtful that he had cultivated a love of God and a taste for the holy such that he would be fully ready to enjoy heaven” (Walls, 6).
In short, though the cowboy confessed his sin, repented, and let Jesus into his heart, he still would not be ready for Heaven. Why? Because Heaven can only be enjoyed by those who have hearts disciplined for it. The cowboy would not have a heart sown in righteousness, since he did not have time to work through his sin and grow in discipline and moral character. The question remains: How would the Lord teach an unfaithful, tending-to-stray husband or unfaithful wife how to remain faithful in his or her marriage? The answer? According to Dr. Walls, send the man or woman to Purgatory and help him or her work through the marriage.
I hope you’re smiling at this point and that you know where I’m headed. The problem with the man learning how to be better in his marriage (or the wife) is that there is no marriage in the afterlife. Marriage ends at death:
“For the married woman is bound by law to her husband while he is living; but if her husband dies, she is released from the law concerning the husband. So then, if while her husband is living she is joined to another man, she shall be called an adulteress; but if her husband dies, she is free from the law, so that she is not an adulteress though she is joined to another man” (Romans 7:2-3, New American Standard Bible).
A woman is bound to her marriage if the husband lives; if he dies, the marriage bond is broken and she is free to marry someone else. This is why marriage vows often end with, “Til death due us part.” At death, husband and wife “part ways” and the marriage bond is dissolved. Thus, a husband cannot become a better husband in the afterlife, nor a wife a better spouse for her husband. In the afterlife, sanctification (at least in marriage here) is not an issue because marriage no longer exists (Matt.22:30).
If sanctification does not exist in the afterlife in marriage, how can sanctification exist in the afterlife for any other issue such as drug rehabilitation, or any other sexual immorality? How can the afterlife teach you how to resist drugs when you don’t enter the afterlife in human flesh?
Simply put, sanctification is an issue of the flesh, an issue of earthly life. It is why we have to “kill” or “mortify” our human body parts on the earth (Colossians 3:5-7), and “walk not after the flesh but after the Spirit” (Rom. 8:7, 10, 13). There will be more on afterlife sanctification in my next post. God bless.