Friday, March 30, 2012

Paul's Testimony About Purgatory: A Lesson for the End of Life

"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" (Dr. Jerry Walls, Purgatory: The Logic of Total Transformation. New York: Oxford University Press, 2012, page 6). 

Before I get started, let me say that I welcome interaction with you, my readership. I know it seems as if most days, I post and then go my way---but your views and comments do matter to me. I am currently responding to a commenter’s responses on Annihilationism, a view I haven’t researched in some time. Let me say that even if you disagree with me, I still welcome comments that get me to stop and reconsider my own views on a subject. Don’t be afraid to comment here and ask me questions, or disagree with me. As “iron sharpens iron,” I want to be of aid to you---and desire that you would be of aid to me. We are all still growing in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ, and no one is at such a point that he or she cannot be challenged by another.

Yesterday’s post dealt with the confession of the repentant thief on the cross in Luke 23 and Jesus’ words to him about the very moment in which he believed. If Dr. Walls is correct, the thief had not ridden himself of the corruption and moral deficiencies in his heart and mind. Though he believed in Christ, “it is not enough that we be forgiven of our sins,” Walls has stated in his introduction (4). If we believe Dr. Walls, then the criminal needed purgatory for moral reform. However, Jesus’ words that the thief would be with Him “today” (Grk. semeron) in to paradeiso (Grk. for “the paradise”) prove to the contrary. The word “today” means immediately, not far off in the future. If verbal-plenary inspiration (the very words of Scripture are inspired) means anything, Jesus’ word “today” means just that---today!

It is a passage like Luke 23 that poses problems for the Doctrine of Purgatory, since Jesus required no afterlife sanctification of the common criminal. Today’s post, however, will provide Paul’s own testimony about purgatory. Paul was at the end of his life when he wrote this text, and I think he provides some valuable insight into this disputed doctrine to which we currently devote our time:

“For I am already being poured out as a drink offering, and the time of my departure has come. I have fought the good fight, I have finished the course, I have kept the faith; in the future there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will award to me on that day; and not only to me, but also to all who have loved His appearing”(2 Timothy 4:6-8, New American Standard Bible).

Notice the verbs in Paul’s words: “fought,” “finished,” and “kept.” All of these verbs are past tense, referring to actions in the past. Paul is saying that the good fight he fought is now in the past; the course he had to run is now in the past; the faith he had to keep is now in the past. At this point, he is looking forward to the reward he will receive. The phrase “in the future” (rendered by the NASB) is the Greek term loipon, meaning “remainder, henceforth,” and so on. The term comes from the noun loipos, meaning “remainder” or “that which remains.” When Paul says that the crown of righteousness is laid up for him, he is saying that his reward is all that remains for the journey to be complete. Does this sound like he believes there is a purgatory awaiting?

No. Now, some (perhaps Dr. Walls) may think that Paul, having been saved for over 30 years, may have well worked out his sin in his life such that he could enter heaven upon death. The problem with this, however, is that Paul confesses to his constant battles with sin all throughout Scripture. In one place, he states his sin before his conversion, in the other his constant struggle with sin:

“It is a trustworthy statement, deserving full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, among whom I am foremost of all” (1 Timothy 1:15, NASB).

“For the good that I want, I do not do, but I practice the very evil that I do not want...I find then the principle that evil is present in me, the one who wants to do good. For I joyfully concur with the law of God in the inner man, but I see a different law in the members of my body, waging war against the law of my mind and making me a prisoner of the law of sin which is in my members” (Romans 7:19, 21-23, NASB).

Paul served the law of God with his mind, but served the law of sin with his flesh (Rom. 7:25). This sounds as though he struggled in the Christian life, often enough that he hated how his flesh turned to sin---though he was saved by faith in the Lord Jesus.

Simply put, Paul did not consider himself to be one who had become completely holy in character such that he was ready to enter heaven; instead, he realized that he was a sinner saved by grace who was receiving a reward (“a crown of righteousness,” symbolic for eternal life, given to “all those that love His appearing,” which refers to all believers) that he did not deserve.

For him, the course he had run in his life was coming to an end. Once he finished his course, there would be no future course to run or endure. It seems that Dr. Walls and fellow proponents of the Doctrine of Purgatory would find an ally here with the apostle---though, again, they do not. God bless.

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