Purgatory steals Christ’s glory

Mike Reeves explains why purgatory is both unbiblical and steals God’s glory. At stake is no less than the value of the sacrifice of Christ on the cross.

In short, either Jesus made full satisfaction for sin and reconciled his people to God or our sin has not been fully paid and, at best, we deserve some glory in our salvation or (more likely) none of us are capable of being saved at all.


  1. In Colossians 1:24 (RSV) Paul wrote (emphasis in capital is mine, my apology I cannot make them underlined): Now I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake, and in my flesh I COMPLETE WHAT IS LACKING in Christ’s afflictions for the sake of his body, that is, the Church. Did Paul steal Christ’ glory?
    Scripture mentions God as refining fire (Malachi 3:2) who put some into fire as one refines silver and test gold (Zechariah 13:8-9). To purify silver from one should use fire and he knows that he completes purification when he can see his image reflected in the silver.

  2. As ever, in biblical interpretation, context is king. It seems what Paul considered lacking was not any satisfaction for sin (Hebrews and 1 John makes abundantly that cannot be his meaning). As we go on in Col 1 it becomes clear Paul is speaking about the preaching of the gospel to the gentiles ‘of which I became a minister’. This is not speaking of purgatory but rather the in person preaching of the gospel.

  3. This guy’s awesome voice almost makes up for his argument.

    Only what is perfect can enter Heaven (Rev. 21:27). Unless you are perfect at death, you need to become perfect. Thus, purgation. Christ’s sacrifice is efficacious to allow for entrance to Heaven in general, but one must actually have faith, have hope, and have charity to have that sacrifice become efficacious for that individual. Faith without “works” (following the Commandments, viz., not doing what would grievously offend God or not repenting after doing such) cannot save (see that pesky verse in James…). Protestants seem to think that a man who has faith to move mountains but has not charity is something. Paul disagrees.

    Most frequently, the Protestant take on Catholic doctrine confuses it for Pelagianism. I can warmly recommend the following work to clear up any confusion:


    But it’s hard to figure out Scripture without an authoritative guide… After all, the Devil reads Scripture too, and he can quote it well (see the Temptations). That’s the deeper problem here… The Tower of Babel is built again unto chaos.

  4. Protestants have no problem with James. We, for the record, do not believe faith without works counts for very much. We simply believe that works are not meritorious for salvation nor add to our righteousness. We take Paul at his word when he says, ‘by grace you have been saved, through faith, and that not of yourselves lest any man should boast’. That seems to be quite clear that it is, indeed, grace alone received by faith alone that saves. Works are thus an outworking of true saving faith, not meritorious as pertaining to salvation but evidence of a heart truly touched by grace. As per James, the one who claims faith without works is, indeed, dead.

  5. The strange thing is that I completely agree with what you’ve said in your response (except I don’t think you’re accounting for ALL Protestants – as if that were possible), and yet we have very different positions nonetheless.

    Suppose I “get saved” and am assured as I ever could be of my salvation. Why should I not just kill myself? What purpose does my earthly life have now? Is there really no reward for doing more than what I must, namely, not breaking the Commandments? Or is the choice of the Rich Young Man justified – not being perfect, and settling for not grievously offending God by breaking the Commandments and thus forfeiting Heaven? Is there really no possibility of a spectrum of reward in Heaven? If not, then how does one make any sense of the Lord’s promises to this effect, such as with the parable of the talents?

  6. Of course we believe in a spectrum of reward in Heaven. The Bible is clear on that. The only reason to disbelieve that (against the scriptural witness) is if you think Heaven is one massive room whereby everybody ‘gets the same’. The Bible is clear that is neither true of Heaven nor Hell. Yes, there are degrees of reward in Heaven.

    The primary reason not to kill yourself, however, is that you now belong to the Lord and he commands us not to do that. Not only that, he gives us work to do for his glory which, in line with the Westminster Confession of Faith, is the very purpose of life: ‘to glorify God and enjoy him forever’. We would be killing ourselves the very moment we had discovered (and started) to fulfil the purpose of our existence. Then, as you rightly adduce, there is reward in Heaven for those who faithfully do the will of God.

    Not sure which Protestants you’re choosing to listen to but those things are happily true for the Protestant.

    The issue is whether faith alone in Christ alone saves – that is determines our righteousness – or whether our faith and our works together grant righteousness. The thief upon the cross, whom Jesus promised would be with him in paradise, had no time to do any good works. It was clearly faith alone in his case and such seems to be the consistent witness of the apostles. James provides the only possible fly in that ointment and then only if we fail to understand what he is saying. We are, indeed, saved by faith alone in Christ alone.

    You rightly said earlier, only that which is perfect can enter Heaven. We, however, believe in the imputed righteousness of Christ that renders us perfectly righteous in the eyes of God. At the cross, Christ bore the penalty for our sin (which, if it is all paid, renders purgatory unnecessary) and imputes his righteousness to us, rendering us perfect in God’s sight as a work of his grace received by faith.

  7. Let’s stick with the good thief, shall we?

    Dismas – as he is traditionally named – certainly did a great work… He loved Christ, even in the midst of his own terrible suffering, and in the midst of Christ’s terrible and repulsive suffering. “Works” hardly get better than that.

    Yes, faith reorders a person’s soul toward the supernatural – but all the faith in the world ultimately profits a man nothing without charity, the love of God, as Paul says. That is what Protestants (“officially”) miss… One who believes without loving earns condemnation, and there are plenty such people. As Christ said to the RYM, the low bar for Heaven is to follow the Commandments. If you want to be perfect, there is more you can do (go with him the extra mile, etc.), and your reward in Heaven will be greater too (because of the greater response to grace through grace). We can do more than the bare minimum, and this is the operation of grace bearing fruit within us. It does not come from us, but we at least don’t resist that grace… But even that lack of resistance is by grace. This non-refusal of grace through grace is the font of individual merit.

    The imputed righteousness idea is alright, up until it rejects the possibility that a believer can lose that covering through a direct violation of the Commandments (contradicting charity, thus reordering the soul away from God as the intended last end).

    There are many Protestant opinions. Happy to know yours is close… But again, the deeper issue is why you or I should believe ourselves or one another or Pastor Ken or Fr. Bill or whoever. “I follow Paul! I follow Apollos! I follow Christ!” Etc. Would God really do that to us? I think not.

  8. Hmm. Lots that one could say to all that but I sense 500 years of far better theologians than me haven’t convinced you, I’m not likely to do so here either.

    I think there may be crossover in our belief but I think on the essential gospel we are quite far apart indeed. The difference though small in wording is vast conceptually. I would argue the thief on the cross did nothing other than express faith. That is thus salvation by faith alone. The only Q is whether his faith preceded God’s grace (the reformed tradition to which I subscribe says no, Grace precedes faith which is itself a gift of God). Once again, ‘by Grace you have been saved through faith and that not of yourselves lest any man should boast’. You’re faith/works combo seems to leave an awful lot of room for boasting.

  9. Of course grace precedes faith. Consistently I find that Protestants have the misconception that Catholics are actually crypto-Pelagains… And any good work done is itself a product of a double grace – sufficient and efficient.

    Anyone who dies without charity dies without loving God. Nobody who doesn’t love God at death goes to Heaven… and charity is the virtue which remains, you know – faith and hope disappear.

    There is a ton of equivocating on these terms, which is why I offer the text I suggested. It breaks everything down at a nauseating length, going through all the classic errors.

    500 years indeed. There is another 1500 years preceding it, you know!

    Peace to you…

  10. So you believe by preaching the gospel Paul completed what is lacking in Christ affliction? and so did everybody else who preached Gospel?

  11. What is the minimum amount or frequency of good works a person with faith in Christ must produce in order to show the fruit of his faith? This question may never cross your mind but there should be criteria. For example a Christian may say that he donates money for charity once a year and claims he has enough proof of his faith and the rest of the year he can do any sinful acts he wants to do because the blood of Christ will cover all his sins.

  12. Let’s have a simple analogy for your imputed righteousness concept. Your son played outside and dirtied himself. You neighbour, his name happens to be Christ, took pity on him and gave him a white plastic robe that will cover all his dirty clothes and body. By faith your son accepted the free gift and wore the robe. When you opened the door you saw him wearing white spotless robe that hides all his dirty clothes and body. What would you do? If you let him in then you son will bring dirt into your home and spoiled your immaculate carpet. Or would you ask him to take off his plastic white robe and then using water from garden hose tried to clean his body and clothes as best as you can and asked your wife to bring new clean clothes?

  13. I think you misunderstand the point.

    There is no minimum one must produce because we believe one is saved by faith alone. It is one’s faith alone that saves. Anybody functioning on the premise that I have ‘done enough’ and thus can now sin as much as I will has clearly not read 1 John 3:9. The heart changed by grace, whose faith is real, will not be asking such questions, determining the bear minimum to ‘do one’s duty’ or, indeed, willfully and unashamedly continuing in sin. That is not because such things save, or add to salvation or righteousness, but because it hardly screams love for Christ. Jesus himself said, ‘if you love me you will keep my commandments’. Thus, if we genuinely love him, we will genuinely want to keep his commands. This is the sign of true faith.

  14. The problem with your analogy is that is analagous to expiation, not to imputed righteousness. Christ does not merely cover (expiate) our sin; he takes it and removes it from us by it being imputed to him. He then grants us his righteousness imputing it to us.

    If you want an analogy, debt in a marriage is far better. In a marriage union, a debtor marries a rich man. The rich man takes on the debts (and clears them in his own name) and grants his riches to the debtor. The same takes place in our union with Christ. He takes our sinful debt, and clears it, and he gives us his righteousness.

  15. Luther expressed imputation as we are righteous and sinner at the same time or in Latin “simul justus et peculator”. Our sins are imputed to Christ who remains sinless and His righteousness is imputed on us who remain sinner and unrighteous.
    I wonder you use the analogy of marriage for money, not for love to explain imputed righteousness. Scripture says that through Christ we are made righteous (Rom 5:19), not declared righteous.

  16. You don’t feel you steal Christ glory by preaching the gospel because you complete what is lacking in His affliction?

  17. Not really, no. It is God who elects, calls, regenerates and sanctifies. Though God uses means to share the gospel, ultimately it is he alone who regenerates and grants new birth, not us.

  18. I’m afraid that’s a misunderstanding of Luther’s simul justus et peccator. This was Luther’s statement that we are justified (declared perfectly righteous) whilst remaining sinners. Christ takes our imputed guilt, received from Adam, and imputes his righteousness to us. As he makes satisfaction for sin on the cross, he pays the penalty our guilt deserves, and thus does not remain ‘guilty’. In paying the penalty for our sin, and imputing his righteousness to us, we can be declared right (or, righteous) in God’s sight. As per Luther, we are justified.

    Nonetheless, though Christ removes the guilt and stain of sin, declaring us righteous and justified before God, he does not make us sinless. It is the role of the Holy Spirit to progressively sanctify us until we attain to glory. This does not render us unrighteous – that is a declaration of justification by God on us in Christ – but it does render us still sinners. God’s work of sanctification is a progressive process of a lifetime which we fully attain when we are with him. It is a work of grace in our lives wrought by the Holy Spirit, fully completed when we get to Heaven.

  19. Once again, salvation is by faith alone. The determinate factor is not the number of good works but the genuiness of faith. Given that the Lord knows all things, he knows whether faith in Christ is, indeed, genuine or not. We can, rightly, deduce that those who never show any desire to obey Christ do not have real faith. But we cannot offer a minimum bottom line because salvation is not based on the number of works one does.

  20. The reason why the Reformers and you rejected purgatory is because it does not go in line with imputed righteousness concept. If Christ cover our sins with His perfect righteousness and declare us to be righteous then purgatory is no longer required. If God alone regenerates and grants us new birth then He also purify us through purgatory. Scripture refers God as refiner’s fire (Malachi 3:2) who put some into fire as one refines silver and test gold (Zechariah 13:8-9).

  21. To be declared righteous means we are not righteous per se but we use Christ’ righteousness to cover our unrighteousness.

    Donald K McKim (editor): The Westminster Handbook to Reformed Theology, page 202 says
    Christians are righteous and sinners at the same time – righteous because our sin is covered by the perfect righteousness of Christ and sinful because in and of ourselves we are still prone to follow the cravings of the flesh.

    The Scriptural problem with your belief is Scripture says we will be made righteous, not declared righteous through Christ (Romans 5:19).

  22. You may say justification is by faith alone because in your terminology justification is one time event and takes place before sanctification. But your salvation is by faith plus works because you must produce good works as evidence or fruit of your faith. During Reformation even Luther admitted that works are necessary for salvation while faith alone justifies. Francis Turretin (1623 – 1687), wrote that god works are necessary means to possess salvation. Another Reformed scholar, Hodge A.A. wrote that works are essential to salvation. While being marketed and propagated as faith alone salvation, in reality there are works involved. That is the reason why I asked what minimum works must do.

  23. Romans 4:4-9 are favourites verses used to support faith alone justification. If you read carefully those verses say that faith is counted as righteousness and does not say that righteousness was imputed on Abraham. To have faith is certainly one of the acts that leads us to righteousness as Scripture says he who does what is right is righteous (1 John 3:7).

    If Justification is one time event and by faith alone, then inspired by the Holy Spirit Paul would write “to be justified by faith” (Romans 3:28, 5:1, Galatians 2:16 and 3:24) in Greek passive perfect tense. Passive perfect tense in Greek implies the action, i.e. to be justified, is completed by faith with continuing result to the present (from speaker/writer point of view) or we remain justified ever since. If this is the case then Justification by faith alone certainly has solid scriptural support. However, Paul wrote those verses in passive present tense (Romans 3:28) and in passive aorist tense (Romans 5:1, Galatians 2:16 and 3:24). Present tense in Greek implies a continuing action in the present while aorist tense indicates an action takes place (usually in the past) without any information whether it is on-going or completed.

  24. Romans 5:1 is pretty clear we have been justified, or declared righteous. The greek word, δικαιόω specifically means to be rendered righteous, that is, declared righteous.

    McKim’s statement is correct. We are counted righteous because Christ’s righteousness covers our sin but that is what imputed righteousness is. Christ’s righteousness is credited to our account whilst our sin is credited to Christ (and paid at the cross).

  25. Nonetheless, your question is a false one.

    If one is justified – that is, declared righteous – by faith, there is no ‘minimum’ amount of works necessary for salvation. Works are a proof of genuine faith.

    The thief on the cross makes clear the minimum required is zero. Christ knows those who are his and it is faith that justifies, not works. If the thief was justified, declared righteous, and permitted entrance to Heaven without having done any good works at all; by definition, the answer to your question is zero.

    Those who claim to love Christ may be judged by us by their works. Jesus says, ‘by their fruits you shall know them’. But this is not a requirement God puts upon salvation, rather it is a measure by which we – fallible people – can asses the genuineness of faith.

  26. But the none of the mainline translations uphold your reading. All write, ‘since we have been declared righteous by faith’ in Rom 5:1 (or some version thereof).

    Gal 3:24 is the only example you give that would fit your claim. This, however, is obviously explained by the context. Paul is talking about the situation before Christ came. He then speaks of Christ’s coming ‘so that we might be justified by faith’. Clearly this is speaking in such terms because Paul is writing from the standpoint of what will be the case when Christ comes. It is his common, ‘then… but now…’ formulation. Christ came so that we might be justified.

  27. Romans 5:1 says we are justified by faith. The translation you have turn it into we are declared righteous by faith to make it Protestant friendly. The Greek verb there is dikaioo that means to justify. For sure Reformers understood that verb to mean to declare righteous while the Catholic Church understood it to mean to make righteous. When Christ said in Matthew 25:46 the righteous shall go to eternal life, they are NOT declared righteous by faith alone but made righteous through doing righteous acts (Matthew 25:34-40) as defined by 1 John 3:7.
    Scripture nowhere says that justified by faith is one time and completed event.

  28. The thief on the cross has no time and no chance to do righteous acts to prove his faith. His case is special and not applicable to all of us. Your wrote works are not requirement for salvation but then you must do them as proof of your faith. What happens to those just did a little or hardly did good works? Are they saved?

  29. The Greek verb dikaioo means to justify. Reformers interpret it to mean to declare one to be righteous. The righteous, not those declared righteous (which implies they are not righteous but just use Christ’ righteousness) shall go to eternal life (Matthew 25:46). Even Reformed scholar Sproul admitted that Augustine understood the verb dikaioo to mean to make righteous – but he blamed Augustine for using Latin, not Greek, in understanding that verb. The problem with Sproul reason is the Eastern Church continued using Greek to this day, yet they do not believe that dikaioo means to declare one to be righteous.

  30. Strong’s dictionary is quite clear δικαιόω ‘to render (i.e. show or regard as) just or innocent:–free, justify(-ier), be righteous.’

    You are clearly making an interpretive stance on Matthew 25. We are simply told that those who did those works *were* righteous, not that those works *made them* righteous. Mt 25 simply doesn’t support your reading.

  31. You don’t respond to my statement, which I made it clearer as follows:
    If you believe God alone regenerates and grants us new birth then why cant’t He also purify us through purgatory. Scripture refers God as refiner’s fire (Malachi 3:2) who put some into fire as one refines silver and test gold (Zechariah 13:8-9).

  32. Because he purifies us through the ongoing work of progressive sanctification.

    Your question would cut both ways anyway. if God alone regenerates and grants new birth, why can’t he simply make us perfect without purgatory?

    Your question is a non-sequitur.

  33. Strong concordance, based on KJV, is Protestant friendly. Consider Luke 7:29 that has “justified God”, does it imply God is only declares righteous?
    If they were made righteous then they were righteous and that is the reason they go to eternal life in Matthew 25:46. In contrast if they were declared righteous (by faith) they are NOT righteous but just borrowed Christ’ righteousness.

  34. You see, when you hit a clear example that doesn’t fit your framework, you can’t just ignore it. You asked for a bare minimum, and I gave it to you with example. The bare minimum is zero. Let us consider an OT example, ‘Abraham believed God and it was counted to him as righteousness’. There, again, we see belief (not works) leading to righteousness.

    For the record, I did not say you must do them as proof of your faith. I said works *are* proof of your faith. Works do not save, do not add to salvation, do not make one righteous. They are simply an outworking of a genuine heart-felt faith and repentance.

  35. Then, following what you wrote, purgatory is one of purification during our on-going progressive sanctification.
    Scripture says that Sanctification is the work of God (1 Thessalonians 5:23) and through sanctification we are saved (2 Thessalonians 2:13)

  36. If you want to produce a Catholic-friendly Greek dictionary that will support your reading, glad to take a look. Until such time, it seems it’s you standing against the scholars, doesn’t it. Not just Strong’s, but just about all mainline translators too.

    Luke 7:29 specifically say, ‘they declared God just’, or lit. ‘they acknowledged God righteous’. Again, it is clearly referring to a declaration of righteousness, not a making righteous (unless you think this means the people made God righteous?)

  37. If, according to you, the minimum is zero then you don’t need to do any good works at all and is still saved, right?
    You wrote ” works do not make us righteous”, that contradicts 1 John 3:7.
    You wrote “works do not save” but Luther, Turrentin and Hodge wrote that they are necessary for salvation. Necessary means you must do them in order to be saved, otherwise they would use the word optional.

  38. per your understanding dikaioo means to declare righteous something that is unrighteous and this is not applicable to Luke 7:29 because it implies God is not righteous, they only declared Him to be righteous.

  39. I think you misrepresent Luther and Hodge. RC Sproul is very helpful and clear on this:


    1 John 3:7 does not says works are necessary for salvation. It says, ‘Whoever practices righteousness is righteous, as he is righteous’. That is, those who *are* righteous will practice righteousness (it is symptomatic of true faith, not a requirement for salvation). At the risk of offering you another Protestant dynamic paraphrase, the NLT puts it this way: ‘When people do what is right, it shows that they are righteous, even as Christ is righteous’.

  40. You missed the point. If sanctification is the work of God and includes purification, why can’t be purgatory be part of sanctification?

  41. That was not my definition of δικαιοω. ִYou need to go back and check what I said. My definition of that word was ‘to declare righteous’. In this case, the people ‘declared God righteous’ (or just).

  42. I did not write that 1 John 3:7 says works are necessary for salvation but it DOES say that works makes us righteous. Even NLT supports that! Matthew 25:46 does NOT say those declared righteous shall go to eternal life.

  43. Following imputed righteousness concept that is how you define dikaioo, to declare one who is unrighteous to be righteous.

  44. I understand your point very well. The reason – bringing us back to the very start of this discussion – is that purgatory would render Christ’s sacrifice incomplete. Purgatory is about purgation of sin, that is the penalty of sin. The Bible is clear that faith in Christ removes our sin from our account such that there is no more penalty. Note:
    1 John 4:15-19
    Ps 103:12
    Col 2:14
    Gal 3:13-15
    And so on

  45. So you’re now telling me, despite my repeated statements and quotation from Strong’s (which I follow) to the contrary, that you are determining how I define that word despite my telling you that is not how I define that word?

  46. But you’re not following my definition, because I spelt out my definition to you, and you are choosing to ignore the words I am using in defining it so that you can attack a presumed position.

  47. The link you provided ends with this statement: “In other words, obedience is not necessary for salvation but unwillingness to obey most certainly means we aren’t saved.” Since it is impossible for us to obey all the time, what is the tolerable limit of unwillingness to obey? Less than this limit means we are not saved, as stated in the above statement written by you.

  48. I love the way you keep telling me what I mean despite what I actually say in clear words to you!

    Once again – and I shall make this my last comment to you because I sense we are going round in circles here – the *sign* of a heart truly touched by God’s grace is a *desire* and *will* to obey his commands. As you rightly say, it is impossible for us to obey all the time. The issue, as 1 John makes clear, is a repeated practice of sin. That is, an ongoing, unrepentant, unashamed continuance in the same sin. Such would be *evidence* of a heart not touched by God’s grace.

    Ultimately, Jesus knows his sheep. He is the one who truly knows the hearts of his people. These works are simply *evidence* of saving faith. That is, is there a will and desire to obey God, like Paul in Rom 7. He long to obey but often falls yet there is no resignation or happiness with his failure. It is a matter of will, which on some level will work itself out in action.

    If you are asking for a % of obedience, I am afraid you are asking for what God has specifically not chosen to reveal or, as far as I can tell, require. He asks for genuine faith; no more, no less. Genuine faith will, indeed, be worked out in action but such action does not save, it evinces underlying saving faith.

  49. 1 John 1:7 makes clear it is the blood of Jesus that purifies us from all sin. Sanctification is the process of growing in grace to become like Jesus Christ. It is as grace increases, sin decreases. This is a work of the Holy Spirit within us. I don’t see how purgatory is necessary or required (or, indeed, even suggested by the Biblical data).

    But thank you for an interesting discussion. I sense we would be wise to leave it there. We will, otherwise, find ourselves on an infinite loop.

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