Jesus came not only to forgive sins, but to make us sons and daughters of God. As such, He frees us from sin and all attachment to it as well. He makes us participants of the Divine Nature (2 Peter 1:4); Children of God and co-heirs with Christ, provided we suffer with Him (Romans 8:14-17). The letter to the Hebrews (12:7-11) talks about God’s fatherly discipline and how its fruit is righteousness. So God isn’t just providing a welfare scheme to sneak dirty sinners into Heaven; He’s raising sons and daughters. It may be shocking to say that salvation is more than forgiveness, but let me give an example: recently, the teller at my bank shorted one of my account receipts. I found the error, and she apologized. I forgave her, but I didn’t adopt her. God forgives us, but He also empowers us to be His children and image of Him.
The reason for bringing this up is to lay the basic premise for Purgatory. In Heaven, we will be perfected and without any attachment to sin: "Nothing impure will enter it [Heaven]." (Revelations 21:27) "Strive for the holiness without which no one will see the Lord." (Hebrews 12:14) If we will be in a perfected state in Heaven, and we aren’t perfect now, God’s going to have to do something to us; call it Purgatory or anything you like. This is not opposed to, or something added to the work of Christ; it is the work of Christ applied to us.
Before getting into the scripture verses for Purgatory, some groundwork must be laid by demonstrating that Christ frees us from the eternal punishment due to sin but not the temporal punishment due to sin. For example: The alcoholic who repents and asks for forgiveness is forgiven; but he will still have to face the consequences of the damage his sin has caused his family. Another example: Death is a temporal punishment due to the sin of Adam and Eve. Christ frees us from death by overcoming it, not by making it so that we don’t have to go through it. Thus, we will still have to suffer the temporal consequences of sin (i.e., death) even though Christ frees us from the eternal consequence (i.e., eternal separation from God - namely Hell). Why does God forgive the eternal consequences of sin but still causes us to suffer the temporal? Perhaps He wants us to realize how ugly sin is. He loves us as we are, but He loves us too much to let us stay that way.
At this point, we can see that if we depart this life freed from the eternal consequences of sin but not having suffered the temporal consequences, how will we be cleansed for entry into Heaven? Purgatory, therefore, is simply the last stage of our sanctification. This is what St. Paul speaks of in 1 Corinthians 3:10-17 when he says that a man’s works will be tested by fire and if his work is burned up "he will suffer loss, though he himself will be saved, but only as through fire." Also, Jesus speaks of this in Matthew 5:25-26 when He tells us to settle accounts on the way to court so that the judge won’t throw you in prison until you pay the last penny. He can’t be speaking of Hell because no one gets out of Hell. Also in Matthew 12:32, Jesus speaks of the unforgivable sin that cannot be forgiven even in the age to come; implying that some sins can.
Purgatory is Christ’s work applied to us; it is the final step of sanctification.
Printed with permission from Catholic Defense.