Holiness in Heaven: The Need for Purgation


This post is appearing on my blog tomorrow, on a topic very much of interest to the EU Forum:

I just started reading Jerry Walls’s new book Purgatory: The Logic of Total Transformation.

My interest in purgatory comes from the fact that my vision of universal reconciliation–that God will one day be “all in all”–has a family resemblance to the doctrine of purgatory.

The key location of overlap has to do with holiness in heaven. Specifically, sin is more than skin deep. Trouble is, the main problem Protestants tend to worry about when it comes to sin isn’t the sin. It’s God’s anger over sin. Because of this Protestants aren’t really all that interested in escaping sin. They are mainly preoccupied with escaping hell. Thus, for many Protestants the answer to our “sin problem” isn’t holiness but forgiveness.

Put more crudely, Protestants are more interested in being saved than in being good.

The results of this emphasis, if you look around, are pretty obvious.

The trouble with this view is that sin goes deep. Sin is describing ways we have become morally damaged and disordered. As Walls writes, “The more we sin, the more complicated and extensive the damage we do to ourselves, and correspondingly, the more is required for repair and rehabilitation.” Getting this all fixed–repair and rehabilitation–is going to take some time. And more to the point, few of us complete the journey of sanctification (and quite a few Christians don’t seem to be making any progress at all) before we die.

So while we might be forgiven at the moment of our death we remain very much steeped in sin. If so, how does that sin play out in heaven? Are we even allowed into heaven if we are not perfectly holy? Walls cites this passage from the book of Hebrews:

That’s the issue, isn’t it? If we aren’t holy at the time of our death how are we to “see the Lord”?

Walls says there are four different ways we might answer these sorts of questions:

Walls quickly notes that few Christians believe in options one and two. The debate focuses on options three and four. Does God, on Judgment Day, wave a magic wand making us instantaneously holy? Or is there a process and season of purgation? A time of healing, reconciliation, confession, peace-making, education, repentance, forgiveness, repair, rehabilitation and even punishment?

I find the former possibly implausible for a host of theological and psychological reasons. Consequently, I opt for the developmental view.


I think I’m with you on this one Richard. I can’t quite bring myself to ultra universalism, as much as I’d like to; it seems that everything would logically point to a more developmental model. Real healing always takes time, and holiness has as much or more to do with wholeness (holistic) as it does with being “set apart”.

However; once time is no longer a factor, does that perhaps change the scheme somehow?


This is also what I’ve come to, Richard. I think you’re right – because you agree with me, of course! :laughing:



Brief comment on your saying.:

“…Protestants are more interested in being saved than being good”

This is a disturbing impression that people have and puts many off “Church” a) Hell is inconcievable to them and b) the emphasis on Christ dying in such a horrible way and as willed by His Dad for each one of us to be saved and have eternal life seems to many non Christians a rather selfish belief.

Take away the traditional concept of Hell and tell the non.believer that Christ died for what he stood for, and there is a good chance that the non-believer may be sufficiently interested to read and hear more about Christ and the goodness He taught, love, healing, serving the sick and the poor, God His Father inclusive to all humanity, His message of peace and goodwill and so on.

michael in Barcelona


I have arrived at similar beliefs Richard. When I think/speak of judgment, a favorite saying of mine is “through judgment God will burn the hell out of us.” Through encountering the unquenchable fire of truth, evil is purged from us like dross removed from gold.

I especially appreciated the following.

Infernalism does tend to result in people being concerned about some day going to heaven instead of living today in holiness.

Good post, thanks for sharing it.


Yes, this is my view as well. I was raised with the ‘magic wand, instant holiness’ view, but have come to reject that.

Interestingly, I’ve come to think of ‘being saved’ as that process of sanctification by which we are made good – by which we learn to love good and turn from evil, to live in love and turn from selfishness. The idea that we are merely saved from a punishment that we deserve is an idea I utterly reject. Punishment that turns us from our sin is for our good, and to withhold it would be wrong.



A few thoughts/comments/questions to illustrate my concerns as to what exactly is being said here Richard …

– To the thief on the cross, Jesus assures salvation this day… No time for purgation right? No time for sanctification, no time to learn holiness… Yes, the slow and accumulated learning of righteousness and holiness certainly must be held in very high esteem, however…

– Well before Jesus died, He was preaching the “Gospel” – what WAS that Gospel?? (Matt 4:23 Jesus was going throughout all Galilee, teaching in their synagogues and proclaiming the gospel of the kingdom, and healing every kind of disease and every kind of sickness among the people.)
Jesus sends out the 70 to preach: what WAS the content of their message? Nobody had any idea yet that Jesus was going to die violently, yet Good News is being told!

– Many many times Jesus says that the Kingdom of Heaven (in Matthew) and the Kingdom of God (the other three gospels) is at hand, or near, or within you… Again, this is BEFORE Jesus has died as supposed “payment” for our sins. Maybe that Kingdom IS participation - NOW! - in it’s ethos which surely must include holiness??

– No one dares risk hinting that we are too obsessed with sin; yet you’ve done just that it seems. (Bravo!!) I don’t hear you minimizing sin necessarily; so is the sin solution a subheading of holiness or something??

– I’ve often been discouraged too by the emphasis on getting my sins forgiven: wouldn’t it be far smarter, more effective, to shut down the sin factory? Me??

Still, the idea of being purged does have some negative connotations doesn’t it? Hinting that maybe we can purge ourselves? Or does God do the purging? And if God does do it, why can’t He do it instantaneously? (eg at the resurrection)

Thanks for the great ideas to ponder upon Richard…



i am not a purgatorial universalist, but i don’t quite see myself as “ultra” or even following the idea of a “magic wand” being waved. i think God works on a developmental model (see evolution and the gradual development of a sperm and egg into an adult, not to mention the evolution of society).
however, i’ve not yet been convinced of post mortem salvation as a necessity.
let me tell you what i’ve come to believe, which is very nearly a purgatorial view, but it happens pre-mortem.

i’ll illustrate this with a personal story. my dad died at 40, when i was 3. he had a heart attack and went into a coma for 2 weeks before succombing. before the coma, he had no interest in God that we knew of, and had rejected attempts to convert him. however, after he died, my mother in a time of despair asked God to give her hope as to where he was, in the eternal scheme of things…God responded with profound peace and assurance. yes, this is subjective, but the fact of the matter that this illustrated was that God could do what He likes with time. we don’t know what happens during comas in a person’s head, but God does, and He is more than capable of meeting someone in a time like that, before death actually takes them away, and evangelising them Himself.
taken to another level, God is the God of time as well, and He can do what He likes with it. who knows what He can pack into someone’s final moment.
so for me, the purgatory can and does happen pre-mortem…maybe not for everyone (i won’t rule it out), but definitely for some.
i don’t know why we have to jump to the conclusion that just because we weren’t privy to the last things passing through a dying person’s head that their salvation must happen AFTER the death and not before.

from a slightly different angle, though, there is some support for the “magic wand” idea.
the verse that says that when we see God, we will be like Him, is one. can you imagine holding onto your petty selfishness and false pride when the Father of All looks down at you with that love and forgiveness in His eyes? i can’t!

as for the justice thing, well again, that can be done pre-mortem. time is no object. imagine the despair of hitler, when he pulled the trigger. his kingdom fell down around him, and rightly so, but that kind of disappointment can drive one mad. his whole world crumbled, and while many wouldn’t in their earthly frame of mind think that this is enough justice, maybe God sees things differently. i’m sure of a reckoning in the day of judgement, but one that leads to reconciliation, not punishment. that’s how we do things, and God is different.


Perhaps the following scriptures have some bearing on the notion of purgatory?

God has subjected creation to futility for some purpose. In our current state we are unable to see the end result of God’s purpose. So for now, sin, pain, suffering, and death are very perplexing to us. Therefore we say, “Someday this will all make sense.”

Is it possible that our real issue is perception and not “purgatorial”?

Then there is this:

If God fully knows the purpose for which we are suffering futility, and He sees the glorious end result, then it seems at some point we too will see EVERYTHING as God does. Our sin, unholiness, pain, suffering, and death will be swallowed up by a new perception.

Maybe purgatory is the means whereby God will wipe the fog from our dark mirrors?

Maybe purgatory is like going to the eye doctor to have our vision corrected. We don’t think of a visit to the eye doctor as punishment. Instead, it’s to receive a correction where all things can be seen with a new and fresh perspective.


It certainly seems clear to me that perception is a major issue. Scripture testifies that we are transformed/ transfigured (see the Greek) by the renewing of our minds, and that comes through turning to Christ; so I think that’s a solid angle to take on it.


, and that comes through turning to Christ; so I think that’s a solid angle to take on it.

Yes and Paul’'s words resound today in the Blessing - May the peace of the Lord which passes all understanding keep your MINDS and hearts in the knowledge and love of …Jesus CHRIST…

michael in Barcelona


Excellent post Richard, I entirely agree with you :sunglasses:

It’s also encouraging that Walls has come out about this.


Not Holy enough
Becoming holy and getting into heaven, is that what the gospel of Jesus Christ is about? If that is the case then what makes it fundamentally different than religion—which is about the individual striving, or going through a process of enlightenment or purgation to be made worthy of living in the presence of the ultimate reality of the divine. i.e. heaven. This is more like salvation of the fittest than it is the life of God freely given to all. And that life is not only healing and nourishing but it is also creative and transforming. It is resurrection life, which can make alive the dead and create new realities and possibilities that from the vantage point of our current experience of reality seem impossible. It is made possible not through magic or almighty power but through the powerlessness of Jesus on the cross where the fullness of the all-bountiful life of God was poured out into the creation. Is that not sufficient to eradicate sin from the creation? Did the Lamb fail to take the sin of the world away? Does the burden fall on us to make up for the “deficiency” of Jesus’ effort at Golgotha?

Jesus announced the good news of God’s Kingdom (Kingdom of Heaven) as being in their midst. His presence was the manifestation of that Kingdom made concrete and real by his reaching out to the unclean and healing/forgiving sinners and making them whole. The unholy not only saw the Lord, he touched them—and more than that he took their infirmities (uncleanliness) from them and made it his own.

When Jesus healed others there was no extended therapeutic process involved or pain and discomfort experience by them. It happened in a moment of time, some may have thought it was magic. But there was discomfort for Jesus: In the Gospels there is a remarkable verb that is used only used in reference to Jesus himself and three closely related figures in the parables, splagchnizomai. (Mk. 1:41, Mt. 20:34, Lk.7:13, Mk.8:2). It is usually translated “to have compassion or pity”, but these are only approximate translations. Splagchnizomai literally means a movement–or ripping apart–of the bowels (in the sense of the innermost parts). Karl Barth comments, “The term obviously defies adequate translation. What it means is that the suffering and sin and abandonment and peril of these men not merely went to the heart of Jesus but right into His heart, into Himself, so that their whole plight was now His own, and as such He saw and suffered it far more keenly than they did. Splagchnizomai means that He took their misery upon Himself, taking it away from them and making it His own.” We are healed by his stripes–not our by own experience of purgation in the here and now or in some post mortem reality.
Getting into Heaven**
Going to heaven when we die has become an established meme in Christendom as much as ECT and salvation for the few are. To the contrary, the biblical witness looks forward to the coming of God into the creation, heaven coming to us. There is no gatekeeper at heavens gate, in fact there is no gate because the full indwelling presence of YHWH the Lamb will be everywhere. For those who are lost and feel unholy and unworthy there is the godforsaken Crucified One out there among the unclean and unworthy. He will seek them out, clean and heal their wounds and by doing so bring heaven (the full living presence of YHWH) into their midst. He will come as the good shepherd, not with a rod of iron to punish them but to protect them.

Born anew
When Jesus told Nicodemus that we must be born anew from above to be able to enter the Kingdom of God (heaven, the new creation) he was speaking of resurrection. Resurrection is as least as radical as our birth into this world, but it is far more than just a second birth. It is an act of new creation that recovers all that was lost in the long history of the universe and wipes the slate clean of all sins and debts. All will be born from above, in other words from God. No more intermediary of genetic happenstance, evolutionary imperatives or any other death-dealing legacy from the old creation of sin and death. All will be born in the new environment of YHWH’s full presence. Everyone will be made complete and whole and free from their self-concern so that the can be fully other-concerned and pass on the all-bountiful life of God to the ever expanding creation. Then the equitableness of God will be universal and unequivocal. God will remember our sins no more and if God doesn’t remember or perceive our sins then they don’t exist and they are removed from reality. Everything is made new and the creation is now free to become fully alive—alive with the life of YHWH and the Lamb. No more tears, no more pain, no more fear.


DaveF, wow…thanks! you put that beautifully!
it’s what i think as well. my premortem “purgatory” is mainly in my view a time when God reasons with people, not when He willingly makes them suffer. the affect is refinement, but it’s not horrible…maybe it’s horr
think of the year of Jubilee, where regardless of the worthiness of the debt slaves etc, Jubilee simply restored everyone to their land and their freedom.
this is one thing about Calvinism they actually got right. it’s not down to us…our worthiness, our doctrine, our righteousness…it’s down to God, and only God. the Calvinists just got the scope wrong!
God is faithful to complete the work He started in us, so as to the stuff Paul vaguely refers to as not being complete, well that is still God’s job.


I’m actually inclined to agree with you Dave, in spite of what I said earlier. The only thing that gives me some pause is the passage that speaks of a resurrection to life vs. a resurrection to judgment. Now we know that Gods judgment leads to righteousness; but if there is in effect no difference in the result, then the obvious question is: why the distinction in scripture?
My thought is that perhaps it has more to do with a question of destiny vs. “destination”. In other words, we may lose our destiny as full heirs of the kingdom vs. “losing our salvation” (which has already been secured). As you’ve pointed out, it’s not about going to heaven when we die, but about “heaven coming to us”, so to speak.

Further thoughts on this?


I struggle with the whole idea of a purgatorial cleansing simply because I can’t reconcile it with what exactly Jesus did on the cross, unless those being purged are the ones who refuse grace? If grace is true why and what do we need to be purged of?


I’m skeptical that the Bible’s storyline urges a concept of ‘grace’ that can mean that God no longer is committed to as crucial the need for actual righteousnes in us, or to pursuing a ‘purification’ wherein we come to make choices that reflect a victory over Sin (not only freedom fron sin’s penalty).


Only grace though, produces righteousness. The law doesn’t. Can you explain what such a purging might consist of?


Yes, of course grace (and faith) is indeed essential for the development of real righteousness. My assumption on the how is that God’s way of purifying or producing righteousness would probably continue to be analagous to the sort of ways we see throughout God’s pursuit of that in the Biblical story of God’s dealings in this world, and among other things this could well include both revelations of God’s goodness as well as God’s judgments that would be painful. But if you want details, I’m afraid that I don’t see a lot of developed focus on the literal nature of life beyond death and this world.


This reminds me of a song about the coming ecological disaster: “What we need is a miracle; what we need is time…” That’s how we work. But the healing of the world doesn’t need time, it needs the opposite: Jesus said “Unless those days had been cut short, no flesh would have been saved; but … those days will be cut short.”

As has already been mentioned here, Jesus’s healings were just that: complete healings. They weren’t cures, they weren’t surgeries, they weren’t medicines, they weren’t even processes. They were immediate: “immediately his leprosy was cleansed.”, “immediately their eyes received sight”, “immediately the fever left her”, “immediately she was made straight”, ” immediately the man was made whole”.

We are given a clue about how it worked: Jesus was grabbed by a very intense compassion or empathy deep inside him as he started to heal someone. I understand this as him fully experiencing all the suffering of the person over their whole lifetime, taking that into himself, and giving them his own health and vitality. Isaiah looks forward to this, too: “he himself took our infirmities and carried our sufferings”. There was nothing “magic” about this.

We are also told many times how Jesus’s healings were experienced by people. Let’s bear in mind, everything he saw the Father do, he did. If we saw Jesus give pain when he healed, we should believe that somehow pain is good for us, maybe even healing. But that never happened. Instead, Jesus took the pain.