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For the sake of this question:

Predestination = from the foundations of the universe, God chose who will be saved.

Purgatory = a place where people suffer / are purified, and afterwards, they go to heaven.

Now, the difference between heaven and hell is quite large (positive infinity and negative infinity). In the predestination case, the gap between those that go to heaven and those who go to hell is justified as follows: God chose to save some, and Jesus' blood paid their debt. In this case, salvation is a binary choice by God.

In the purgatory case, everything looks more continuous: the gap also makes sense in that: depending on how "sinful" one was, one spends less or more time in purgatory.

Now, what I don't understand about the Arminian case is as follows:

*) there lacks a binary choice by God (since there was no predestination)

*) yet, the suffering/punishment after death is not continuous -- there's no purgatory

Thus it seems very weird that on a continuous scale of human sinfulness, in the absence of a binary choice by God, the gain/loss after death is so different.

Note

Suggestions / clarifications to this question welcome.

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There is still a binary choice, but it's not God who makes the decision. He leaves it to each of us to choose for ourselves one way or the other, and gives us our whole lifetime to make that decision. God could make the decision for us — He has that power — and He knows in advance — if concepts like "in advance" even have any meaning for a being that exists outside of time — what choice each of us will make. After all, He made us. What He desires is for each of us to choose Him of our own will. It is not interesting to Him if the choice is forced upon us.

There is an interesting philosophical question here of whether there is really any difference at all between determining an outcome and merely knowing an outcome with absolute certainty, when those outcomes are produced by a system that one designed, set in motion, and directs for oneself, as God does with us and our environment. God gives us something akin to free will, but is it really free will as we know it if He made each of us in the first place, knows what our choices will be in any situation, and has absolute power over all situations? This is especially interesting when you look at psychology studies that show how human behavior is much more about programmed responses and brain chemicals than any of us want to acknowledge.

For this reason, I don't really find the question of predestination vs free choice very interesting... I tend to think of it as two sides of the same coin. Do we have free choice? Yes! You can say we do. Are we predestined? You can say that as well, and not be entirely wrong about it. This question has historically caused a huge split in Christiandom, but I ultimately see it as more about philosophy than theology. Your answer has implications for how your view soteriology, but either way you still look to Jesus. Does it really matter how you view soteriology as long as you're looking at the right source? I think also that Jesus would find the question uninteresting... at least in a relative sense. He is far more concerned that we look at Him as Lord, and with how we treat our fellow man.

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  • +1 Martin Luther's "take" was that we have free choice except for reception of grace.
    – Matthew
    Jan 2, 2013 at 19:33
  • @MatthewPK: Can you point to which section of "Bondage of the Will" supports this view of Luther's? Jan 5, 2013 at 20:53
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It seems that there is an assumption here that unless God chooses who will go to heaven, then people must suffer for their own sins (in Purgatory). Nothing could be further from the truth in evangelical Christianity.

The Scriptures teach that God declares righteous those who have faith in Jesus--even the ungodly. In doing so, their sins are completely forgiven--past, present, and future. "Therefore, there is now no condemnation" for them. They have been sanctified (made holy), so there is no future purging or purification that they need to gain by their own suffering.

"But to the one who does not work, but believes in Him who justifies [declares righteous] the ungodly, his faith is credited as righteousness." Romans 4:5 NAS

This is the beauty of salvation, as Spurgeon discusses in his book, All of Grace. God takes an ungodly person and declares him righteous. Faith in Jesus is the channel through which righteousness is imparted to the ungodly one. The sinner is declared righteous--and righteous people have nothing to be purged of in Purgatory.

"Therefore there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. 2 For the law of the Spirit of life [a]in Christ Jesus has set you free from the law of sin and of death." Romans 8:1 NAS

There is no condemnation--none, zip, zero.

"For Christ also died for sins once for all, the just for the unjust, so that He might bring us to God, having been put to death in the flesh, but made alive in the spirit;" 1 Peter 3:18 NAS

Jesus died for sons once for all--not once and then there needs to be more suffering by us later, but once for all.

"For as through the one man’s disobedience the many were made sinners, even so through the obedience of the One the many will be made righteous." Romans 5:19 NAS

It was the one act of righteousness performed by Jesus Christ that results in righteousness to those who trust in Jesus--it has nothing to do with our own works of righteousness, which merit nothing in God's sight.

So, the evangelical perspective which denies Purgatory and denies Predestination justifies the position by the doctrine of salvation itself. God offers salvation/justification (the declaration of righteousness) to all people who put their trust in Jesus. God does not require us to suffer for our own sins in Purgatory, because Jesus already suffered for them once for all. This salvation is available to "whosoever will."

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You have three separate theologies in play here. Calvinism, Arminianism, and Catholicism. Your primary question, if I understood you correctly, surrounds the precepts of Arminianism relative to the purgatory of Catholicism.

The biggest issue you have here is that the doctrinal and dogmatic foundations of the two disciplines are incompatible with each other. Arminianism, which is a discipline within Protestantism, does not support the teaching of purgatory. Similarly, Catholicism doesn’t support the teaching of supralapsarianism, or absolute predestination, which is most commonly a teaching of the Calvinist discipline.

From the Arminian point of view, the binary choice is made by man. Paradise or torment is the free will choice of the individual. You can choose to accept the free gift of grace, or you can reject it.

From the Calvinist point of view, the binary choice has been made for you by God. Some are chosen to be saved. Others are chosen to be excluded, and/or used as vessels of wrath.

The Catholic point of view is also binary. It does teach a definitive heaven and hell. Those who deserve hell are going to hell. But they offer purgatory as an in-between between earth and heaven for those who are going to heaven, but have to work off some sin debt first.

So, that’s that part of the question. All the disciplines teach a binary outcome, but each with its particulars on how one gets to the two destinations.

The other part of your question appears to be confusion on your part concerning quantity and/or severity of sin relative to temporary suffering of varying timespans to purify the soul of sin before before being able to enter heaven.

This is difficult to answer without taking up a definitive position on one school of thought or another. Ultimately, there are only two states of being as it concerns sin. You have sin, or you do not have sin. James explains that to break the law is to break the law, and by way of example puts murder and adultery on the same level. You are either a law breaker, or you are not a law breaker. I know of no scripture that measures suffering in the next life contingent upon the quantity and severity of the sins committed in this life. You are either in Christ, or you are not in Christ. And if you are in Christ, all of your sins are forgiven.

But, again, that answer takes, by necessity, a definitive Protestant point of view. A Catholic answer would be different.

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Predestination

In John 4.34, Jesus said before He was crucified:

My meat is to do the will of him that sent me, and to finish his work. (John 4:34)

What is precisely the will of Him Who sent Jesus to live among us? The answer is in John 6:38-40:

I have come down from heaven, not to do my own will, but the will of the one who sent me. And this is the will of the one who sent me that I should not lose anything that he has given me, but should raise it to life on the last day. This is my Father’s will: That everyone who sees the Son and believes in him should have eternal life, and I will raise him to life on the last day.

In verse 44, we read how the Father chooses those He will give the Son – via His sovereignty in salvation:

No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him, and I will raise him to life on the last day.

In John 17:1–2, we read that the Father gave the authority to the Son to judge all those the Father gave the Son:

After Jesus had said this, he looked up to heaven and said, Father, the hour has come. Glorify your Son, so that the Son may glorify you. For you have given him authority over all humanity so that he might give eternal life to all those you gave him.

The phrase “the hour has come” in the first verse above is a reminder of Jesus’ acceptance of the will of the Father for the Him to be crucified for our sins so that we may have eternal life. Jesus had the option to reject the will of the Father, for it is a dispositional or preferred will of the Father.

The above verses reveal a two-step process that leads to eternal life via the Father’s will for His Son. Firstly, the Father exercises His sovereignty to choose those He wants to have eternal life through His Son, and secondly, it is through the free will of those chosen to believe in His Son to have eternal life. So both God’s sovereignty in salvation and the free will of an individual determine whether the person will achieve eternal life.

Purgatory

There is a famous story in the Bible that clearly indicates that purgatory is not necessary for salvation. On Mount Calvary, one of the two thieves - sinners till the end of their lives - cried out to Jesus:

And he said unto Jesus, Lord, remember me when thou comest into thy kingdom. And Jesus said unto him, Verily I say unto thee, Today shalt thou be with me in paradise. (Luke 23: 42 – 43)

The Greek for “today” is σήμερον, sémeron, which according to Strong’s Concordance, also means “now”. Jesus answering in the affirmative implies He had had His Father’s confirmation of salvation for both of them at that instant, whilst they were still alive.

It is our complete faith in Christ that saves us, as per the exhortations of Paul the Apostle (Romans 10:8–10, New KJV):

But what does it say? “The word is near you, in your mouth and in your heart” (that is, the word of faith which we preach): that if you confess with your mouth the Lord Jesus and believe in your heart that God has raised Him from the dead, you will be saved. For with the heart one believes unto righteousness, and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation. (Romans 10:8–10)

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