Removing Our Sinful Natures

The Catholic Doctrine of Purgatory

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What happens to someone at death

First of all, Scripture makes it clear that no human on earth, regardless of his relationship with Christ, is incapable of sin (Rom. 3:10). In fact, Scripture and just common sense both tell us that we are drawn toward sin and we continue to commit it our entire life, up until our death. This is true for even the holiest people.

Furthermore, from what little we know about heaven, it is apparent that there is no sin in heaven (cf. Rev. 21:27). In fact, I think it would be safe to say that no one in heaven is drawn toward sin, and in fact, may be incapable of committing sin.

So, from the above two facts, we can deduce that something happens to us between our last breath on earth and our entrance into heaven. In fact, I think we can venture to say that our sinful nature is somehow removed from us at death. In 1 Corinthians 15:50-57, Paul states:
I tell you this, brethren: flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God, nor does the perishable inherit the imperishable. Lo! I tell you a mystery. We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed, in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised imperishable, and we shall be changed. For this perishable nature must put on the imperishable, and this mortal nature must put on immortality. When the perishable puts on the imperishable, and the mortal puts on immortality, then shall come to pass the saying that is written: "Death is swallowed up in victory." "O death, where is thy victory? O death, where is thy sting?" The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.
Paul tells us that at death, we are changed. He mentions that this will happen in a "twinkling of an eye." How does this reconcile with the common conception of purgatory taking a long time? Two points I'd like to make: (1) when Scripture refers to God's actions in reference to our earthly "time," there is no way to translate it properly. For example, the first chapter of Genesis says that God created the world in six "days," but we don't know if those are 24-hour days, day-ages, or just a reference to "over time." For God, one day is like a thousand years and a thousand years like a day, so we can't know how "long" our "twinkling of an eye" is to God; and (2) it is possible that purgatory is instantaneous in our temporal time. Catholics have often speculated that purgatory lasts for a long time, but there is no way to translate the "time" of the after-life with our "time" on earth.

In the final analysis, Scripture is sparse in its discussion about the after-life, and how we are changed at death is no exception. We are not told exactly how our sinful nature is removed, nor do we know what the experience will be like. But we know that we are changed in some way at death before entering heaven.
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