Because we are born into merely natural life by our parents, we need to be born again into spiritual life by the Lord. The process of regeneration is the series of steps used by the Lord to recreate us as angels. This is accomplished by inverting the structure of our minds from hellish disarrangement to heavenly order. Since our spiritual inheritance is nothing but evil, we all start out with our external self dominating our internal self and with the loves of self and the world ruling over our life. The end of regeneration is to compel the external self to serve the internal self and to install love to the Lord and charity as ruling loves.
From our point of view, regeneration is about four steps: learning truth, thinking truth, willing truth, and living truth. But this is only how regeneration appears to proceed to people who have not yet been regenerated. In reality, the Lord regenerates people by means of good, not truth. Though truth appears to be necessarily prior to good because it acts as a container for good, truth can only be possessed when it is implanted into good in the first place. In this way, good is the first and last of regeneration.
Also from our point of view, the focus of regeneration is the external and natural self. This perspective come from the fact that we are conscious in the external self and rarely have the opportunity to notice spiritual things. And though in reality regeneration takes place from the top down, starting with the internal self and only regenerating the external self by means of the internal self, this perspective is useful because it allows us to freely choose to be regenerated by the Lord by choosing to do the work of repentance. This perspective was taught by the Lord when He washed the disciples feet, saying in John 13:9 “He who is bathed needs only to wash his feet, but is completely clean.”
Repentance is a core doctrine of the New Church. As we say, “All religion is about life, and the life of religion is to do good.” Repentance is the process of getting to doing good. It is a fundamental part of the life of religion.
We are all born with inherited tendencies to do evil of every kind, our will is totally corrupt because it is ruled by the love of self and the love of the world. Our life, as an expression of our will and our love, is not good, regardless of what it looks like. As long as we are ruled by selfishness and worldliness, we cannot live the life of religion.
Repentance, though, is the process by which the Lord leads us out of evil and into good. Repentance leads in towards good.
There is lots of information given to us about the process of repentance because it is the fundamental activity of religion. We are saved not all at once, but bit by bit as we work through the process of repentance over and over, removing evils one by one until we are reborn.
The process of repentance is really a process, a series of steps you take to remove evil. Just wanting to stop sin doesn’t work. And it isn’t a question of will power. If you learn nothing else, learn the steps of repentance, because it is only by doing these steps that the Lord can save you.
The Steps (LEADS IN)
- New Life
Freedom is one of the essential components of a human being. To be free is essentially to have a choice, but that doesn’t make all choices of equal value. Just because you can do something doesn’t mean you should; we can choose some terrible options, including the option to throw away our freedom.
Freedom is what you do because it’s what you want, which depends on what you love. Thus, what a person does in freedom seems to him to be from himself and part of himself. Genuine freedom is the ability to do good from the Lord because you choose to do so. False or apparent freedom, slavery really, is the ability to do evil.
Apparent freedom is permitted in order to make people capable of being reformed and regenerated. When you shun evils as sins, you make room in yourself for good and truth. And when you choose to think about what is good and true, the Lord implants them into you. This implanting cannot take place while you feel you are being compelled, because being compelled means you are doing the will of another, and thus nothing can be implanted in your own will.
This, then, is the Big Question: If doing good means obeying the Lord’s commandments, how is doing good genuine freedom? Isn;t obedience the opposite of freedom?
Before we are regenerated, we are going to feel like freedom is the ability to do evil, but this is because we love evil and will to do evil. During the process of regeneration, the Lord does not compel us to do anything, the truths we are learning could not then be implanted. After we have been regenerated and born anew as an angel, we won’t want to do evil because we have a new will and a new ruling love, we will experience freedom as the ability to do what is good.
So lets ask the Big Question another way: does freedom mean doing the things the Lord has taught because you see their value, or does freedom mean caving into lusts and cravings coming from outside of yourself?
Further, doing good has nothing to do with merit, that is, heaven is not a reward for your obedience to the Lord. To be in heaven does require obeying the Lord’s commandments, but genuine charity thinks nothing about gaining anything from doing good. Seeking rewards for good works is the love of self disguised as loving the neighbor.
Heaven cannot be a reward for your hard work because, frankly, you didn’t do anything to deserve a reward. Any good thing you do is really the Lord working through you. The Lord has merit, you don’t. Only the Lord saved the whole human race by victory over the forces of hell, from His own power, from Divine Love. And it is this very same power that gives us the victory in our own temptations. If we live in heaven it is because the Lord earned it, and freely shares it with you.
When people think about conscience, they think about guilt. They think about the pain and anxiety that conscience delivers when we’ve done something we wish we hadn’t. But conscience is more than guilty feelings. Conscience is the re-emergence of good within our minds, the presence of angels holding back the forces of hell. Conscience isn’t the source of bad feelings, it is the cause of and product of your regeneration and the means of maintaining the tranquility and happiness of heaven. Conscience is the solidification of truth in the mind as the foundational principles which guide your life.
A person’s conscience is formed out of whatever religion he has, that is, whatever he believes to be true and therefor lives his life by. True conscience is formed by the Lord from the genuine truths of faith, the “pure intellect” of Divine Truth. False conscience is formed of external things, the ideas that are derived from the love of self and the love of the world. Spurious conscience (or apparent conscience) lies between those two extremes and is formed from the apparent truths of whatever religion a person possesses. Even though this is not a true conscience, it can be replaced with true conscience in the next life if it contains a genuine love for the truths of faith.
Many people think that the life of piety is the spiritual life, and that worship consists of ritual and piety. We learn in this section from The New Jerusalem and Its Heavenly Doctrine that the spiritual life and divine worship is the life of charity. True worship of the Lord is serving the neighbor because it is the Lord’s will.
No one can know what faith is unless you first know what charity is. This is because charity and faith have the same relationship that good and truth have: faith is the form of or the expression of charity. As good belongs to charity, truth belongs to faith and like truth, faith is real only when it is part of life, that is, when it is enlivened by the good of charity.
When united with charity, faith is described as “the affection of truth from willing truth because it is truth.” In other words, real faith is confidence that the Lord will save you because He came into the world to save everyone, and does save everyone when they live according to His teaching.
Faith is erroneously but commonly described as belief in the things of the Word and the church, regardless of confidence in the Lord. But that sort of belief has nothing to do with salvation. Called “persuasive faith,” that sort of faith deals with the memory of truths and at best applied to the appeal to them from fear of hell or desperation, and at worse the use of them for the sake of reputation and worldly gain.
Genuine, saving faith, is a spiritual faith belonging to the internal self, which gains its faith through the union of will and understanding in life, which in turn are united when good is received into the will and truth is received into the understanding. In this way, a person’s faith takes its quality from his reception of good from the Lord.
Charity is often considered to be things like giving to the poor or supporting hospitals. While these things can certainly be charitable, charity encompasses much more, eventually including everything you do. When your ruling love is the love of the neighbor , everything you do becomes charitable, from giving money to “charitable” organizations, to going to work and doing your job well, even to eating breakfast.
“Who is the Neighbor?” is the central question to understanding love of the neighbor and charity. First, charity is not charity without distinction. Giving support to evil people only promotes evil. Second, neighbors are distinguished according to the good with everyone. This means that the Lord is the highest and first neighbor. In the universal or abstract sense, good itself is the neighbor. Love is also the neighbor itself because all good comes from love. We could rephrase this as a person is a neighbor according to the quality of his love.
Because the neighbor does not have to be an individual person, there are successive degrees of the neighbor, like rungs on a ladder, the higher one to be preferred over all lower. Each degree’s height in the succession is according to how each degree regards the Lord, who is the highest and first neighbor standing at the very top of the ladder. the bottom rung is smaller and larger communities, themselves ranked according to the quality of good in each. Our country is more a neighbor because it acts as a parent, promoting civil and spiritual welfare. The church is even more the neighbor because it concerns the soul and eternal life. And the Lord’s kingdom is a still higher neighbor because it consists of all who are good on earth and in heaven, and thus contains good in all its complexity.
What about Yourself? It is common to say that everyone is his own neighbor, but what we learn here about love to the neighbor helps us understand this saying. Very simply, the end is first, meaning the purpose for doing something determines its quality. The order in which they are done does not determine quality. We build houses to live in them, for example, but we must first build the foundation of the house, which we cannot live in.
To love the neighbor is to do what is good, just, and right in every work and in every office. It extends to every single thing a person thinks, wills, and does. In short, charity is to live according to the Ten Commandments because the are the Lord’s.
A person’s life is a person’s love. Or (to put it into the “good and truth” terms we’ve been using recently) love is the essence of your life and your life is the expression of your love. Each of us has one love that is our “ruling” love, the one that is at the very core of who we are and how we live, that animates us. There are four types of ruling loves:
1. love to the Lord
2. love towards the neighbor
3. love of the world
4. love of self.
Everything that is good and true has to do with the first two, and everything that is evil and false comes from the last two.
The love of self is willing well to yourself alone, and not to other except when it benefits ourselves. A person ruled by this love thinks of everyone and everything as his servant, to be used for his own benefit. To see what such a person is like without the external checks of law and punishment, look at some of the worst kings and popes.
The love of the world is wishing to gather the things of this world by any means, for the sake of having them. It is certainly possible to gather wealth for the sake of helping others, but gathering money and possessions just to have them means that you love the things of the world more than the people of the world, your neighbors. Such people are described in the Writings for the New Church as predators.
All evil comes from these two loves. Unfortunately, we inherit a will (part of our mind) that is based entirely on these evil loves, and so we inherit tendencies to do evils of every kind. Reformation and regeneration are all about not acting on these motivations, and acting on the new, good motivations that the Lord instills into your mind as you live a life that is compatible with those goods.
So far, we’ve seen that all of creation is made of two things, good and truth, and that good and truth are with a person as will and understanding, which make up the whole mind. Today, we look at the two levels of the mind, which we call the internal person and the external person. The internal person is spiritual and lives in the light of heaven, while the external person is natural and lives in the light of the world.
The relationship between these two parts of a mind, also reflect the relationship between good and truth (the heavenly marriage). As we are regenerated, the good within the will of the internal person causes the will of the external person to be reformed, that is, it expresses itself in the external person (and truth is the expression of good). When that happens, the light of the world, in which the external person lives, is “illuminated” by the light of heaven so that the external person becomes spiritual as well. And thus an angel is born.
As all things in creation relate to good and truth (see Part 1), so all things in a person relate to the will and the understanding. These two halves of the human mind are both the receivers of good and truth and the place where good and truth act on a person—good with the will and truth with the understanding. Together, will and understanding make the whole life of a person. Everything that was said about good and truth in part 1, can also be said about will and understanding, since these two faculties are where good and truth reside in a person. In the heavenly marriage, the will is the essence or substance of a person’s life and understanding is the expression or form of that life. Good in the will causes truth to form the understanding, and the will takes its quality from the form of the understanding. Finally, since the life of a person is essentially in the will, the quality of a person’s life is based wholly on fitting your life into the shape of genuine truth.