What is the Difference between Justification and Salvation in Swedenborg’s Theology?

(Note: This post is a slightly edited version of an answer I recently wrote and posted on Christianity StackExchange. You can see the original question on StackExchange here, and the StackExchange version of my answer here.)

In the theology of Emanuel Swedenborg (1688–1772), as in other Christian theologies, justification is seen as part of a process that results in our salvation. In a nod to the traditional Christian concept of the ordo salutis (“order of salvation”), Swedenborg lists justification as one among many elements of the process of salvation. For example, he writes:

The Divine power and activity meant by the Holy Spirit are, generally speaking, reformation and regeneration, which lead to renewal, quickening, sanctification and justification; and these lead to purification from evils and the forgiveness of sins, and ultimately to salvation. (True Christianity #138)

However, his view of justification, in particular, is significantly different from the Roman Catholic and Orthodox perspectives, and radically different from the Reformed Protestant perspective.

For more on justification and salvation in Swedenborg’s theology, please click here to read on.

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Posted in The Bible Re-Viewed

Can we Keep our Friends in the Afterlife?

Here is a Spiritual Conundrum submitted to Spiritual Insights for Everyday Life by a reader named Maria:

Ever since I encountered Swedenborg, I’ve struggled with the mechanics of the afterlife: it sounds both beautiful and terrible. I’ve been told we forget much of our life on Earth and can’t remember the people we’ve loved. When I’ve expressed disturbance at the idea, the answer tends to be “you won’t care, you’ll find better people and will feel like you always had them, etc.” I’m sick to tears of the “it’s like growing apart from dear friends as you mature” simile, because it isn’t the same thing at all.

Say we’ve been open and genuine and generally dedicated to being who we are truly in life. Say we’ve built real and healthy relationships, loving and warm. Will it still be “bye, I’m off on my own way and I’ll forget you!” after passing the stage of the spirit world? Even if our loves are different, will we simply never see or know these people again?

With all due respect to my fellow Swedenborgians, some of them have not quite gotten the message about what the afterlife is really like. Many of them are still affected by the old, outdated view of heaven as a totally alien world where we have some sort of wispy, ethereal existence that is completely different from anything we’ve ever experienced here on earth.

But that’s not how Emanuel Swedenborg (1688–1772) describes the afterlife at all. Instead, he describes it as a seamless continuation of our life here on earth. We take with us everything that makes us the unique person we are. And we live a life very much like the one we had lived here on earth, only better (assuming we have chosen heaven over hell).

Old friends

Old friends

Although Herbert Hoover’s ideal of “rugged individualism” has taken on almost mythic meaning in much of today’s society, the reality is that we humans are not islands unto ourselves. We are community beings. Our loves, ideals, beliefs, identity, and character have no meaning or reality on their own, but only in the context of our complex web of relationships with family, friends, co-workers, and other people in our community.

This means that we take with us into the afterlife not only our individual character, but also the many and varied relationships in which that character exists and is formed. So it should be no surprise that Swedenborg describes heaven as an intensely human community. And the relationships we leave behind are not the ones we love, but the ones that don’t feed our soul, or that turn out not to be what we thought they were.

Let’s take a closer look. Along the way we’ll explode a few common Swedenborgian myths about the afterlife.

For more on our friends in the afterlife, please click here to read on.

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Posted in Sex Marriage Relationships, The Afterlife

The Meaning and Power of Baptism

Two Spiritual Conundrums have been submitted to Spiritual Insights for Everyday Life on the subject of baptism. First by a reader named Harshit Anjalika Murmu:

Hello sir, I liked your website very much. I want to ask a question about baptism. As born again Christian I took baptism second time. I want to know are people not in Christ who had taken child baptism? Also I don’t think that taking baptism a certain way will make God love you.

And more recently by a reader named Michael:

Thank you so much for your writing! I’ve been away from Christianity for a long time and learning about Swedenborg’s teachings had been an enlightening experience. One question I’m wrestling with is baptism. Do I need to be baptized? According to Swedenborg is it enough to be born again as you’ve written in another post? Baptism for me right now is definitely not practical, but I want to live these teachings. Thank you so much!

Thanks for bringing up the subject of baptism, which is one of two rituals (the other being the Holy Supper) that Jesus Christ commanded us to observe.

The Baptism of Jesus by John the Baptist in the Jordan River

The Baptism of Jesus by John the Baptist in the Jordan River

Baptism is a ritual of cleansing. It does not have any magical power by itself. Rather, it is a spiritual and social symbol of:

  1. Becoming a Christian
  2. Believing in Jesus Christ and living by his teachings
  3. Being spiritually reborn by being cleansed from evil and falsity in our heart, mind, and actions.

Let’s take a closer look. Along the way, we’ll answer the questions raised in these two spiritual conundrums.

For more on baptism, please click here to read on.

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Posted in Spiritual Growth, The Bible Re-Viewed

Today’s Christianity: Vastly Void of Truth

Here is a comment that a reader named Kyle left recently in response to the most popular post on this blog: “If there’s One God, Why All the Different Religions?

Walking in Darkness, by Linda Hedenljung

Walking in Darkness, by Linda Hedenljung

Lee, I found your article tickled the ears of culture but was vastly void of truth. By Jesus saying, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. Nobody comes to the Father except through me”… he’s making an absolute truth statement. Therefore anything that contradicts his statement is by definition false. There is one God. One Lord. One Savior by which man is saved. No other religion can save its followers, forgive sins, and offer hope for today and eternity. Our culture will scream, “Offensive! How dare Christians claim Jesus is the only way to God.” But Jesus himself said it. For Christians not to profess this truth is to not trust in Jesus at all. Therefore, not all religions are true or lead to God. In fact, any religion that is contrary to the claims of Jesus (his words, not mine) is false. Forget religions. It’s who you say Jesus is that matters. Living a “good and kind life” can make things pleasant for today but that does nothing for your eternal standing once our time on earth is done. I would think satan is quite pleased we have more religions than we can count.

Later that day, Kyle submitted this Spiritual Conundrum to Spiritual Insights for Everyday Life:


I’m confused, and it’s actually from reading your posts and responses to people. You said you’re a christian and actually believe that salvation and heaven are only possible through Jesus Christ. Yet, you also say that every religion is right in its own way and leads people to the same God. Isn’t that completely hypocritical of your own faith? How in the world are all religions right and serving the same God?


That got me to thinking.

Yes, Kyle and hundreds of millions of other Christians are confused.

They’re confused because their preachers have drilled into their heads a false “Christianity” that is so vastly void of truth that they can’t even read and understand the Bible’s own plain words about who is saved, and how.

(Photo credit: Linda Hedenljung)

For more on a “Christianity” void of truth, please click here to read on.

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Serving the Neighbor: Simple yet Profound

Here at Spiritual Insights for Everyday Life we are constantly preaching about serving the neighbor. But what does that mean? It means many things. But it also means serving someone when you least expect it.

Here’s an example that recently went viral: Photo of a Shoe Salesman Helping a Boy With Autism Is Going Viral For All the Right Reasons.

Here’s the story that goes with the photo, as told by the boy’s parents:

River Salter getting shoes

River Salter getting shoes

Last week we brought our 6-year-old son, River, to the Clarks Village outlet store in Street to be measured for school shoes. Being autistic, he really struggles with crowds, long queues and noisy places. The store was heaving! I knew there was no way he would cope with that environment so I explained the situation to a member of staff. Without hesitation, Aaran led us away from the noise and crowds to a staff room and placed a Do Not Disturb sign on the door. He was very patient with River, who was anxious, and went and got lots of different shoes for him to try on. We left with a great pair of shoes, a very happy boy—and Aaran also gave us the store number and said they’d happily book us an appointment before the store opens so that it’s quiet. Autism acceptance at its best! Thank you Clarks in Street, and a massive thanks to the shop assistant Aaran Daniels.

Mr. Daniels probably didn’t go to work that day thinking he would make a difference in the life of an autistic boy and his parents. But when the situation presented itself, he acted with thoughtfulness and with heart. And that did make a difference.

It was a simple act; yet it made a profound difference to the people he helped.

For more on serving the neighbor, please click here to read on.

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Posted in Current Events, Spiritual Growth

Pain, Punishment, Prison, and Hell

In the course of a discussion on the recent article, “How Imagination and Fantasy Help our Spiritual Growth,” a reader named Frankly Frank said:

“And hell is not a punishment”…….

I dunno about that one, Lee.

There are vivid accounts from Swedenborg where in one example he describes IIRC two angels holding a hell detainee off the ground by the head and feet and then “twirling” them back and forth repeatedly in opposite directions so that their spine felt like it was being torn apart. Yeah, I think that could be called “punishment” but if it isn’t I’d hate to see what qualifies. (lol?).

I don’t see how a spade here isn’t a spade. And I don’t see how one honestly could interpret that it’s actually God’s love and not punishment in that particular scenario as an easy way out to explain it either. Bottomline hell is inherently a PRISON. Aren’t prisons defacto punishment?

Frankly Frank was responding to something I had said in an earlier comment. You can read the whole comment thread starting here.

"El Chapo" inside the Altiplano maximum security prison

“El Chapo” inside the Altiplano maximum security prison

Yes, hell is a type of prison. And yes, there are punishments in hell.

But as I had said in previous comments, the main purpose of hell is not to punish evildoers, but rather to provide them with a place where they can live in the way that they want to live—or at least, as much as that’s possible given the self-defeating nature of their desires and actions.

This post is an edited and expanded version of my own long comment in response to Frankly Frank’s statement and question above.

TL;DR: Even if prison is a punishment, and even if there are punishments in hell, both prison and hell are more about protecting the innocent from being victimized than they are about punishing criminals. There’s no other way to effectively accomplish this, because hardened criminals are going to victimize innocent people if they are allowed access to them. And yet, pragmatically speaking, prison and hell really are the choice of those who go there.

Now let’s look at all that twisting, twirling, pain, and punishment.

For more on prison and hell, please click here to read on.

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Posted in The Afterlife

Should Christians Tithe?

Over the past couple of years four readers have submitted Spiritual Conundrums to Spiritual Insights for Everyday Life about tithing. First, a reader named Lisa:

The tithe

The tithe

Lee: I belonged to a Christian church for thirty years which was fundamentalist. My husband paid to the church the tithe of our income and he also contributed with other expenses. My husband wanted a new life and we went to live to another country. Now we are very happy. I found Swedenborg by accident on Internet and we are reading his books. We don’t go to any congregation, but we practice our faith in family. The minister of my old congregation sent us mails asking for the tithe, according to him we are heavily in debt. For several years we have saved the tithe for sharing with the neighbor. My question is, what does the Bible say in the New Testament about the tithe? Is it true that it belongs to the minister? Is there any chance that Swedenborg answered this question in his letters? Thanks for your opinion.

Then a reader named Ada:

Do u have to pay tithes?

Then a reader named Allison Scott:

What does Jesus really teach about tithing and/or giving?

And most recently a reader named Bamboo:

Hi Lee. I have been wondering a lot about tithing and church offerings. Does Malachi 3:10 suggest that the people who do not tithe will not be blessed? And do tithes and offerings have to be in monetary terms? Thanks.

Here’s the short version:

A “tithe” means a tenth. In Bible times, this meant a tenth of the harvest and of people’s flocks and herds—or of the firstborn animals of their flocks and herds.

In the Old Testament, the Israelites were commanded to bring tithes and offerings to the priests at the temple each year. Tithing was mandatory, not optional.

The New Testament mentions tithing only in passing. There is no clear commandment in the New Testament saying that Christians must tithe. And 2 Corinthians 9:5–7 suggests that for Christians, giving is not mandatory, but voluntary:

So I thought it necessary to urge the brothers to visit you in advance and finish the arrangements for the generous gift you had promised. Then it will be ready as a generous gift, not as one grudgingly given. Remember this: Whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows generously will also reap generously. Each of you should give what you have decided in your heart to give, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver.

In other words, Christians are not required to tithe, but are encouraged to give generously as their heart moves them to give.

And Emanuel Swedenborg (1688–1772) doesn’t say anything at all about literal, in-kind or monetary tithing. But he does explain the spiritual meaning of tithing.

Let’s take a closer look.

For more on tithing, please click here to read on.

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Posted in Money and Business, The Bible Re-Viewed

How Imagination and Fantasy Help our Spiritual Growth

This post is an edited version of part of a reply I wrote to a comment by a reader named Boluwade Kujero on the article, “Is Masturbation Always Sinful? Does it Always Come from Lust?” My full comment responds to a few more of Mr. Kujero’s points, and applies the ideas presented here specifically to the issue of fantasizing while masturbating.



In this material world we are often hindered from acting on our goals and intentions by many external circumstances. We can therefore fool ourselves into thinking that we are morally clean when in fact it is only social pressures or practical concerns that keep us from acting in very immoral ways.

But according to Emanuel Swedenborg (1688–1772), after we die, when we are living in the spiritual world, those social bonds and external hindrances are gradually taken away. When this happens, unlike in the material world, whatever we think and intend, that is exactly what we say and do. If we think something, we just go ahead and say it. If we want to do something, we just go ahead and do it.

For more on imagination, fantasy, and spiritual growth, please click here to read on.

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Posted in Spiritual Growth

Does God Change?

In a recent comment, a reader named Rami brought up the issue of God’s unchanging nature vs. God—and God’s relationship to us—changing through time. This post is a slightly edited version of my reply.

This begins to push the limits of what we humans can comprehend.

While we are living here on earth in our physical body, our mind is largely engaged in time and space, and we think in temporal and spatial terms. Even when we are able to lift our mind above the physical into the spiritual, it is still engaged in the spiritual analogs of time and space, which involve progression and development in our thoughts and feelings. We are never capable, either as humans on earth or as angels in heaven, of raising our mind to the divine level, which is God.

We are physical and spiritual beings. God is a divine being. So although we can see reflections and gain an approximation in our minds of the nature of God, we can never directly or fully experience and grasp what it is like to be God. We can never fully understand how God experiences things. We can only see reflections of it in our own physical and spiritual experiences.

I add this preface because I’m going to say some things that honestly, I don’t fully understand, nor can any of us fully understand, because they go beyond our ability to understand. They are at best reflections and approximations of how God experiences these things.

For more on God and change, please click here to read on.

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Posted in All About God

What If I’m In Love with Someone I Can’t Have?

Here is a Spiritual Conundrum submitted to Spiritual Insights for Everyday Life by a reader named xXxMajaxXx:

Is it possible to fall in love in heaven with a person you never met? I know this sounds crazy, but I am a very spiritual and normal person, so please answer me. I am in love with a man who is dead. He was a famous man and he was happily married. His wife is still alive. I have been in love with him for 4 years and: no, it is not just admiring, I am in love with him and that makes me so happy and inspired, it even got me threw some hard times. He visits me in my dreams very often and gives me some life-changing messages that have helped me in real life. I have previously read here that two people who have never met can be happily in love in heaven. Do you think that one day the two of us can be happily in love in heaven, is it possible that he would choose me over his wife? I strongly believe that true love is more powerful than death, but do you think I can deserve his love in return one day? Will he be able to see how perfect the two of us would be up there and will I be able to earn his love, so that he will pick me over his wife in heaven? I know this may sound crazy, but I am a very intelligent person, yet very spiritual, idealistic and deep. The article of yours that I have mentioned has given me hope. Please answer me this, thank you. God bless you!

Thanks for your conundrum, xXxMajaxXx. I’m sure you’re not the only person in the predicament of being in love with someone unattainable in this life—someone you have not even met. And I’m sure you’re not alone in hoping against hope that maybe in the future life you can be together with that person.

For background, here is the article xXxMajaxXx is referring to: “Can you Fall in Love in Heaven if you Haven’t Found Someone on Earth?” And while we’re at it, here’s another related article: “If You’ve been Married More than Once, Which One will you be With in the Afterlife?

And now I have good news, and I have bad news:

  • Based on what I wrote in those two articles, yes, it is possible that this could happen.
  • However, based on human reality, it is very unlikely that it actually will happen.

And yet, you can still look forward to a happy marriage in heaven with someone whom you love more than anyone else in the universe, and who feels the same way about you.

And maybe you can even find that person here on earth.

For more on unattainable, or maybe attainable, love, please click here to read on.

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Posted in Sex Marriage Relationships
Lee & Annette Woofenden

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