What does Jesus Mean when He Says we Must be Born Again?

How Can I Be Reborn?

“No one can see the kingdom of God without being born again.”

What the heck does that mean? People who ask you, “Have you been born again?” think that they’ve got it all figured out . . . and that you probably don’t. But there’s no need to argue with them.

When Jesus spoke these words about being born again, he followed them up by talking about being “born of the spirit.” He was talking about spiritual rebirth.

What does that mean?

It means becoming a new person.

We all have our faults and flaws. Some of them are obvious, some are hidden. When we engage in them knowingly and intentionally, they are called “sins.” The only way we can become reborn as a new person is to stop engaging in wrong and hurtful desires, thoughts, and actions, and start living from new and better motives and views of life.

This requires a lifelong process of learning, self-examination, prayer, and a conscious effort to put our old self off and our new self on. Rebirth may start with the conversion experience that some people call being “born again,” but it then continues for the rest of our life.

Born Again?

One fine night about two thousand years ago a Pharisee named Nicodemus snuck out to see Jesus. Unlike most of the Jewish leaders, he liked Jesus. In fact he proceeded to butter him up with fine words about how Jesus truly was a teacher from God, and yada yada.

Jesus ignored the flattery. He had no time to waste, and got right into the advanced teaching:

“Very truly I tell you, no one can see the kingdom of God without being born again.”

Nicodemus asked, “How can anyone be born after becoming old? Can someone enter a second time into the mother’s womb to be born?”

“Very truly I tell you, no one can enter the kingdom of God without being born of water and the spirit. What is born of the flesh is flesh, but what is born of the spirit is spirit.” (John 3:3–6)

Clearly, Nicodemus didn’t know what Jesus was talking about. And Christians have been debating it ever since.

It should at least be clear that Jesus is talking about spiritual rebirth.

But what exactly is that?

Spiritual rebirth: a step-by-step guide

We could debate the opinions of various Christian churches. But you and I have no time to waste either. So let’s dig right into what Emanuel Swedenborg (1688–1772) says about how to be born again and become a new, spiritual person.

Swedenborg wrote extensively about what it means to be reborn. He also gave a quick, step-by-step rundown of what we have to do to be reborn:

If we want to be saved, we have to recognize our faults and regret them.

We recognize our faults when we learn what sorts of things are wrong, see them in ourselves, admit them, take responsibility for them, and criticize ourselves for them. When we do this in front of God, we are recognizing our faults.

We regret our faults when, once we have admitted them and asked with a humble heart for help in giving them up, we stop acting on them and start living a new life in harmony with the rules of kindness and faith. (New Jerusalem 159–161)

Let’s take a closer look at each of these steps.

1. Learn what is right and wrong

Before we can change our lives for the better, we have to know the difference between right and wrong. Otherwise, how would we know what’s broken and needs fixing?

This isn’t something we can just do once and be done. Learning the basics, such as the Ten Commandments, is a good start. But we need to keep taking more “advanced classes” throughout our lives. Why? Because we’re always facing new, different, deeper, and more complex issues in life, and each one requires new and deeper understanding of right and wrong.

We always need to engage our minds in seeking out new ideas, new understanding, new spiritual truth. We can do this in whatever way works best for us. The important thing is: never stop learning!

2. See what is wrong in ourselves

Once we’ve learned something about what’s right and wrong, it’s tempting to turn our critical gaze outward and see what’s wrong with everyone else. That’s easy! Unfortunately, we can’t fix anyone else. So it’s time to heed a variation on the beloved Serenity Prayer:

God grant me the serenity
to accept the people I cannot change
courage to change the person I can
and wisdom to know that it’s me.

Only when we start turning our critical eye on our own thoughts, feelings, words, and actions can our knowledge of right and wrong become effective. Before we can change for the better, we must identify what needs changing in ourselves.

Unfortunately, many of us think we’re just fine the way we are. I do my job. I’m polite to people. I’m a nice person. I don’t need that old repentance stuff!

If that’s what we think, we’re fooling ourselves. There are probably ten or twenty people out there who could easily identify several critical faults in us but are too polite (or too scared) to tell us.

So how can we identify what’s wrong in ourselves?

Swedenborg offers a helpful mind game: Think of what we would do if there would be no bad consequences. Would we slug that annoying person who works in the next cubicle? Slip some twenties out of the cash register at work? Put out a contract on our most hated politician?

Be honest!

Now we can begin to identify the evil impulses that our destructive words and actions come from.

One more thing: It does no good to pronounce a blanket condemnation on ourselves. “I’m an awful person!” “I’m a terrible sinner!” “What a jerk I am!” It may sound repentant, but it gives us nothing to work on.

We have to look for specific faults to tackle. A hot temper. A critical tongue. Sloppy work habits. Procrastination. Dishonesty. Pick one—not one that’s too hard at first—and make that your self-fixer-upper project. Success in this first project, even if it’s a small one, will give strength and confidence for more difficult battles to come.

3. Admit it

This one’s easy to describe, but hard to do. All it involves is saying: “Yes, that’s what I do!” “Yes, that’s how I feel!” “Yes, that’s how I think!”

But it’s not easy to admit that we’re at fault. The human mind is capable of amazing contortions to avoid seeing faults and bad habits in ourselves that are blindingly obvious to everyone else.

So this step is simple . . . and hard. Once we’ve identified something specific that’s wrong with ourselves, don’t turn our eyes away, but look it straight in the face. Admit that we’re feeling, thinking, and doing something that’s wrong.

4. Take responsibility for it and criticize ourselves for it

Now comes something even harder: taking personal responsibility for our wrongs.

This is where we are most likely to get derailed from our process of spiritual rebirth. We may be very honest about everything wrong with ourselves. “Yes, I’m a complaining, self-centered whiner.” But the next step is critical. We can either take responsibility for it, or we can blame it on someone else.

It would be a lot easier to say, “What do you expect? Look at how my parents raised me! Look at the way I have to live! Look at all those jerks I have to deal with every day! It’s not my fault!”

As long as we blame everyone else for our problems, we’ll keep right on living the same way. If it’s someone else’s fault, that person has to change, not me. And even if they did change, we’d just find someone else to blame. But the worst part is that when we blame other people or blame our rotten circumstances, we give away the power to change our own lives for the better.

It is only when we take responsibility for our own faults that we acquire the power to change them. Maybe our parents did do a number on us. Maybe life is unfair. But the way we are is now our problem, not theirs. And it’s our job to fix it.

Once we make the difficult but critical step of taking personal responsibility for our faults, we can get on with the task of changing ourselves for the better.

Isn’t this all kind of negative?

Why all the focus on evil? Why not just look for the positive? Isn’t looking at what’s wrong with ourselves just going to drag us down?

Not if our goal is to make things better.

Let’s say you’re driving in your car and you start hearing a noise. How will each approach work?

Look for the positive: Hmm, I hear a funny noise. But there are so many good things about this car. It gets so warm when I turn on the heat! And the windshield wipers do such a good job! No sense getting all negative and focusing on that noise that’s getting louder and louder. The car isn’t shaking—it’s got massaging seats! . . . Hey! Why did the car stop? Oh well. I’ll just get out and meet all those nice people who are honking their horns at me. They must really love me!

Identify the faults: Hmm, I hear a funny noise, and it’s getting worse. I’d better take the car to a mechanic and get it fixed. It might be expensive, but I can’t have the car breaking down on me.

We focus on our faults because “that’s where the money is.” In other words, we focus on our faults because that’s how we get the greatest benefits.

Don’t get me wrong. It’s good to see the good in ourselves too. After all, in the beginning God made everything in creation “very good” (Genesis 1:31). That includes us!

But by now we’ve lost our “new car smell.” The parts are beginning to wear out and break. No matter how much we “think positive,” we’re not perfect. And if we’re willing to see, identify, and deal with the parts of ourselves that aren’t working properly, we can get to work fixing ourselves so that our life won’t break down.

Why focus on the negative? Because identifying and dealing with the negative will make things a lot more positive for us.

We now return to our regularly scheduled step-by-step program.

5. Do all of this in front of God

This step may be the most important one of all. There are many reasons we could stop lying, cheating, stealing, and so on. We could do it to stay out of trouble, save our own skin, or make a profit based on a reputation for honesty and hard work.

But when we admit our wrongs in front of God, we’re saying, “I need to change not just because it’s good for me, but because it’s what God wants me to do. I need to stop doing what’s wrong simply because it’s wrong.”

If we change our behavior for self-centered and materialistic reasons, we’ll slip right back into those bad ways of living as soon as we decide that being honest, fair, and thoughtful is not a benefit to ourselves anymore.

But if we change our behavior out of a conviction that the way we were living is wrong, and that we must start living rightly according to God’s standards, then we can make a permanent change in our life.

6. Ask with a humble heart for help in giving it up

Maybe we can correct some of our simple bad habits by our own efforts. But when it comes to the deeper ones, we’re no match for them on our own. Praying to God involves recognizing that we’re not strong enough to overcome our deeper evils without God’s help.

We may also need to ask for help from trusted people around us. Close friends and family members, ministers, counselors, fellow recovering alcoholics or addicts, organized programs that address our particular issue . . . all of these can help give us the strength and guidance we need to stay the course until we have overcome.

Then, when we do overcome, we can remind ourselves that on our own we would have failed, but with the help of God and other people, we were able to change our lives for the better.

7. Stop acting on it

Are you with me so far?

Then it’s time to stop talking and get to work! It’s time to end our wrong behavior. Using all the tricks we can learn and all the help we can get, it’s time to face our bad habits . . . and stop doing them.

There are as many ways of doing this as there are people and personal faults. One way is to say to ourselves, “I know I want to do this right now, but it’s wrong, it’s against God’s commandments, and I’m not going to do it!” Yes, it will be a struggle. We will go through many trials and temptations. But it is possible to change.

8. Start living a new life in harmony with the rules of kindness and faith

If we are determined not to live the wrong way, we’ll have to replace it with living the right way. We must “cease to do evil; learn to do well” (Isaiah 1:16–17).

If we don’t replace our old destructive habits with new and better ways of living, we’ll fall into the trap that Jesus pointed out:

When an unclean spirit comes out of anyone, it goes through dry places seeking rest and does not find it. Then it says, “I will return to the house I left.” When it arrives, it finds the house unoccupied, swept clean, and put in order. Then it goes and takes with it seven other spirits more wicked than itself, and they go in and live there. And the final condition of that person is worse than the first. (Matthew 12:43–45)

When we finally succeed in evicting our old bad habits from our mental and spiritual house, we must bring in new good habits to take up residency there.

For example, if our old habit was to complain about everything, then in order to permanently break that habit we must replace it with a good habit of finding something positive to say about the person or situation we’re currently encountering. No matter what our particular wrong attitude or behavior is, there will be something positive to replace it. That’s how God made us.

A new self

The best replacement is the replacement self. As we go through this process with our various faults and flaws, we gradually find ourselves becoming a new person: more loving, more thoughtful, wiser, more helpful to others. In the process, we gain an inner joy and peace that we never knew before.

That’s what Jesus meant when he said, “You must be born again.”

This article is © 2013 by Lee Woofenden

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About

Lee Woofenden is an ordained minister, writer, editor, translator, and teacher. He enjoys taking spiritual insights from the Bible and the writings of Emanuel Swedenborg and putting them into plain English as guides for everyday life.

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Posted in Spiritual Growth, The Bible Re-Viewed
73 comments on “What does Jesus Mean when He Says we Must be Born Again?
  1. jahnosecret says:

    Thanks for another in-depth and enlightening article with much food for thought and further contemplation.

  2. gary says:

    Isn’t it odd that if Baptists and evangelicals are correct that their “born again experience” is the true and ONLY means of salvation, the term “born again” is only mentioned three times in the King James Bible? If “making a decision for Christ” is the only means of salvation, why doesn’t God mention it more often in his Word? Why only THREE times? Isn’t that REALLY, REALLY odd?

    Why is it that the Apostle Paul, the author of much of the New Testament, NEVER uses this term? Why is this term never used in the Book of Acts to describe the many mentioned Christian conversions? Why is this term only used by Jesus in a late night conversation with Nicodemus, and by Peter once in just one letter to Christians in Asia Minor?

    If you attend a Baptist/evangelical worship service what will you hear? You will hear this: “You must be born again: you must make a decision for Christ. You must ask Jesus into your heart. You must pray to God and ask him to forgive you of your sins, come into your heart, and be your Lord and Savior (the Sinner’s Prayer). You must be an older child or adult who has the mental capacity to make a decision to believe, to make a decision to repent, and to make a decision to ask Jesus into your heart.”

    It is very strange, however, that other than “you must be born again” none of this terminology is anywhere to be found in the Bible! Why do Baptists and evangelicals use this non-biblical terminology when discussing salvation?

    Maybe “accepting Christ into your heart” is NOT what being born again really means. Maybe…making a “decision” for Christ is NOT how God saves sinners!

    Gary
    Luther, Baptists, and Evangelicals

    • Lee says:

      Hi Gary,

      Thanks for stopping by, and for your thoughtful comment.

      As Jesus explained to Nicodemus, I do believe that we need to be born again, spiritually. This is not a simple matter of accepting Jesus–although that might be the beginning of a process of being born again. Being born again in the way Jesus teaches it involves a lifetime of putting away our old self and putting on a new self that is in the image and likeness of God (Genesis 1:26), so that we become “a new creation” in Christ (2 Corinthians 5:17).

      • gary says:

        But is there a specific time of being born again, or is it a life long process? Can a Christian ever know for sure that he is born again…right now?

        Five questions that Baptists and Evangelicals should ask themselves

        1. Does the Bible state that a sinner is capable of choosing righteousness/choosing God?

        The Bible states that the sinner must believe and repent, but are these actions initiated and performed by man of his own intellectual abilities, or are faith, belief, and repentance a part of the entire “package” of salvation? Are faith, belief, and repentance part of the “free gift”? Does God give you faith, belief and repentance at the moment he “quickens” you, or does he require you to make a decision that you want them first, and only then does he give them to you?

        2. Is there any passage of Scripture that describes salvation in the Baptist/evangelical terms of: “Accept Christ into your heart”, “Make a decision for Christ”, “Pray to God and ask him to forgive you of your sins, come into your heart, and be your Lord and Savior (the Sinner’s Prayer)”. Is it possible that being “born again” is something that God does at a time of his choosing, and not something that man decides to do at a time of his choosing? Is man an active participant in his salvation in that he cooperates with God in a decision to believe, or is man a passive participant in his salvation; God does ALL the work?

        3. Is the Bible a static collection of words or do the Words of God have real power, real supernatural power? How does the Bible describe the Word? Is it the meaning of the Word that has power or do the words themselves have supernatural power to “quicken” the souls of sinners, creating faith, belief and repentance?

        4. Does preaching the Word save everyone who hears it, or only the “predestined”, the “elect”, the “called”, the “appointed” will believe when they hear the Word at God’s appointed time?

        5. WHEN does the Bible, if read in its simple, plain, literal rendering, say that sins are forgiven and washed away?

        Gary
        Luther, Baptists, and Evangelicals

      • Lee says:

        Hi Gary,

        Thanks for your further comments. You raise some good questions. Perhaps I will take some of them up in future articles.

        For now, I will say that I believe both that “God does all the work” and we must also cooperate with God by “working out our own salvation with fear and trembling” (Philippians 2:12) as if it depended upon us alone. This is a fascinating and often confusing topic. A clear understanding of it helps to banish many common misconceptions about the teachings of the Bible. I look forward to posting an article about it in the future.

        Meanwhile, consider this: A garden hose does not do any of the work of sending the water through its coils. But if the nozzle on the hose is closed, no water will flow through it. Our “work” in salvation is opening up the “nozzle” of our hearts, minds, and lives so that God’s love and wisdom can flow through us, and cleanse us in the process.

        I will also say that I do not believe there is any such thing as predestination, unless it means “predestination” to heaven. God is not malicious, and will not create anyone predestined to eternal torment. If we go to hell, it must be because of our own choices and actions, not because God has created us to go there–something too horrible and cruel to attribute to God, who is love (1 John 4:8, 16).

      • Shirley says:

        I was not very good when I was a child, my parents told me not to steal but I did. Even though, I know this act was wrong but I still do it. Now it seems that everybody on earth knows. I regret all the actions, I believed my parents will always be there for me, but ……….

        • Lee says:

          Hi Shirley,

          Thanks for stopping by, and for your comment.

          Sooner or later our secret actions do come out into the open. Now that “everybody on earth knows,” perhaps it’s time for you to turn over a new leaf. It may not be easy. You may have to fight hard to overcome your ingrained habits. You may need to seek professional help in doing so. But it’s the right thing to do.

          And when you’ve started a new life and left the old one behind, you’ll feel much better about yourself and your life. I hope this article will help you to accomplish that.

  3. gary says:

    Thank you for your response, Lee.

    Your comment “we must cooperate with God” is troubling to me. Isn’t that what Catholics teach: man must assist/cooperate with God to complete his salvation?

    In the second chapters of Ephesians and Colossians, God says that the sinner is spiritually dead. A sinner may be able to choose what breakfast cereal to eat in the morning; what shirt to put on that day; who to marry; and what career to pursue, but the Bible clearly states in the above passages and in Romans that sinners hate God and do not seek righteousness. Sinners cannot choose God. Dead men cannot “turn on the faucet”.

    I would encourage you to read all the passages of Scripture that discuss these terms: “predestined”, “the elect”, “the called”, “the appointed”, and without any denominational bias, accept the plain, simple interpretation of God’s Word. God decides who will believe! Here is one passage:

    Acts 13:48 (ESV)

    And when the Gentiles heard this, they began rejoicing and glorifying the word of the Lord, and as many as were appointed to eternal life believed.

    You can’t get much clearer than that: God decides who will believe.

    The Calvinists will tell you that since God decides or appoints those who will believe, that means that God also chooses who will go to hell. This seems very logical and reasonable…however it is COMPLETELY unscriptural. God desires all to be saved. Christ died for all. God desires that no one perish. So, yes, God predestines the Elect, but man damns himself to hell. Doesn’t seem logical? Since when is God Almighty confined to work within human logic and reason? What sense/logic doesn’t it make to say that Christ is the Son of God, but yet eternal just as his Father. How can someone be a son without a beginning?? It doesn’t make sense. It defies logic and reason! So what! God said it so believe it.

    The same with the Doctrine of Predestination. God chooses who will go to heaven. Sinners send themselves to hell by rejecting Christ!

    Yes we cooperate with God to “work out our salvation” but that is AFTER we are already saved! That is the process of Sanctification. However, the work of Justification is 100% an act of God! The sinner does not assist or cooperate in becoming righteous. Christ, and Christ alone, makes the sinner righteous.

    • Lee says:

      Hi Gary,

      I’m aware that Calvin believed in and taught predestination. But I believe this is a misunderstanding of the teachings of the Bible. I do not think the Greek words for “predestination” mean what Calvin taught.

      In August I will write and post a piece on how God is everything and does everything, but we must still open ourselves up to God. It is for a talk I am giving. [Edit: The talk has a different focus than originally planned, but I’m linking to it anyway.]

      For now, I will simply say that if there is nothing we can do to cooperate with God, why does the Bible so often command us to believe in God and obey his commandments? If all is predestined, 90% of the Bible is meaningless. If all is predestined, it is useless for us to believe in God and live a good life, because God has already chosen who will go to heaven anyway, regardless of what we believe or do.

      This is not what the Bible teaches. I leave you with two Bible passages:

      From the Old Testament:

      See, I have set before you today life and prosperity, death and adversity. If you obey the commandments of the Lord your God that I am commanding you today, by loving the Lord your God, walking in his ways, and observing his commandments, decrees, and ordinances, then you shall live and become numerous, and the Lord your God will bless you in the land that you are entering to possess. But if your heart turns away and you do not hear, but are led astray to bow down to other gods and serve them, I declare to you today that you shall perish; you shall not live long in the land that you are crossing the Jordan to enter and possess. I call heaven and earth to witness against you today that I have set before you life and death, blessings and curses. Choose life so that you and your descendants may live, loving the Lord your God, obeying him, and holding fast to him; for that means life to you and length of days, so that you may live in the land that the Lord swore to give to your ancestors, to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob. (Deuteronomy 30:15-20)

      If all is predestined, why does God tell us that we have a choice between life and death?

      And from the New Testament:

      “When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on the throne of his glory. All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats, and he will put the sheep at his right hand and the goats at the left. Then the king will say to those at his right hand, ‘Come, you that are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world; for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me.’ Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry and gave you food, or thirsty and gave you something to drink? And when was it that we saw you a stranger and welcomed you, or naked and gave you clothing? And when was it that we saw you sick or in prison and visited you?’ And the king will answer them, ‘Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.’ Then he will say to those at his left hand, ‘You that are accursed, depart from me into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels; for I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, I was a stranger and you did not welcome me, naked and you did not give me clothing, sick and in prison and you did not visit me.’ Then they also will answer, ‘Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not take care of you?’ Then he will answer them, ‘Truly I tell you, just as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me.’ And these will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.” (Matthew 25:31-46)

      If we are not meant to do anything for our salvation, why does the Lord command us to do these good things for our neighbor, and tell us that those who do will go into eternal life, but those who do not will go away into eternal punishment?

      • gary says:

        The key to these passages is this: to WHOM is God speaking? Sinners or Believers?

        Believers very definitely have a free will to serve God. We can obey God or not. We can follow his commands or reject them and sin. That is why Lutherans do not believe in “eternal security”.

        Christians do good deeds after we are saved out of love for our Savior, not to help earn salvation. However, the believer who turns his back on God and lives a life of willful sin, may wake up one day in hell!

        No good works, indicates no faith, which may mean no salvation. Works don’t save us, but they are an indicator of true faith. “Faith without works is dead”.

      • Lee says:

        Hi Gary,

        I’m aware that this is official church doctrine in some of the Christian sects. But the Bible does not make these distinctions about who God is talking to. The Bible is addressed to everyone, saint and sinner alike. Read Isaiah 1:1-20. Then read Ezekiel 18. Then read Luke 15:1-7.

      • Daniel says:

        Think he was also talking about a inwards journey towards the soul ( a night of the dark soul) a journey of darkness in to the light of “God” aka being re-birthed. i’m sure it can happen many ways.

  4. isaiah41v10 says:

    You do not refer to the work of the Holy Spirit in writing God’s law on our hearts and giving us the power to change. We need to acknowledge our dependence on Christ – to abide in Him. When I came to Jesus and asked Him to be Lord of my life and admitted my complete failure to be a good person on my own, He started an astonishing process of transformation that is still continuing. I don’t really feel that I am the one instigating it, however, it is His leading me in ‘paths of righteousness. ‘ Our work is to believe in Him and cooperate with Him, the shepherd.

    • Lee says:

      Hi isaiah41v10,

      Very good points! Thank you. Although we may feel that we are doing it ourselves, it is really God–meaning Jesus Christ–doing the work from within. Once we realize this, and ask the Lord to change our heart, mind, and life, the transformation can go on the “fast track.” Those who are not Christian may not feel the presence of God in such a personal way. But I believe it is still the Lord God Jesus Christ who transforms all willing souls.

  5. carlosbaker says:

    god is good and those that do not belevin have mercy on them

  6. wesley hill says:

    I think being born again is the process of transformation brought on by the renewing of your mind or atleast this is where it starts. It is the enemies desire to create doubt in the believers mind to try and turn their heart. Jesus used clear unrefutable scripture to discredit the lies of doubt and temptation to sin. we should do the same. Unlike Christ who was born without sin we were born into sin. We all started out as sinners. For this reason I believe that being born again is the transformation in our minds and hearts to choose to feed our spirit man and turn against the desires of the flesh that we were born with. It is our spirit that is reborn as we choose to feed it instead of the worldly flesh.

  7. Santha Kumar says:

    Very good site.Thanks.

  8. Mary says:

    I enjoyed it. It makes lot of sense. I have a friend who is born again and I am a strong catholic. I believe in Jesus and Mary. My friend says I shouldnt worshipl all the idles. We don’t worship them, we asked to pray for us.

    • Lee says:

      Hi Mary,

      Thanks for stopping by, and for your comment. I’m glad you enjoyed the article!

      Since I am not from a Catholic background, I don’t have the same beliefs about Mary as you do. However, I do understand that for many Catholics, invoking Mary and the other saints gives a sense of spiritual connection with God.

      Still, my own belief is that the only one to pray to or to invoke is the Lord God Jesus Christ. He is able to hear and respond to all of our prayers without the need for any human, saint, or angel intermediaries.

      Godspeed on your spiritual journey!

  9. Lee says:

    To a reader named Jesse:

    About why I didn’t approve your comments to appear publicly, please see our Comments policy.

    You seem to be posting the same material in various places on the web, but I don’t see how your comments respond to anything I said in this article.

    It is also not clear to me from your comments exactly what point you are making. If it’s about unbelievers (non-Christians) going to heaven, you might want to read these articles here first:

    In that last article, see especially the sections starting with the heading, “What is Redemption?”

  10. Lee says:

    Hi Jesse,

    If you want to unsubscribe from the blog, just click on the “Unsubscribe” or “Manage Subscriptions” link on any email from the blog. You must do this yourself. I do not have the ability to unsubscribe readers.

  11. Robert says:

    Lee. I am in agreement with your teaching on this blog. I would like to endorse what you say regarding predestination. In Deuteronomy. The Lord sets before us the choice between Blessings and curses. In chapter 30.15. It states God speaking. See l have set before you, this day life and good and death and evil. Therefore we have a choice. It is repeated in v.19 with the Lord urging us to choose life.

    • Lee says:

      Hi Robert,

      Thanks for stopping by, and for your comment. Yes, if we don’t have any choice, but everything is predetermined, then this life is meaningless. However, the Bible makes it very clear in many places that we do have a choice.

  12. uafalck says:

    Lee,

    I am a junkie and ultimately realized that much of my recurring cycle of addiction/sin is due to my spirit not coming to terms with the status of my soul. Once the soul starts to die as a result of sin/addiction, the spirit starts to cry out in fear. As an addict, we persist in our ways because our sense of dread becomes overbearing and the lure of sin overtakes us over and over, because why not after you believe you are condemned. But this is the work of the evil one. If you stop evil, God will open the way for you.

    Thanks for your faith in God and biblical wisdom. It is a big comfort. Blessings.

    Adam

    • Lee says:

      Hi Adam,

      Thanks for stopping by, and for your comment. Yes, I have long thought that people resort to various addictions due largely to their being a serious emptiness of soul, or inability or unwillingness to face issues that are essentially spiritual, and covering that over with various substances and activities that then start a vicious cycle, otherwise known as an addiction. I’m glad the articles here are helping you. Annette and I wish you all the best in moving forward, however much struggle it may be, toward a healthier spiritual and physical life.

  13. Susan says:

    Hi Gary
    I just read your piece online about ” spiritual insights for every day life ”
    Do you have a book out that goes more into depth about this?
    Thank you for your time

    • Lee says:

      Hi Susan,

      Thanks for stopping by, and for your comment.

      Did you mean to address your comment to me? If so, what subjects are you particularly interested in?

  14. Van says:

    I can’t thank you enough for this study. It has really made me face some hurdles that I need to overcome in my Walk with the Lord. I will be attending and speaking at my church women’s retreat in a few weeks. It’s a small Body, but can I share some of your concepts with them also? Thanks again for Blessing me!

    • Lee says:

      Hi Van,

      Thanks for stopping by, and for your comment. Yes, it would be fine to share these ideas around as you see fit and are moved to do so.

      Godspeed on your spiritual journey!

  15. NGARURU TEETAO says:

    Thanks so much for the explanation of the word REBORN and especially given us some ideas to expand our understanding about the reborn in spirit. Thanks so much and God will bless you always.

    • Lee says:

      Hi NGARURU TEETAO,

      Thanks for stopping by, and for your kind words. I’m glad this article was enlightening for you. Godspeed on your spiritual journey!

  16. Jonathan C,,,, says:

    I had a real spiritual rebirth back in 1988 it was like nothing Iv ever experienced in my life.I confessed all my sins as well as these sins i sail others comment..I did this with out control..after confessing all my sin .. your not going to be leave this I told the future everything I said would happen happened in the years to come, on Sunday after all that I filled a cup with all the things I wanted in my life then I laid down to sleep I felt myself being reborn and awoke screaming like a new born baby everything was new to me I even smelt like a new born baby.. Iv been nothing but persecuted and exploited by the people around,,be leave it or not Iv told the future several times scene then Iv been held against my will twice and force to tell the future because the people around me want to exsplote me and profit from the gifts God gave me,,, Why did God do this to me why ,,, fore over 20 some year Iv gotten no answers. whats going on.. theirs a lot more to my story be leave it are not.

    • Lee says:

      Hi Jonathan,

      Thanks for stopping by, and for telling your story.

      This is why Jesus said:

      See, I am sending you out like sheep into the midst of wolves; so be wise as serpents and innocent as doves. (Matthew 10:16)

      and:

      Do not give what is holy to dogs; and do not throw your pearls before swine, or they will trample them under foot and turn and maul you. (Matthew 7:6)

      Any spiritual gifts you may have, if they become known to greedy and unscrupulous people, will be used by them, not for good, but to accomplish their selfish and greedy purposes. And the world is full of greedy and unscrupulous people. So as hard as it may be not to shout your knowledge and insight from the rooftops, when it comes to gifts such as the ones you describe, it is necessary to keep them close to you, and be very careful about whom you reveal them to. This is also why at various times Jesus instructed people he had healed not to tell anyone about it.

      If God gave you these gifts, then you need to develop the strength of character to use and express them only in special circumstances when you see that some good can come from it. If you are well-known where you live for having these gifts, then it might be necessary to move to a new place far away, and start a new life. This time keep your gifts close to the vest. And even if you know that what you are seeing can be of help to someone, rather than talking about it, take the action necessary to render that help. As the saying goes, actions speak louder than words—and often accomplish more.

      I hope these thoughts are helpful to you.

      • Jonathan C,,,, says:

        yes very helpful and my gifts are known by very greedy people Iv had to have law enforcement called in once and have judgement put against people after I was held against my will and forced to use them … I have another gift were I can tell no lies. my eyes shift back and forth if what I say is not true even if I know what im saying is true are not…like future events if the news were to say it will rain tomorrow and I was to spread the word that it would rain tomorrow if my eyes went back and forth it would not rain my eyes are never wrong. I have uncontrollably body jesters as well if someone was to ask me were thay were going and my finger were to shift up it would be good but if it shifted down not so good..if you were to ask me were some one are something is my eyes and body would point that direction with out thought..

        • Lee says:

          Hi Jonathan,

          I’m glad my thoughts are helpful to you.

          All of the things you describe are very possible based on our connection with the spiritual world, which most of us are unaware of most of the time. And your experience is an example of just why God doesn’t normally allow us any awareness of our connection with the spiritual world while we are still living here on earth. As you have experienced for yourself, in this materialistic and greedy age, having that spiritual connection can be a curse just as much as a blessing.

  17. Jonathan C,,,, says:

    so true. sometimes it fills like a curse…

  18. preacher2016 says:

    Hi Lee, just thought i would offer a little help on being born again.

    BORN AGAIN (101)

    There’s only one baptism.

    ONE LORD, …Jesus
    ONE FAITH…..Believe in Him
    ONE BAPTISM…..Water and Spirit (Born again)!! John 3:5
    Acts 2:38

    The Holy Ghost indwells a new believer…………

    When he is water baptized, ( identifies with the death, burial and resurrection of JESUS,) and (puts on Christ), and COMES UP OUT OF THE WATER, ( HE RECEIVES THE HOLY GHOST, AND REMISSION OF SINS)…..”BORN AGAIN”, just like Jesus example, and Philip ,and the enuch did, and many others and……. WHY, …….JESUS COMMANDED IT. Matt.28:19.

    CHRISTIAN LIVING AND SERVICE.
    Man must take up his cross daily and follow Jesus.
    He must follow the commands of Jesus. Jn. 14:25, Mark 12:30,31.
    He must present his body a living sacrifice.
    He must produce fruits of holiness without which, no man shall see God.

    Enjoy all the articles. Thanks again.

    • Lee says:

      Hi preacher2016,

      Thanks for stopping by, and for the basics on baptism. I’m glad you’re enjoying the articles here!

      If you decide to stick around and share more of your thoughts, please take a look at our comments policy. I usually delete comments with too much in ALL CAPS because it looks like a lot of SHOUTING. But I’ll let this one slide because the thoughts are good.

      Meanwhile, Godspeed on your spiritual journey!

  19. Robert says:

    Dear Lee,

    Since I was raised in the Eastern Orthodox Christian tradition your analysis of what it means to be born again is in complete agreement with what our ancient church teaches. Faith and works are like time and space, they only have meaning as a union. As space is filled with time, faith is filled with works. Have you studied the teachings of the Eastern Orthodox ?

    Perhaps what I find most disturbing is the negative impact on society, for more than 1000 years since Luther and Calvin, of generation after generation of children falsely taught that Jesus did not make clear that faith without good works is not only wrong thinking, but that it is a violation of the commandments of God and his commandment that we love each other, an action of good work. Perhaps such false thinking is the root of the evil of politics, e.g., trusting in leaders who claim by words to be Christian, but not born again into the spirit of faith filled by good works ?

    Robert

    • Lee says:

      Hi Robert,

      Thanks for stopping by, and for your thoughts and questionings.

      Of the three largest branches of Christianity, the Orthodox is the closest to my own (Swedenborgian) beliefs when it comes to salvation and the life that leads to heaven. Ironically, it is also the one I know least about, primarily because I live in the West, where Catholicism and Protestantism are dominant. Of course, I do also have some major differences with Orthodox belief, the prime one being that I do not accept the Trinity of Persons doctrine shared by the Orthodox, Catholic, and Protestant branches of Christianity. But I’ve often said that if someone were to hold a gun to my head and demand that I pick one of those three to associate with, it would be the Orthodox, no question.

      My general view of traditional Christianity is that with each major schism, the dominant or schismatic branch receded farther and farther from the truth taught in the Bible.

      Before the Great Schism of 1054, in which Eastern and Western Christianity separated from one another, there was no such thing as a satisfaction theory of atonement. The general belief was that Christ had defeated the power of the Devil, and thus saved us from the Devil’s power, and gave us the power (which still remained his) to defeat the Devil in our own lives as well. As I understand it, this is still the general teaching about redemption and salvation in Orthodox Christianity.

      Soon after the Great Schism, Anselm developed satisfaction theory within Catholicism, and Aquinas’s further development of it became the official doctrine of salvation in Catholicism. The general idea of Catholic satisfaction theory is that Christ’s death satisfied the requirements of God’s justice, and that this is how Christ saved us. It’s a terribly false, non-biblical doctrine that was never adopted in Orthodox Christianity. In essence, it asserts that Christ saved us from God rather than saving us from the Devil.

      And five hundred years later, when Protestantism broke off from Catholicism, the Anselm-Aquinas satisfaction theory became the basis for Protestant penal substitution theory and justification by faith alone, in which Christ satisfied God’s wrath by taking the punishment for our sin, and this is how Christ saved us. This is an even more terribly false, non-biblical doctrine that has completely twisted and destroyed what Jesus Christ, his Apostles, and all of the lawgivers and prophets of the Bible taught. It makes God out to be an insane, bloodthirsty tyrant rather than a God of love, mercy, and compassion.

      So although I don’t see Orthodox Christianity as having a fully biblical and Christian doctrine (that ceased when the Trinity of Persons was developed by human theologians and officially adopted in the institutional Christian Church starting with the Council of Nicaea in 325 AD), I do see Orthodox Christianity as being closer to true, original Christian teachings than any of the other major branches of Christianity.

      That’s especially so in the critical area of what we must believe and do in order to be saved and go to heaven. That’s where the rubber hits the road in Christian belief and practice. And that’s why, if I didn’t have a belief that I think is even closer to the true biblical Christianity that Jesus Christ himself taught, I would choose Orthodox Christianity over the other major branches of Christianity.

      And yes, I do think that the Protestant faith-alone teaching has done tremendous damage.

      Among other things, yes, I think it has made people susceptible to paying more attention to what people say than to what they do in politics and in every other area of life. Personally, I don’t pay much attention to what politicians say. They will say anything they need to say to get elected. I pay attention to what they do once they get elected. And quite often it has little to do with what they said on the campaign trail. In fact, quite often once they get into office they do the exact opposite of what they promised on the campaign trail. And yet, because the main publicity is focused on what they said during the campaign, and since they continue to give those promises lip service even while they are busily doing the opposite once in office, people continue to believe that they are actually doing what they said they would do.

      I could give many examples of famous politicians, both on the right and on the left, who did not do what they promised, and yet people still believe that they did, and practically worship them based on these false ideas of who they were and what they did. However this is a spiritual blog, not a political blog, so I won’t get into that. You can probably come up with plenty of your own examples.

      Meanwhile, in similar fashion in the religious realm, doctrines such as faith alone and satisfaction theory, not to mention the Trinity of Persons, continue to pose as “Christianity,” and several billion people continue to believe that that’s what’s taught in the Bible, when the Bible teaches no such thing.

      And I do think that the cognitive dissonance and the confusion even in basic reading comprehension that is induced upon millions of people when their churches and preachers repeatedly tell them that the Bible teaches doctrines that are in fact the opposite of what the Bible teaches makes it easier for people not to pay any attention to what’s actually happening in the political and social realms, but just to believe whatever they’re told by their political and social leaders.

      Back to religion, it boggles my mind that although the only passage in the Bible that even mentions faith alone (James 2:24) explicitly rejects it, and the whole Bible teaches that in order to be saved we must love God and our neighbor through good works and active service to our fellow human beings, millions of Protestants—even ones that regularly read the Bible—continue to think that faith alone is the key doctrine of salvation in the Bible. It’s as though someone has fitted them with goggles that make them unable to read and understand anything the Bible says.

      I have found that when Protestants are presented with the plain teachings of the Bible about salvation, in the Bible’s own words, they consistently reject them and explain them away, sticking doggedly to the teachings of Luther and Calvin even when the Bible flatly rejects them. And I find that truly astounding.

      The Bible is crystal clear from beginning to end that what we do is the critical element, and that what we believe, or say we believe, has meaning only if it is expressed in what we do. Luther’s doctrine of justification by faith alone is entirely outside the pale of biblical and Christian truth. On that, see my recent post:
      The Extreme Weakness of Faith Alone and Penal Substitution

      And about the real damage done by false beliefs (even if they don’t by themselves keep people out of heaven), see:
      Does Doctrine Matter? Why is it Important to Believe the Right Thing?

      I could say much more in response to your good thoughts, but this has already become a whole essay of its own, so I’ll cease and desist for now. In general, yes, I think very much along the lines you have suggested, even if I do have some real differences with Orthodox beliefs as well.

  20. roy firus says:

    My definition to be ” Born Again.”1.Believe in God. 2.Admit your sins to yourself and to God and honestly regret them..3.Ask God to forgive you for your sins.4.Ask God for the strength to stop sinning.5.As far as possible apologize to and make amends to those people whom you have sinned against.6.Realize in order for your sins to be forgiven -you must forgive those who have sinned against you .Forgive me if I am wrong but did you mention numbers 3 and 5 or do you not believe that they are necessary ? Take care and God Bless !

    • Lee says:

      Hi Roy,

      Thanks for stopping by, and for your comments.

      I’m guessing that your “Born Again” list draws on the Bible and the Twelve Steps. It looks like a workable system to me. There is more than one road to Jerusalem.

      About your number 3, yes, it’s good to ask God for forgiveness, not because otherwise God won’t forgive us, but because asking for it makes us more receptive to the forgiveness that God has already given us. And yes, your number 5 is good to do as well.

      If I could add a number 7 to your list, it would be to do what is good and right as best we can in every situation. Repenting from our sins and being forgiven has meaning and purpose only if we then go on to live a good life of love and service to our fellow human beings, as the Lord has commanded us to do.

  21. Roy Firus says:

    Thank-you again for your comments.In the Lord’s prayer given to us by Jesus -we are told to ask God to forgive us of our sins -so I do not understand it when you state : ” not because otherwise God won’t forgive us, but because asking for it makes us more receptive to the forgiveness that God has already given us.” How is this possibile when Jesus himself tells us to ask God to forgive us of our sins and where does it say in the Bible that he has already forgiven us ? Respectfully yours –

    • Lee says:

      Hi Roy,

      Not every truth is stated explicitly in the Bible. The Bible is focused on our eternal salvation. What we need to know, believe, and do to be saved is stated plainly, and multiple times, in the Bible. Other things that are not so critical for our salvation are not necessarily stated explicitly, though many of them can be reasonably inferred.

      It is very common for God to know and be ready to act, but to wait for us to come to knowledge and acceptance before acting, so as not to force us, but to lead us in freedom. For example, in the story of the Fall of Humankind in Genesis 3, after Adam and Eve have eaten from the forbidden tree, God asks them where they are (verse 9). Did God not know where they were? Then God asks:

      Who told you that you were naked? Have you eaten from the tree of which I commanded you not to eat? (Genesis 3:11)

      Did God not know what was going on, so that God had to ask a human being in order to find out?

      No. God was well aware of everything that had happened. God was asking in order to elicit from Adam and Eve an account and confession of what they had done, so that they could confront it and learn the consequences of their actions. (See: “Curses or Consequences: Did God Really Curse Adam and Eve?”)

      When it comes to prayer, is the purpose of prayer to change God’s mind? When we pray for forgiveness, is it because we’re trying to change God’s mind so that instead of condemning us, God will forgive us instead? While this kind of thinking may work for ordinary folks who don’t have a very deep understanding of the nature of God, upon closer examination it makes no sense. God’s mind is infinite and eternal; God does not change his mind:

      God is not a human being, that he should lie,
      or a mortal, that he should change his mind.
      Has he promised, and will he not do it?
      Has he spoken, and will he not fulfill it? (Numbers 23:19)

      The idea that in praying for forgiveness we are trying to change God’s mind so that God will forgive us instead of condemning us is for simple-minded people who don’t think very deeply about God and spirit. The reality is that God already forgives us, and is only waiting for us to ask for forgiveness so that we will be receptive to God’s forgiveness. There are many scriptures that suggest this, even if they don’t state it explicitly. For example:

      And he passed in front of Moses, proclaiming, “The Lord, the Lord, the compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness, maintaining love to thousands, and forgiving wickedness, rebellion and sin. Yet he does not leave the guilty unpunished.” (Exodus 34:6–7, italics added)

      Here God is presented as a broadly loving and forgiving God, who, however, does not leave the guilty unpunished. It doesn’t say God doesn’t forgive the guilty. Only that God will punish the guilty. Similarly, we may forgive someone who has robbed us, but still press charges because we want to make sure that the guilty person doesn’t victimize others.

      And:

      For you, O Lord, are good and forgiving,
      abounding in steadfast love to all who call on you. (Psalm 86:5)

      Here once again God is presented as good and forgiving and abounding in love. It does seem to say that God’s forgiveness depends upon our calling upon God, but that, once again, is according to the human appearance. Does it really make sense that God won’t forgive us unless we ask for it, and that otherwise God will condemn us?

      And:

      Then Peter came to Jesus and asked, “Lord, how many times shall I forgive my brother or sister who sins against me? Up to seven times?”

      Jesus answered, “I tell you, not seven times, but seventy-seven times [or: seventy times seven times].” (Matthew 19:21–22)

      Here Jesus essentially tells Peter to forgive an unlimited number of times. (It would be silly to think that he means we’re supposed to count up to seventy-seven, or seventy times seven, times forgiving someone, and then stop forgiving him or her.) So Jesus presents a picture of unlimited and unconditional forgiveness as the ideal. And would God be anything less than the ideal?

      I could go on. Besides passages about how forgiving God is, there are also passages that speak of God loving us even when we are sinners, of loving God’s enemies and sending the sun and rain on both the righteous and the unrighteous, and so on. It all adds up to a picture of God loving us and forgiving us whether we are good or evil, righteous or sinful.

      If God’s love and forgiveness is constant, as it must be, since God is unchanging, then the only reason the Lord’s Prayer would have us ask God for forgiveness is to make us more receptive to the forgiveness that God already feels toward us, and also to put a similar spirit of forgiveness of others in our own heart.

  22. Roy Firus says:

    Although I understand your point and to some extent can even agree with it -I still believe it is vitally important to ask God to forgive you of your sins not only in the Lords Prayer but in individual sins as they occur because Jesus tells us to. (It is also I believe a vital part of true repentence.) The real reason(s ) why this is so extremely important will have to wait until we meet Him and ask ! But I must tell you that your statement : “…though many of them can be reasonably inferred ” is a statement I have both heard and read countless times from Pastors trying to justify their completely opposite viewpoints ! 🙂 I also must tell you Pastor that although I am personally not offended ( if I was I would definitely mention it ! ) I really believe that you should really think twice before using terms such as :…” is for simple-minded people who don’t think very deeply about God and spirit.” I absolutely know people who would be definitely offended by being referred to in this manner. .This term also conveys an air of superiority .But then again that is just my opinion.Thank-you for your comments.

    • Lee says:

      Hi Roy,

      Yes, it’s important to ask for forgiveness. Otherwise we wouldn’t have been commanded to do so.

      And yes, I’m aware that Christians of all stripes claim that their doctrines can be inferred from the Bible even if they’re not explicitly stated there. However:

      1. I make a distinction between essential doctrines, which are what we need to know, believe, and do in order to be saved, and non-essential doctrines, which, in general, are everything else. When it comes to essential doctrines, I believe that if they’re not stated clearly and explicitly in the plain, literal sense of the Bible, then they have no claim to being essential Christian doctrine.

      For example, the Bible simply never says that we are saved or justified by faith alone, but explicitly rejects this. Justification by faith alone therefore cannot be considered an essential Christian doctrine. Ditto for the Trinity of Persons, original sin, the satisfaction theory of atonement, penal substitution, and so on. These doctrines fail the test for being essential Christian doctrine because they are not stated in the plain, literal sense of the Bible.

      As for other doctrines that are not essential to our salvation, the Bible often is not so explicit about these, and we must draw inferences. It is not essential to our salvation to believe that God forgives us even before we ask. That’s why I am content to let that one be drawn on inference, and not require that it be stated explicitly in the Bible.

      2. When a person’s or church’s key doctrines are false, any interpretations and inferences drawn from the Bible will also be false—or if they are true, they will be used to support false doctrine, and therefore will be themselves falsified. The main branches and denominations of Christianity have set up as essential doctrine beliefs that are not taught in the Bible explicitly, if at all, and some of them are explicitly rejected in the Bible. Therefore their interpretations of the Bible are also fallacious and false.

      Though I believe that people of all religions can be saved even if they adhere to false doctrines, I am not a doctrinal relativist. I believe that some doctrines are true, and other doctrines are false. And once again, the test of true essential Christian doctrine is whether it is stated clearly in the plain, literal sense of the Bible. For a related article see:
      Does Doctrine Matter? Why is it Important to Believe the Right Thing?

      And yes, I’m aware that speaking of “simple-minded people” is not politically correct, and may be offensive to some. If I had thought you were in that category, I would not have used that term. However, though I do have some concern for people’s sensibilities, I am also inclined not to beat around the bush, but to call a spade a spade.

      The fact of the matter is that there are many people on this earth who are generally uneducated non-intellectuals. These make up the great masses of blue collar workers, which are essential to the functioning of society, and which do not require advanced education or fancy thinking capabilities to do their work and live their lives. I have great respect for people who get up in the morning and keep the machinery of our world running. A world full of intellectuals would fall apart very quickly.

      However, such people also often fall prey to all sorts of irrational and fallacious religious beliefs that they innocently accept because “smart people” teach it to them, and they don’t have the ability to analyze what they are being taught and sleuth out its fallacies and falsities. That’s why, though I vehemently disagree with the doctrines of the vast bulk of Christianity, I don’t blame ordinary Christians for that. I blame their leaders, who could know better, but who are too intellectually lazy or too indoctrinated or too concerned about their own reputation, power, and material comfort to do the work of learning the truth and teaching it to their people.

      • Zora says:

        Embodying a spirit of oneness leads to unity rather than fission. Ram Dass wrote, “ We are all just walking each other home. “

  23. Duane Armitage says:

    Lee
    Ok here is my conundrum re: salvation. I know you have said we dont have to be “perfect,” and in theory this makes sense, but when practically pushed, it sounds like we in fact do have to be, given that habitual sin or sin one is addicted to etc. is often an indication of bad intentions (as you say). Do you see my question here? In other words, how can a Christian have the joy of salvation and knowing the LORD, without being sinless?
    Thank you!
    Duane

    • Lee says:

      Hi Duane,

      In Protestant Christianity especially, there is a fixation on “perfection” that has, unfortunately, infected many people even if they aren’t card-carrying Protestants. In practice, “perfection” often does become a litmus test in Evangelical circles. People who don’t achieve “perfection” in some area of behavior deemed critical by said Evangelicals are consigned to the broad and slippery slope down to hell. In this way, in practice, these modern-day Pharisees bind heavy burdens, hard to be borne, on their followers, often hypocritically not living a “perfect” life themselves. The result is all sorts of shame, hopelessness, apostasy, and so on, since no real, flesh-and-blood human being is capable of achieving the required “perfection.”

      However, in Protestant doctrine, the “perfection” requirement has a very different function. Its function is to establish that indeed, it is impossible for any human being to meet the requirements of “the law” as given in the Bible. And this, it is believed, means that good works and even repentance from sin have nothing to do with salvation, which is supposedly “by grace alone, through faith alone” (something the Bible never says). Recognizing that we are incapable of perfectly following God’s commandments, which is wrongly posited as a biblical requirement for salvation, is supposed to induce to throw ourselves on the mercy of Christ, profess our faith that he died to pay the penalty for our sins, and thereby be saved.

      It is an unbiblical, fallacious, and perverse doctrine that has wreaked havoc on the lives of millions of Christians. Today, many of the people affected by this false doctrine are abandoning Christianity altogether, and becoming agnostics and atheists, or heading into Eastern and New Age religions.

      The reality is that nowhere does the Bible say that if we are not perfect, we are unsaved and will go to hell. To take up two examples commonly cited by Protestants as saying this:

      Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect. (Matthew 5:48)

      However, the Greek word commonly translated “perfect” here has more the sense of being complete. In other words, Jesus is saying: Don’t settle for externalities and half-measures. Devote your entire life, both inside and out, to God; and don’t stop halfway, but complete the full course of spiritual rebirth.

      For whoever keeps the whole law but fails in one point has become accountable for all of it. (James 2:10)

      However, if we read this verse in context, based on the examples James gives, it is clear that he is using “the Law” here in the narrowest biblical sense of that word as meaning “the Ten Commandments,” and is saying that if we fail in one “point” of the Ten Commandments, meaning we (willfully) break one of the commandments, we have broken them all. The reason for this is that if we think we can break any of the Ten Commandments with impunity, then we have no respect for the Ten Commandments as a whole, and we will feel perfectly justified in breaking any of the others if it seems advantageous to us at the time. James does not mean that if we fail to tithe our mint and cumin, we are just as guilty as if we had murdered or committed adultery, and are black with sin and headed straight to hell.

      The whole idea that God would give us a set of laws that we are incapable of keeping just to prove our incompetence is a blasphemous smear on the justice, mercy, and good name of God. If I had all the time in the world, I would delve into the real meaning of the statements in Paul that are misinterpreted by Protestants to mean this.

      Biblically, there is no warrant whatsoever for the Protestant fallacy that God will accept only perfection. God, in fact, will spare us if God can find the least bit of redeeming good in us. For an example of this tremendously forgiving and compassionate God, read the beautiful and poignant story of Abraham pleading for Sodom in Genesis 18:16–33. Even in the literal meaning it is plain that God will not destroy even if there is some little bit of good in the city. In the spiritual meaning, the message is the same, only related to each individual: If God can find the slightest left-over will for good in us, even if our life is a complete mess, God is willing and able to save us from hell, and will save us from hell.

      The other error involved in the “salvation requires perfection” fallacy is the idea that salvation is like a toggle switch. One moment you’re damned, the next moment you’re saved. And this “salvation” comes, so the satisfaction theory of atonement goes, when we accept that Christ has died in our place (“have faith in Christ”) whereupon Christ’s righteousness is magically “imputed” to us so that even though in reality we are still sinners, when God the Father looks at us, he sees only the righteousness of Christ, which covers the filthy rags of our sin with a beautiful garment of salvation. God, it seems, has such shallow vision that he looks only at the clothing, and not even at the skin full of pus and sores, let alone at the heart, as the Bible assures us he does (1 Samuel 16:7).

      But salvation is not an instantaneous process, any more than being born is an instantaneous process. Jesus says that we must be “born again” in order to have eternal life. Physical birth requires nine months of gestation in the womb, followed by twenty or so years of growing to adulthood. Spiritual rebirth is just as long and involved a process. What Catholics and Protestants call “being saved” is actually the point of conversion. Or in ordinary language, it is the point at which we turn around from heading toward hell to heading toward heaven. At that point, we are likely still in hell spiritually. Our life, both external and internal, is a complete broken mess. However, instead of following the path that leads deeper into hell, we have now turned around, and have begun the journey out of hell, and toward heaven. As long as we continue on that path, in that direction, even if we don’t quite make it to heaven here on earth, we will continue on the same trajectory in the afterlife, and will find our way to heaven. Salvation is not a place but a direction and a process.

      In general, that process starts at the bottom and works its way up. Another way of saying this is that it starts with reforming our outward behavior, then moves to reforming our inner thoughts and attitudes, and finally moves to reforming our loves and motives. (It also works from the inside out, but that’s another discussion.)

      If we are engaged in some habitual sin, especially if it involves breaking the Ten Commandments, that is where our first battles as a being born again Christian must start. We’ve got to get our outward life in order. We have to stop stealing, committing adultery, murdering, lying, and so on.

      Addiction is a slippery one. In itself it is not really a sin. Rather, it is either an illness or a result of habitually giving in to sin. This, also, is a huge subject that would take too much time to delve into here. But as destructive as addiction is, it is not actual sin, but rather “slavery to sin” (John 8:34). In other words, once again, it is the bondage that results from sin, not sin itself (if, as I said, it isn’t the result of an illness, physical or mental).

      Back to the point, when we are “working out our salvation with fear and trembling” (Philippians 2:12), we are not just throwing ourselves upon the mercy of God and declaring our faith, but are actually working out our salvation by working to overcome our habitual evils and sins, starting with the behavioral ones. And if we are truly willing to do the work of salvation, God will give us the strength to achieve victory.

      This may, indeed, involve being willing to accept help from our fellow human beings, including various programs and such. We are not meant to be islands unto ourselves. Part of God’s salvation is recognizing that by ourselves we are not strong enough, and embedding ourselves in the community of people who are also working out their own salvation with fear and trembling. Heaven is not some lonely beatific vision of God, but a community of angels who gladly serve one another’s needs, and accept the help and service of their fellow angels. That is the pattern and community we are meant to develop here on earth as well, as part of our path toward and practice for heaven.

      And yes, our intentions are key. This is why regeneration, or being born again, is also from the inside out. It is our inner intention to follow God’s way instead of our own way that leads us to engage in the hard work of reforming ourselves from the outside in. And if those intentions are real, and not just daydreaming and self-deception, or worse yet, hypocrisy, we will do that work every day of our lives.

      Will we ever reach perfection?

      No, we will not:

      What are mortals, that they could be pure,
      or those born of woman, that they could be righteous?
      If God places no trust in his holy ones,
      if even the heavens are not pure in his eyes,
      how much less mortals, who are vile and corrupt,
      who drink up evil like water! (Job 15:14–16, emphasis added)

      Swedenborg also tells us explicitly that there is no time at which we can say, “I am now perfect” (see Arcana Coelestia #894). Rather, even every angel is always moving toward perfection—which is moving toward God—to all eternity. The same is true of us here on earth if we have committed our lives to moving toward God, even if we are still “vile and corrupt, and drink up evil like water.”

      God does not require us to be perfect in order to be saved and become angels. Only that, out of love for God and the neighbor, we keep on doing the work of shunning and ceasing our evil behaviors, thoughts, and desires because they are sins against God, and in their place committing ourselves to living a life of humble love and service to our fellow human beings—which, Jesus tells us, means that we are doing these very same things for him (Matthew 25:31–46).

      • Duane Armitage says:

        Lee,
        Thank you for that lengthy response. I really appreciate your taking the time and energy to answer my questions. It was most helpful and that makes a lot of sense what you said. All you said about perfection seems to make sense to me. So the question then is, to follow your point about conversation, if a person is in hell and covert and switch paths (so to speak) at what point are they out of hell and into heaven? And, furthermore, at what point can one have joy and hope that they will see God, go to heaven, etc.? Also, what if a person were to die right after being converted???

        • Lee says:

          Hi Duane,

          You’re welcome. To be a bit more brief this time:

          I would say that people who are on the path toward heaven are out of hell and into heaven when they have made significant progress toward reforming their outward behavior, treating their fellow human beings with some measure of honesty, respect, and integrity, and engaging in some sort of useful service to their fellow human beings for its own sake, and not just for personal benefit. This would be the minimum level of spiritual development required to land a person in the lowest, “natural” heaven.

          About dying right after conversion, I believe such a scenario is relatively rare. God avoids doing that to us if at all possible.

          Most “deathbed conversions” are spurious, because the person involved is acting out of a fear of hell and damnation rather than out of a sincere desire to change and become a better person. After death, Swedenborg says, these people soon return to their old evil life.

          Also, the scheme of indulging in sin for an entire lifetime and then “accepting Jesus” just before death is an ineffective and failed stratagem. Such people have no interest in the life of heaven. They only want to avoid punishment for their wicked life. This will have the same result as conversion out of fear as death approaches. Such people will revert back to their faithless and evil ways shortly after they wake up on the other side, because that is what’s in their heart.

          However, it remains true that as long as people genuinely turn around in spirit before death, they are headed toward heaven, not hell, and will find their eternal home in heaven. The quintessential biblical case of this is the thief on the cross. Even here, though, I believe the thief was already involved in a process of recognizing that he had acted wrongly, which is an inner act of repentance, whether or not he was able to begin a new life in action. For more on that story, please see:

          Are We Saved in an Instant? How was the Thief on the Cross Saved?

        • Duane Armitage says:

          I love it Lee. Awesome. What about really tough sins rooted in biological impulses e.g. the sex drive. This one seems like, for a lot of people, difficult to control. I was debating with a Christian the other day (protestant) who seemed to argue that unless you get this one under control it’s a sign you arent saved and are going to hell. I just think that sounds pretty drastic, given how addicted, especially young people, can get to these things. One of the things in the NDE literature is they seem to rarely mention the sex drive stuff. What are your thoughts on that and specifically whether habitual sins like that can bar you off from Heaven?

        • Lee says:

          Hi Duane,

          Yes, pretty drastic.

          And yet another fine example of how Protestants continually contradict their own doctrine of salvation by faith alone. That doctrine makes no sense. It flies in the face of both the Bible and common sense. That’s why even Protestants who claim to believe it don’t really believe it in practice, but believe that we must repent from our sins and live a good life in order to be saved—just as Jesus and all the Apostles teach in the Bible. Or if they truly do believe in salvation by faith alone, they live a life full of their favorite sins, thinking they are saved anyway because Jesus paid the penalty for their sins. Such “Christians” will be in for a rude awakening on the other side.

          But more to the point, this raises the question, “What is sexual sin?”

          The Ten Commandments say, “You shall not commit adultery.” They do not say, “You shall not have sex outside of marriage.” Nowhere does the Bible lay down a law prohibiting any sex outside of marriage (see: “Is Sex Before Marriage Forbidden in the Bible?”) The word “fornication” in the New Testament is often interpreted by conservative Christians as referring to all sex outside of marriage. But that word comes from a word meaning “prostitutes, prostitution,” and probably refers primarily to having sex with prostitutes, especially cultic prostitutes. And even if it may refer to some other forms of illicit sex, there is simply no biblical warrant for extending it to include all sex outside of a marriage relationship.

          If God had wanted to lay down a law against all non-marital sex in the Bible, God could certainly have done that. But God did not do that, and the Bible contains no such law.

          Since when do humans and human institutions get to create new laws and claim that they are God’s laws?

          Yes, the Catholic Church claims that right and power for itself based on a materialistic and fallacious interpretation of the scene in which Jesus supposedly gives Peter the keys to heaven, and on a dubious claim that their Pope is descended from an unbroken ecclesiastical line that goes straight back to Peter. But really, it is based on the lust for power that has characterized the Catholic Church ever since the Council of Nicaea. The Catholic Church and its leadership have usurped God’s power, and have seated themselves on God’s throne, which is an act of rebellion and blasphemy against God.

          Protestants who think they can speak for God, making up rules that aren’t in the Bible and proclaiming them to be God’s will, are committing the same rebellion and blasphemy against God. Jesus had harsh words for these human interlopers who set themselves up on God’s throne.

          Back to the point, who sez that young people who sleep together are engaged in sexual sin? The Bible doesn’t say that. It is humans who say that.

          Is it the ideal? I don’t think so. But there are many things we do that aren’t ideal, but still aren’t sins. Eating too much is not the ideal, nor is eating unhealthful food. But Jesus specifically said that it’s not what goes into our stomach, but what comes out of our fallen human heart that is sinful. So although I advocate a healthful diet, I do not make the mistake of labeling a bad diet “sinful.” It’s just . . . a bad idea.

          It’s the same with sexual behavior. I think that casual sex outside of marriage is not such a great idea. I recommend waiting until marriage to have sex if a person is able to do so. But if they do have casual sex, I do not presume to make up rules that aren’t in the Bible, and declare it “sinful.” It is, as you say, simply young people and unmarried people acting upon the sexual drives that God put into them.

          By itself, I simply don’t believe that sex outside of marriage is sinful. Adultery certainly is sinful. And a New Testament case can be made that being a prostitute or using the services of prostitutes is sinful—though even that is not an airtight case. But unless there is something else highly destructive about a non-marital sexual encounter, such as subjecting someone to forcible sex, adults enticing or pressuring minors into sex, engaging in other types of sexual abuse, or engaging in highly promiscuous sex with many partners, there is no good warrant to label it “sinful.” At most, we can label it “non-ideal,” alongside all of the other non-ideal, but not sinful, behaviors that we humans engage in.

          If the Church’s campaign against non-marital sex actually bore some good fruit, perhaps it would be defensible. But mostly, it just inculcates an unhealthy fear of sex, and an unnecessary guilt about sex, in the young people and adults under the sway of the church. The result is mostly teens and adults who furtively and guiltily engage in sexual behaviors that the church tells them not to engage in, and marriages in which the couple’s sexual life is stilted and unsatisfactory because neither the woman nor the man can shake the nagging feeling that every time they have sex, it’s dirty and unspiritual, and might very well drag them down to hell.

          Really, the whole human-generated campaign against sex, sex, any sex except for marital sex (and even that is a bit suspect) has been a massive disaster both for the human soul and for the human body. It has even done great damage to marriage, which is supposed to be what these campaigns are all about preserving.

          The reality is that traditional Christianity—Orthodox, Catholic, and Protestant—have a materialistic, unbiblical, and unspiritual view of sex and marriage, and that view has vitiated everything they believe and teach about sex, doing untold damage to the sexual and marital lives of billions of people.

          Your Protestant friend is, unfortunately, walking in that darkness with regard to “sexual sin.” His narrow and unrealistic opinions about sex are not God’s commandments. They are human traditions that have made God’s Word null and void.

        • Duane Armitage says:

          Wow you nailed it. I have never heard of it explained that way. It certainly makes common sense and accounts for the increasing problem where Christianity has come to stand for merely the ethics of certain sexual morals. Jesus seemed to barely mention it. Could it be because it’s much “easier” (in one sense) to chide people for sexual morals than it is to actually love human beings in the here and now? Thanks for this Lee.

          Last thing: what are your thoughts, in this context, then on pornography?

        • Lee says:

          Hi Duane,

          You’re welcome.

          The “Christian” church has long since abandoned the teachings of Jesus Christ, replacing them with its own human-invented rules. It is doing the very same thing that Jesus upbraided the Scribes and Pharisees of his day for doing: abandoning God’s Word and God’s commandments in favor of human traditions (Matthew 15:6–9; Mark 7:6–8). The established Christian churches of today, and their leaders and preachers, have become our modern Scribes and Pharisees, making and enforcing all kinds of picky human rules while ignoring the core teaching of Jesus Christ: that we are to love God above all, and love our neighbor as ourselves.

          About pornography, please see:
          What does the Bible Say about Pornography? Is Pornography Sinful?

  24. Duane Armitage says:

    Lee,
    Thank you. One final thing. If someone doesn’t have such biological impulses under complete control when they die, will there be some kind of purge or purgation prior to heaven?

    • Lee says:

      Hi Duane,

      We humans will never be perfect, either here on earth or in heaven. We will never be 100% pure.

      However, in heaven, everyone who wants to be in a mutual, loving marriage will be. And that marriage will last forever. And it will be based on an inner spiritual oneness—a oneness of mind and heart—between the two people. From that oneness will flow the sexual life of the married couple.

      In heaven, our biological sex drive is no longer necessary, because we do not procreate in heaven to continue the species as we do here on earth. So in heaven, our primary drive to sexual union is to express our love for and oneness with our marital partner.

      Even this, though, is not 100% pure, because we still have vestiges of self-centered and worldly thoughts and desires even in heaven. And even in heaven, these remaining impurities in our character can cast a temporary pall over our marital and sexual relationship with our partner until we face and overcome them. Even in heaven, we are always moving toward perfection. Only God is perfect.

      Still, our marital and sexual life will be so far beyond anything we are capable of experiencing here on earth that it will be like day compared to night. Many loving couples do have a wonderful marital and sexual life here on earth. But even they will find it raised to a whole new level when they leave their physical bodies behind and begin life in their far more living, responsive, and sensitive spiritual bodies, in the spiritual atmosphere of heaven.

      So purgation prior to heaven? Yes, if we are good-hearted but still have some crude and misinformed sexual attitudes that vitiate our sex life. Remaining major false ideas and faulty behaviors are indeed purged from ordinary Joes and Janes before they head to heaven. Still, even when they reach heaven, they will continually be growing in love and connection to their partner in marriage, which inevitably involves continually leaving behind remaining vestiges of unspiritual and unworthy attitudes and desires in all areas of life, including in the area of sex and marriage. That is one of the reasons marriages in heaven continue to grow and become closer and more blissful and enjoyable to eternity.

    • Lee says:

      Hi Duane,

      Incidentally Swedenborg says that only the Lord (Jesus Christ) was able to fully subject his external self to his inner divine self during his lifetime on earth. No other human being is able to accomplish this complete mastery of physical and worldly urges. And we are not condemned for that. As long as we are in our physical body, there will be physical, biological drives that will never be completely under the control of our conscious will and understanding.

      However, when we leave our physical body behind, we also leave those biological urges and drives behind. Our spiritual body is not subject to physical and biological laws. Any remaining misbehavior will flow from impurities of heart, mind, and spirit, not from biological impulses.

      • Lee says:

        I should add that this is not a license to just let go and yield to every bodily urge. We are still to make the effort to bring our urges under the control of our higher, human capacities of will and understanding. And we can achieve some success at that. What it does mean is that if we don’t get our physical and biological urges perfectly under control, that is not something to beat ourselves up about, but something to keep working on.

        • Duane Armitage says:

          Lee,
          Thank you. yes this all makes perfect sense. Please pardon me for perhaps asking you something you are probably asked over and over and which is indeed the topic of this thread in general, but in context: so if one really does truly love the Lord, but falls into various sins, or even habitual sin, they will be saved right? In other words, there wont be people in Hell longing for the Lord, right?

        • Lee says:

          Hi Duane,

          No one in hell is longing for the Lord. Everyone in hell hates the Lord to a greater or lesser degree. That’s because the Lord’s love and the Lord’s commandments run contrary to what the evil spirits in hell most love to love, think, and do. They are in hell precisely to get away from the light of the Lord and into the darkness where they can engage in their favorite evils and vices.

          However, the Lord also said, “If you love me, you will keep my commandments” (John 14:15), and again, “They who have my commandments and keep them are those who love me; and those who love me will be loved by my Father, and I will love them and reveal myself to them” (John 14:21), and yet again, “If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and abide in his love” (John 15:10).

          Clearly, keeping the Lord’s commandments is not an optional add-on. And the Lord did command us to repent from our sins. If we say we love the Lord, but we habitually violate the Lord’s commandments, then we have to seriously ask ourselves whether we really love the Lord, or whether we love our favorite sins even more. If we prefer our sins to loving the Lord and keeping his commandments, then we’re in serious trouble.

          However, even that is not the whole story. Here is another question over-sensitive and over-indoctrinated people have to ask themselves: “Is what I’m doing actually breaking the Lord’s commandments?”

          As discussed in some of my previous responses in this thread, the “Christian” church has made up many “sins” that aren’t actually forbidden in the Bible. At most, such “sins” are just not such a great idea; and in many cases they aren’t evil or sinful at all. Like the Scribes and Pharisees of New Testament times, the “Christian” church has compiled a massive law book of unscriptural rules, and imposed them on its followers.

          The one I get here most often is masturbation. I can’t tell you how many times people have left comments or sent conundrums that go something like this: “I love the Lord, but I can’t stop masturbating. I’m sure I am going to hell. But I don’t want to go to hell! HELP!!!” However, the reality is, the Bible not only doesn’t forbid masturbation, it says nothing at all about masturbation. The Church’s rule against masturbation is a misguided and false human rule that causes great pain and anguish for ordinary people who are doing nothing wrong. I have gotten so many questions about masturbation from conscience-stricken people that I ended out writing not one, but three articles on the subject, and one follow-up article on fantasy. For the first in the series, see: “What does the Bible Say about Masturbation? Is Masturbation a Sin?

          There is a whole catalog of behavior that “Christianity” has declared to be sinful, that may in some cases be a bad idea, but in no case is actually a sin.

          Every rule about what goes into our body falls into that category, including unhealthful practices such as drinking, smoking, and overeating. Jesus did away with the dietary laws of the Old Testament, declaring “all foods clean” (Mark 7:18–19). And yes, there are some colorful riffs in the book of Proverbs about the folly of drunkenness. But Jesus himself enjoyed food and wine, to the point where he was accused by his enemies of being “a glutton and a winebibber”—in the colorful language of the KJV (Matthew 11:19; Luke 7:34).

          Most of the “sexual sins” prohibited by traditional Christianity also fall into the category of behavior that may not be the ideal, and may even be a bad idea, but is not prohibited in the Bible, and is certainly not a violation of any commandment that the Lord gives us in the Gospels. Masturbation, in particular, is not evil or sinful at all, but good and healthy if engaged in with moderation to satisfy normal sexual urges when sex within a loving, faithful, committed relationship is not available. Even non-adulterous sex by unmarried people is not defined as a sin in the Bible. And though some sexual practices are not the most healthful ones physiologically, there are also no rules in the Bible about sexual positions, which hole must be used, and so on. The Bible does not have a commandment that reads: “Thou shalt have no other sex besides married heterosexual genital-genital sex in the missionary position.” This does not mean that every sexual practice is good and healthy. But it does mean that much of what traditional Christianity defines as “sexual sin” has no sound biblical basis, and no basis in the Lord’s commandments, and is therefore not “sin,” even if some of it is not such a great idea.

          Another example is lying. The precise commandment is, “You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor” (Exodus 20:16; Deuteronomy 5:20). This is commonly reduced to, “You shall not lie”; and there certainly are many diatribes against lying in the Bible. But the clear intent of the Commandment is to prohibit lies that cause damage to other people. The commandment invokes a courtroom scene in which false testimony can result in the conviction of an innocent person. Once again, the commandment is not, “You shall not lie,” but “You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor.” Many people walk around telling little white lies, such as saying that they’re older or younger than they actually are, or changing the size of the fish from half a foot to a foot and a half. Such lies are not breaking the commandment against bearing false witness.

          What if you’re at a party, and a female friend flounces up to you, does a twirl in her brand new dress, and happily asks, “How do I look?” Maybe you don’t actually like the dress very much. Maybe you don’t think it looks all that good on her. But if you value your life and your friendship with her, you’ll say, “You look fantastic!” That is not “bearing false witness against your neighbor.” You are not her fashion consultant. She is not asking you to evaluate her dress. You are her friend, and she’s asking you to help her enjoy the evening.

          The list could go on and on, but you get the idea.

          We humans engage in lots of habits that aren’t very good for us. And we often stretch the truth just a little bit to make the story more interesting. But unless engaging in those habits and telling those little white lies is actually breaking one of the Lord’s commandments, they are not “habitual sins.”

          Meanwhile, the church makes many rules that have no sound basis in the Bible or in common sense, and lays heavy burdens, hard to bear on its people.

          In short, millions, if not billions, of people are walking around convinced that they are “sinning” when they’re not actually sinning at all. This causes much unnecessary cognitive dissonance.

          Now, if we love the Lord, but we also love to murder, commit adultery, steal, bear false witness, and so on, then we do have a serious problem. If our habitual actions, and even habitual desires, actually do violate the Lord’s commandments, then if we truly love the Lord, we will follow the Lord’s commandment to repent from our sins.

          It won’t be easy. Most likely it will require a long, difficult struggle to reform ourselves. But we can’t simultaneously love the Lord and break the Lord’s commandments. Sooner or later, we will have to make a choice between the Lord and our sins. And if we continue in our sins (the ones that actually are sins) without making the effort to cease from engaging in them, we have made our choice.

          Here’s how it goes, in the earthy and pragmatic language of the Old Testament:

          Surely, this commandment that I am commanding you today is not too hard for you, nor is it too far away. It is not in heaven, that you should say, “Who will go up to heaven for us, and get it for us so that we may hear it and observe it?” Neither is it beyond the sea, that you should say, “Who will cross to the other side of the sea for us, and get it for us so that we may hear it and observe it?” No, the word is very near to you; it is in your mouth and in your heart for you to observe.

          See, I have set before you today life and prosperity, death and adversity. If you obey the commandments of the Lord your God that I am commanding you today, by loving the Lord your God, walking in his ways, and observing his commandments, decrees, and ordinances, then you shall live and become numerous, and the Lord your God will bless you in the land that you are entering to possess. But if your heart turns away and you do not hear, but are led astray to bow down to other gods and serve them, I declare to you today that you shall perish; you shall not live long in the land that you are crossing the Jordan to enter and possess. I call heaven and earth to witness against you today that I have set before you life and death, blessings and curses. Choose life so that you and your descendants may live, loving the Lord your God, obeying him, and holding fast to him; for that means life to you and length of days, so that you may live in the land that the Lord swore to give to your ancestors, to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob. (Deuteronomy 30:11–20)

          Spiritually, “the land that the Lord swore to give to your ancestors” is the Promised Land of heaven.

        • Duane Armitage says:

          Lee,
          What you said here I’ve had inchoate in my mind for what seems like years. I’ve always felt this way, namely that the Churches focused too much on sex at the expense of love and the rest, and ruined people’s relationship with God as a consequence. Same with lying too. I in particular really struggled with this stuff in my early 20s and now I wish I had met you sooner! But this is really helpful and gives me confirmation on many things. Why do you think mainstream Christianity has a foothold in the world and Swedenborgians are in the minority? They seem to be the most common sensical

        • Lee says:

          Hi Duane,

          As they say, “Better late than never.” Who knows whether you would have been ready to listen in your early 20s? Beyond that, we often learn more from the times of struggle than from the times of clarity. Also, spending considerable time longing for light and understanding makes us more receptive and appreciative of it when we do find it.

          As for why mainstream Christianity has a foothold and Swedenborgian are a tiny minority, that’s a question that Swedenborgians have been asking each other for oh, about two centuries now. But speaking of centuries, mainstream Christianity did have a good fifteen century head start. I expect it will take a while for the new Christianity to catch up.

          Plus, traditional Christianity has infused Western culture, and from there spread to a considerable part of the rest of the world. Once something gets into the mass consciousness, it tends to have staying power even when the institutions that promulgated that worldview begin to go into decline, as traditional Christianity has today. It may take a few more centuries for a different idea about what Christianity is to come to prominence. People’s minds are engraved with the idea that what the Orthodox, Catholic, and Protestant churches teach is “Christianity.” That’s not going to fade away overnight.

          Another factor is that the Christianity that Swedenborg taught (which I believe is really a renewed version of the Christianity Jesus Christ taught) requires people to think for themselves, take responsibility for their own lives, and do the hard work of changing their attitudes and actions for the better. It’s a lot easier to belong to a church in which, if you go to Mass each week and do your regular confession to the priest, you’re good; or if you believe the right thing, you’re good. Many people will take the easy way out—and Swedenborgian Christianity is not the easy way out.

          I will also say that the institutional Swedenborgian church has not been particularly zealous or effective about spreading the good news. And despite the new ideas, it has gotten stuck in old traditional Christian patterns, culture, and worship style that aren’t attractive to most people who are looking for a different perspective on life and spirit.

          Meanwhile, for a related piece, please see this recent article:
          Who is Emanuel Swedenborg? Did He Start a New Church?

  25. Duane Armitage says:

    P.S.
    So does a person in Hell know that they are in Hell, HELL. That is, do they know the reality of it, or have they bought into another narrative about goodness and God and all that? How could they hate God?? I just can’t understand it from their perspective, because the way you describe it is not like it was taught to me, namely that the damned knew they were damned and wanted out and were begging, etc.

    • Lee says:

      Hi Duane,

      For the most part, people in hell don’t care that they’re in hell. They’re too busy pursuing their favorite sick pleasures, or recovering from the aftermath of pursuing their sick pleasures, or being forced against their will to work in order to supply themselves with the basic necessities of food and clothing. (Yes, we still have bodies in the spiritual world, and those bodies still require sustenance and protection from the elements—especially in the rather bad climate of hell.)

      Also, fallacy, falsity, and deception, including self-deception, are the order of the day in hell. People whose core driving desires in life are evil, selfish, greedy, and exploitative grab onto any false philosophies and rationalizations that will support and justify their evil and destructive behavior. The evil spirits in hell therefore tend to be in all sorts of denial about their actual character and condition.

      Even in this life, how many absolute jerks think they’re jerks? More likely, they think they’re the greatest person who has ever lived on this earth. And obviously, anyone who doesn’t recognize that is a total idiot.

      However, many of the evil spirits in hell do have moments of clarity when they recognize their own sordid state for what it is. They may even think they’ll change and give heaven a try. But pretty soon, they feel the heat of their own desires taking over, and they plunge right back into their favorite evil and destructive activities . . . with gusto! They then consider themselves foolish for having considered changing their ways. They like their life, despite its drawbacks. They have no desire whatsoever to live in any other way. That’s why they’re in hell, not heaven.

      For more on what hell is and isn’t, please see:
      Is There Really a Hell? What is it Like?

      • Duane Armitage says:

        Lee
        Thank you. Ok that makes perfect sense. Yes I was just reading (in the middle of reading) the link there.
        Do those in Hell know they are dead though? Do they know about God and Jesus and that they exist?
        Why sometimes does Jesus in his parables talk as if they want to get in Heaven — like they are knocking at a door — and he seems to say “I never knew you, depart from me, etc.”??? Obviously its a metaphor/parable, but there the choice seems to be with God rather than the person?

        • Lee says:

          Hi Duane,

          The ones “knocking on the door” and wanting to get into heaven are among the self-deceived ones who think they’re especially good and holy, but in fact are self-centered and greedy people who put on a front of piety in order to get people to admire them and to get what they want. Many of them live especially “holy” lives outwardly, but it is all for show. In secret, they often live very wicked lives, which they do their best to hide from the world—not always successfully.

          Such people, Swedenborg says, when they get to the other life, think that they will be the most exalted ones in heaven, sitting on thrones and ruling over the masses of ordinary people who are nowhere near as holy and righteous as they are. They go about “knocking on the door” of heaven, but everywhere they go, the angels there quickly perceive their true character, and throw them out.

          Eventually they are forced to recognize that they don’t actually believe any of the things they had espoused publicly. And when they realize that God is not going to exalt them as rulers over heaven, they begin to feel great hatred for God, because God isn’t doing what he is “supposed to.” Really, their belief in God was not about God, but about their own pride and self-exaltation. In hell, their former “love” of God is turned into an equally intense hatred of God.

          Likewise, every other evil spirit in hell either hates God or denies God’s existence, because God doesn’t support their evil desires and false beliefs, nor give credence to their exaggerated sense of their own importance. If they don’t reject God altogether, they blame God for all of the bad effects of their own bad choices and evil actions. It is like a criminal who believes he’s in jail because of that #$%@ judge!

          And once again, evil spirits commonly go through cycles of insanity alternating with moments of clarity. One moment they’re railing against God. The next moment they’re denying God’s existence. They especially hate Jesus: the human presence of God. They can’t stand that presence, nor can they stand the presence of angels who love, worship, and follow Jesus. But sometimes it is necessary for angels to intervene in various parts of hell to quell uprisings and keep the evil spirits there from breaking out and harming good spirits in the world of spirits, and angels in the lower heavens, who aren’t as well able to defend themselves against the deception and malice of evil spirits.

          It is also very common for evil spirits to deny that they have died and are in the spiritual world, but to believe and doggedly maintain that they are still living on earth. This is especially so for nihilistic and self-aggrandizing materialists and atheists who staked their name and reputation on denying the reality of God and spirit. Even in the afterlife, such people continue to believe and preach the same thing. It is different for good-hearted atheists who, for example, may have rejected God because the God they were taught about in church was irrational, bloodthirsty, and unworthy of belief.

          Incidentally, hypocritical religious leaders who preached false doctrines to buttress their own name and fame continue to preach the same doctrines in the afterlife. But they do it in hell, where similarly hypocritical laypeople eagerly lap it up, and consider themselves the wisest and most religious of all people.

          Angels, on the other hand—especially the higher angels—are likely to get upset if people praise them and call them “good.” They insist that they are not good, and that only God is good. That humility in deference to God is precisely why they are in heaven, not in hell.

        • Duane Armitage says:

          Wait Lee, so there are actually people in Hell who are preaching about God, but refuse to trust, love, and even meet God? Are they aware that they can simply call to him?? This boggles my mind, but it all makes quite a lot of sense now and certainly does indeed reflect people I’ve encountered in my own life.

        • Lee says:

          Hi Duane,

          Yes, there are such people in hell.

          Keep in mind that moving from this world to the next does not change who we are or how we think. It only brings out who we truly are in our heart, and what we truly believe in our secret thoughts. If that is different from the way we portray ourselves to the world outwardly, then our non-congruent outward persona will fade away, and be replaced by an accurate outward expression of our true inner loves, desires, and beliefs.

          The preachers who end out in hell are precisely the ones who do not have any real interest in God, or in calling on God. Their interest in God is purely utilitarian: The church has given them a job where they can have honor and reputation, and get access to certain perks that they enjoy. They preach, not to bring God to the people and the people to God, but to show how learned and holy they are, and get people to flatter them and fawn over them and do . . . certain other things for them. Some of them make a pretty good living at it, too.

          Because such preachers have gotten into the habit of using God and the Bible to get the glory and emoluments they want, they continue to do so in the spiritual world. Good spirits and especially angels see through their hypocrisy, and will not listen to them. But evil spirits who are also into themselves and not into God, and like to think of themselves as better than other people, will lap their preaching up.

          Such people, both lay and clergy, will hold false doctrines such as justification by faith alone in a strong grip in their mind. That doctrine allows them to think of themselves as the elite few who believe the right thing and are therefore God’s special chosen people, and better than all of those other people who believe the wrong thing. It allows them to continue engaging in evil and sinful behavior (in secret, of course—though in hell they do so openly) while still believing that Christ paid the penalty for their sins, so that they are good and righteous anyway, even though in fact they are gross sinners.

          This is just one example of how people with evil hearts will grab onto and use false doctrines in order to justify and achieve their own goals, while having no interest whatsoever in worshiping God. They think of themselves as gods, and they don’t like the idea that there is some Divine Being greater than themselves. So even though they preach God . . . because that’s what preachers do, at heart they hate God and and are jealous of God.

          You would think that they would just reject and curse God. And some of them do, as I mentioned in my previous comment. But others keep God around as a prop in their preaching, because it gets them what they want.

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Lee & Annette Woofenden

Lee & Annette Woofenden

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