Salvation the Goal, Regeneration the
Some people think that Jesus came on earth and died on the cross "to save us from our sins." But, if that was what he came to do, he did not succeed very well, as our sins are still with us! In fact, he came to redeem us; and redemption and salvation are quite different things. He "redeemed" us by clearing the evil spirits from the intermediate region of the spiritual world alongside this earth, and so restoring free will to humanity, freedom to sin or not to sin, freedom to go to Heaven or Hell. Because of the redemption, we can be saved if we wish to be: the responsibility lies with us.
Jesus did not destroy the evil spirits when he released humanity from bondage to them. (They are his children, and he loves them just as deeply as he loves the angels in Heaven.) What he did was to drive them out of the intermediate region alongside this earth, so that they could no longer dominate this world. They are all now down in Hell. But still some of the malignant power can reach us; and this the Lord permits, for our own good. He does not want us to grow up like hot house plants, never exposed to cold winds or any adverse influences; he wants us to be tough and strong. Good parents do not protect their children against every possible danger, not allowing them to play with any other children in case they might catch some infection or be led into naughty ways. Treated like this, children would grow up very soft and weak; in fact, they would hardly grow up at all, but would remain immature all their lives. For the same reason, the Lord allows some influence from Hell to reach us all; but at the same time he allows influences from Heaven to reach us also; and he so arranges things that there is an exact "equilibrium" between the two forces, like equal weights on the two pans of a pair of scales. Because we are held by the Lord in equilibrium between Heaven and Hell, we can tip the scales either towards Hell or towards Heaven. Therein lies our free will. And it was because this equilibrium was in danger of being upset, in the days of the Roman Empire, that our Lord came into the world. By resisting temptations in his own infirm humanity, he reduced the power of Hell and increased the power of Heaven, thus restoring the proper balance. This is what is meant by redemption.
Have you been redeemed? Yes. Have you been saved? Not yet. Have you been converted? Hopefully, yes! The word "conversion" means "turning around"—turning and facing another direction. Most of us start our adult lives facing Hell. By nature we are self-seeking, materialistic, lustful, greedy and cruel. We inherit evil tendencies of every kind, from the sins of our parents, grandparents and distant ancestors. We are not responsible for these hereditary evils, and they are not held against us, unless we deliberately choose to make them our own. We are completely free in the matter, though we feel a much greater pleasure in tipping the scales towards Hell than towards Heaven! We want to be important; we enjoy running people down because it makes us feel superior; we are easily hurt, and feel vengeful if we do not get our "rights;" we are pleased if we can win an advantage over someone by slightly twisting the truth; and so on. Even Jesus had all these evils in the human nature he inherited from his mother Mary. He was tempted like we are — but, of course, without sin. If we followed our own inclinations, we should all end up in Hell. There must be a deliberate check and a turning in the other direction. That turning is "conversion." Suppose a car is headed towards the top of a cliff. The driver suddenly realizes the danger; he brakes violently, and either goes into reverse, maneuvering the car so as to face the opposite direction, or swings the steering-wheel around. In any case, the car is "converted." Conversion is not the same as salvation, but you must first be converted if you are to be saved.
Conversion may be sudden or gradual. It may take a few seconds, perhaps during a sermon, or as a result of some great shock or disaster; or it may take many years of slow change, here a little, there a little—first in one area, then in another. Some people have to be converted over and over again; for others, once is sufficient. But, converted we must be, if we are to stop desiring evil and begin desiring good.
Since the old will is inevitably corrupt, it must be
destroyed and a new will must be allowed to grow in its place. This
process is called "rebirth," or, in the Latin language, "regeneration."
We destroy the old corrupt will by resisting its promptings, saying
"no!" to it, or as Jesus said, "Get thee behind me, Satan!" (Matthew
16:23) In Swedenborg's terms, we must "shun evils as sins against God."
Revealed 459) That is to say, we must shun evils because
yielding to them would be acting in opposition to the purpose of God. It
is useless, from the point of view of our regeneration, to shun evils
merely because they are bad for our health, or because they might get us
into trouble, or lower people's opinion of us; for then the motivation
would be selfish. We should shun them because they separate us from God.
Gradually, then, the old will shrivels up, and the Lord removes it from
us, and replaces it with a new will from himself, which desires only the
things of Heaven. We are "born again" as his children, growing up in his
image and likeness.
What regeneration is for the will, reformation is for the understanding. It implies a total renewal of one's outlook. Sometimes it precedes regeneration, the new will being implanted in the new understanding; sometimes it comes after regeneration—the new will eagerly imbibing new truths. Regeneration must begin in this world; it cannot take place in the future life unless it has been started here on earth. Reformation can take place either in this life or next.
Salvation is the finished product, the goal towards which everything has been directed. To be saved, in fact, is to become an angel in Heaven. Nobody is really "safe" or "saved" until the whole process is complete, which must be after the death of the body. However high a person may rise in this world of change, they may conceivably misuse their free-will and drop back again, even ending up in a hellish state. Only when the ruling love is fixed by death can it be seen whether they are saved or not.
The Lord Our Saviour
No one can be saved except with their own approval and consent, their willing cooperation. Yet it is true to say that the actual work of salvation is performed for each person by the Lord himself. The Lord is the only savior. "There is no God else beside me, a just God and a Savior; there is none but me. Turn to me and be saved, all you ends of the earth; for I am God, and there is no other. (Isaiah 45:21-22) " The name "Jesus" means: "Jehovah Saves," or, "God in his capacity as savior."
The God who created us also redeemed us; and, if we look to him, he will surely save us. He is our creator, redeemer and savior.
Faith, Charity, and Good Works
Here is another trinity, like the trinities mentioned in
our last chapter:
Some people think that if they have the correct faith or beliefs they will automatically be saved. The Pharisees of our Lord's day possessed the Word of God and knew very well how they ought to live, yet they had no charity and performed very few good works. There is a grave danger of "faith alone" in all established religious institutions whose members are encouraged to suppose that, because they subscribe to certain dogmas, they are among the spiritually elite and have a passport-visa to Heaven. There is a particular temptation towards this in churches like the New Church that have a powerful theology and lay great emphasis on correct teachings.
Jesus said of the Pharisees that they were "whited sepulchers full of dead men's bones." (Matthew 23: 27) Faith separated from charity is dead, and any church that makes more of faith than of charity is dead. In fact, "faith alone" is, and always has been, the great killer of churches.
There is a strong tendency today to go to the other extreme, and maintain that one's faith does not matter at all, and that charity is all that is required to get you to Heaven. There is some truth in this position, for indeed, if you have true charity, you will eventually arrive safely. But it may be a long and painful journey; for without the guidance of faith you will probably land in many a mire and pitfall. This has been the case with some of the strange cults and "-isms" in the world today. It is also the case with those outside the Christian church, who know nothing of the Lord and the Word. They may be charitable at heart, but are easily led into evils. Charity alone is not dead, like faith alone; it is alive, but it is sick and halt and lame and blind, covered with sores. Such is the spiritual state of many people today in our materialistic culture, who try to live good lives, but are without any firm belief in God, or any true knowledge of what life is intended to be. If this world is to become like Heaven, its inhabitants must live by the heavenly doctrines.
Good Works Alone
The bossy person who goes around putting everybody right is a familiar character in modern plays and novels, so that to be called a "do-gooder" is no longer a compliment! Fussiness, egotism, a desire to feel superior, even a desire to shine in God's eyes, can motivate all sorts of "good" actions, and destroy their inner spiritual quality. Evil people perform good works as well as good people. Good works alone never saved anybody.
The Three Must Make One
As with all trinities, faith, charity and good works must make one if they are to effective. Faith must have charity within it. Charity must be guided by faith. Good works must be motivated by charity and guided by faith. Without good works, faith and charity are mere abstractions. Without faith and charity, good works have no spiritual quality whatsoever.
(Those who like mechanical analogies, can think of the engine, the steering wheel, and the wheels of a car. Charity is the engine, faith the steering mechanism, and good works are the four wheels.)
Our daily employment takes up most of our time, and so it is the main field in which our regeneration must be worked out. Church attendance is not enough. "All religion has relation to life," says Swedenborg, "and the life of religion is to do good." (Doctrine of Life 1) We should perform the uses of our daily employment conscientiously and to the best of our ability, from love to the Lord and as a service to our fellows. It is by our daily work from year to year that we can best prepare ourselves for our future life in Heaven.