Because this heading and headings to follow concern reformation and regeneration, and reformation pertains to the understanding but regeneration pertains to the will, it is important for you to know the difference between the understanding and the will. The difference between them has been laid out [at the beginning of the first chapter of this book]. Therefore I recommend that you read that section first, and then read what is here.
The evils we are born with are in the will that is part of our earthly self; this earthly will pressures the understanding to agree with it and to have thoughts that harmonize with its desires. Therefore if we are to be regenerated, this has to happen by means of our understanding as an intermediate cause.
This process draws on pieces of information that our understanding receives, first from our parents and teachers, and later from our reading the Word, listening to preaching, reading books, and having conversations. The things that our understanding receives as a result are called truths. Therefore to say that we are reformed by means of our understanding is the same as saying that we are reformed by means of truths that our understanding receives. Truths teach us who to believe in, what to believe, and also what to do and what to will. After all, whatever we do, we do from our will and in accordance with our understanding.
Since our will is evil from the day we are born, and since our understanding teaches us what is evil and what is good and that it is possible for us to will one and not the other, it follows that our understanding is the means by which we have to be reformed. During the phase called our reformation, we come to mentally see and admit that evil is evil and goodness is good, and make the decision to choose what is good. When we actually try to abstain from evil and do what is good, the phase called our regeneration begins.
For this purpose we have been granted the ability to lift our understanding almost all the way into the light enjoyed by the angels in heaven. This lifting allows us to see what we ought to will and what we ought to do in order to be successful during our time in this world and blessed with happiness after death to eternity. We become successful and blessed if we gain wisdom for ourselves and keep our will obedient to that wisdom. We become unsuccessful and unhappy, however, if we devote our understanding to obeying our will. The reason for this is that from the time we are born, our will has a tendency toward evils of various kinds, including evils that are horrendous. If our will was not restrained by our understanding and instead we let it run free, we would quickly fall into criminal behavior; because of our inborn savage animal nature, for purely selfish reasons we would wipe out and butcher everyone and anyone who failed to show us favor or indulge our lusts.
For another thing, if our understanding were incapable of being perfected on its own and of then perfecting our will, we would not be human at all; we would be animals. If there were no separation between our will and our understanding and if the understanding could not rise above the will, we would be unable either to think or to say what we thought. We would only be able to make noises that expressed our feelings. We would not be able to act in reasonable ways, either; we would act on instinct alone. We would be completely incapable of knowing anything about God or seeing him through what we knew; as a result, we would be unable to form a partnership with him and live forever.
from Regeneration, Pages 58-60