Now to the nature of the inner earthly self that we are born with. Its will has a tendency toward evils of every kind and therefore its thinking has a tendency toward falsities of every kind. This inner self, then, is what needs to be regenerated. If it is not regenerated, it harbors hatred toward everything related to goodwill and anger at everything related to faith.
It follows, then, that our inner earthly self must be regenerated first, and our outer self must then be regenerated through our inner self. This sequence follows the divine design. To regenerate our inner self through our outer self would go contrary to the divine design, because the inner self acts as the soul of the outer self, not only in a general way but in every detail. The inner self is present in everything we say, without our even realizing it. This is what allows angels to perceive the quality of our will from a single action of ours, and the quality of our thinking from a single thing we say—the “quality” meaning whether we are hellish or heavenly. As a result, they have complete knowledge of us. From our tone of voice they perceive the interests that drive our thinking; from a gesture of ours, or the form of one action, they perceive the love that resides in our will. They detect this no matter how good we are at presenting ourselves as a Christian and a moral citizen.
Our regeneration is portrayed in Ezekiel as the dry bones on which sinews were placed; then flesh, and skin, and spirit was breathed into them, and they came to life (Ezekiel 37:1–14). There is also a comparison there involving graves. We read that God will open graves and cause bones to rise up out of them, and he will put spirit in them and place them in the land of Israel (Ezekiel 37:12, 13, 14). The land of Israel here and elsewhere means the church. Bones and graves were used to represent regeneration because people who have not been regenerated are called the dead, and people who have been regenerated are called the living. The former are spiritually dead, but the latter are spiritually alive.
from Regeneration, Page 64, 65