Anyone who does not begin to live a spiritual life—that is, who is not born anew by means of the Lord—cannot come into heaven. This is what the Lord tells us in John: “Truly, truly I say to you, unless you are born again you cannot see the kingdom of God” (John 3:3).
We are born by our parents into an earthly life, but not into a spiritual life. A spiritual life is loving the Lord above all and loving our neighbor as ourselves, and doing so by following the precepts of faith that the Lord has taught us in the Word. In contrast, an earthly life is loving ourselves and the world more than we love our neighbor, and in fact more than we love God himself.
We are all born from our parents with the evils of love for ourselves and for the world. Every evil that has become part of someone’s nature as a result of habitual indulgence is passed on to his or her progeny. Therefore we receive accumulated evil passed down from our parents, grandparents, and ancestors in a long chain going back into the past. The evil we derive from them has over time become so great that all our intrinsic characteristics are nothing but evil.
This continuous accumulation can be broken and changed only by a life of faith and caring from the Lord.
We constantly tend toward and lapse into what we have received by heredity, so we ourselves reinforce this evil in ourselves and also add even more to it.
These evils are absolutely opposed to a spiritual life. They destroy it. So unless we get from the Lord a new life, a spiritual life—unless, then, we are conceived anew, born anew, and raised anew (that is, created anew)—we are damned, because we want nothing and think about nothing but loving ourselves and the world, just as the people in hell do.
We cannot be regenerated unless we know the kinds of teachings that lead us to a new life, a spiritual life. What we must be taught in order to gain a new, spiritual life are the truths that we need to believe and the good things we need to do—the truths that need to become part of our faith and the good actions that need to become part of our caring.
There is no way any of us can know these on our own, because all we take in is what strikes our senses. From this input we gain the light that is called earthly, which makes it possible for us to see only what has to do with the world and with ourselves. It shows us nothing that has to do with heaven or with God. This we must learn from revelation.
It is only from revelation, for example, that we learn that the Lord who is God from eternity came into the world to save the human race; that he has all power in heaven and on earth; that everything that has to do with faith and caring, that is, all truth and goodness, comes from him; that there is a heaven and a hell; and that we are going to live forever—in heaven if we have led a life of goodness and in hell if we have led a life of evil.
These and much more are matters of faith that we need to know if we are to be regenerated, since if we know them we can think about them, then intend them, and finally do them, thereby having a new life.
For example, if we do not know that the Lord is the Savior of the human race we cannot have faith in him, love him, and therefore do what is good for his sake. If we do not know that everything good comes from him we cannot think that our salvation comes from him, let alone want it to be that way; so we cannot live from him. If we do not know that there is a hell and a heaven and an eternal life we can have no thought whatever about heavenly life, nor can we devote ourselves to receiving it. It is much the same in regard to the other points just mentioned.
Each of us has an inner self and an outer self. The inner self is called our spiritual self and the outer self is called our earthly self. If we are to be regenerated, each of these needs to be regenerated.
If we have not been regenerated, then our outer or earthly self is in control and our inner self is its servant; while if we have been regenerated our inner or spiritual self is in control and our outer self is its servant. So we can see that the proper order of life in us is inverted from birth—what ought to be in control is serving and what ought to serve is in control. This order has to be reversed if we are to be saved; and the only way this reversal can be realized is through our being regenerated by the Lord.
The following may illustrate what it means to say that the inner self is in control and the outer self is serving, or the reverse. If we make pleasure and money and our own pride our highest good, if we take delight in hatred and vengeance, and if we inwardly collect reasons in support of these attitudes, then our outer self is in control and our inner self is its servant.
If, though, we perceive it as a good thing and a pleasure to have thoughts and intentions that are benevolent, honest, and fair, and to have our words and deeds reflect these same qualities outwardly, then our inner self is in control and our outer self is its servant.
First the inner self and then the outer is regenerated by the Lord; and the outer is regenerated by means of the inner. The inner self is regenerated by thinking about what is involved in faith and caring, and the outer is regenerated by a life in accord with this.
That is the meaning of the Lord’s words: “Unless you have been born of water and the spirit you cannot enter the kingdom of God” (John 3:5). “Water,” spiritually understood, is the truth that belongs to religious faith, and “the spirit” is a life according to that truth.
When we have been regenerated, our inner self is in heaven and is an angel among the angels we are going to live with after we die. Then we will truly be able to live the life of heaven, love the Lord, love our neighbor, have an understanding of truth, be skilled in goodness, and feel the bliss that all these bring.
from New Jerusalem, Sections 173-182