The more we are regenerated, the more our sins are laid aside, because the process of being regenerated is a matter of restraining our flesh so that it does not control us, and taming our old self and its cravings so that it does not rise up and destroy our intellectual faculty. Once our intellectual faculty is destroyed we can no longer be reformed; this reformation cannot take place unless our spirit, which is above our flesh, is instructed and perfected.
Surely everyone (whose intellect is still intact) can see from what was just stated that this sort of process cannot be completed in a moment. It happens in stages, much the way we are conceived, carried in the womb, born, and brought up, as was presented above. The traits of the flesh or the old self are embedded in us from the day we are born. They build the first home for our mind. Cravings live in that home like predatory animals in their dens. At first they live in the entryways. Then bit by bit they move by stealth into levels of the house that are below ground. Later on they go upstairs and make bedrooms for themselves there. This takes place gradually as we grow up from our childhood through youth to young adulthood, when we begin to have thoughts that come from our own understanding and perform actions that come from our own will.
Surely everyone can see that the home that has been established in our mind to this point—a place where cravings join hands and dance with each other like owls, vultures, and satyrs [Isaiah 13:21; 34:13–15]—cannot be torn down in a single moment and a new home constructed in its place. First the cravings that are holding hands and dancing have to be set to one side, and new healthy desires for what is good and true need to be brought in to replace our unhealthy desires for what is evil and false.
All this cannot happen in a moment. Every wise person can see the truth of this just from the fact that each evil is composed of countless cravings. Every evil is like a piece of fruit that under its skin is full of worms with black heads and white bodies. There are a great number of such evils and they are joined to each other, like a spider’s offspring when they first hatch out of its belly. Therefore unless one evil after another is taken away until their confederation is broken up, we cannot become a new person.
These things have been stated to support the point that the more we are regenerated, the more our sins are laid aside.
From the day we are born we have an inclination toward evils of every kind. Because of that inclination we yearn for these evils. If we have the freedom, we also do them. From birth, we long to control other people and to own what belongs to them. These two longings tear to pieces any love we might have for our neighbor. They induce us to hate anyone who opposes us; that hatred leads us to desire revenge; and that desire for revenge inwardly cherishes the idea of our opponent’s death. The same forces also lead us to think it is perfectly acceptable to commit adultery, to take things by secret acts of thievery, and to slander people, which is bearing false witness. People who think these things are acceptable are atheists at heart. This is the nature we are born with. Clearly then, we are born a hell in miniature.
Nevertheless, unlike animals, we are born with inner levels of mind that are spiritual. We are born for heaven. Because our earthly or outer self is a hell in miniature, as just noted, it follows that heaven cannot be planted in that hell; that hell must be moved out of the way.
People who know how heaven and hell differ from each other and how the one is located in relation to the other are able to know how we are regenerated and what we are like afterward. To make this better understood to those who do not have this knowledge, I will briefly reveal the following.
All those who are in heaven turn their faces toward the Lord. All who are in hell turn their faces away from the Lord. Therefore when you look at hell from heaven, you see only the backs of the people there and the backs of their heads; in fact they also look upside down (like people on the far side of the earth) with their feet up and their heads down, even though they walk on their feet and turn their faces this way and that. It is the fact that the inner levels of their minds are turned in the opposite direction that makes them look this way. This may sound hard to believe, but I have seen it myself.
These experiences revealed to me how regeneration takes place. It happens in the same way that hell is relocated and sequestered from heaven. As I noted above, by our first nature—the nature we are born with—we are a hell in miniature. By our second nature, the nature we derive from our second birth, we are a heaven in miniature.
It follows from this that the evils within us are relocated and sequestered on an individual scale in the same way that hell is relocated and sequestered from heaven on a grand scale. As our evils are relocated, they turn away from the Lord and gradually turn themselves upside down. This happens step by step as heaven is implanted in us—that is, as we become a new person.
In the hope of shedding further light, I will add that every evil within us has a connection to people in hell who are involved in that same evil. On the other hand, every good thing within us has a connection to people in heaven who are involved in that same goodness.
From these points it can be seen that being forgiven for our sins is not a matter of their being completely washed away or eliminated from us, but of their being relocated and sequestered within us. It is also clear that every evil that we have actively made our own stays with us.
Because “forgiveness of sins” means that they are relocated and sequestered within us, it follows that we are withheld from our evil by the Lord and held in goodness. This is the benefit that regeneration gives us.
from Regeneration, Pages 78-81