Salvation
 

 

Salvation the Goal,
Regeneration the Process
excerpted from
 Inner Light: Swedenborg Explores the Spiritual Dimension
by Brian Kingslake
Available through the Swedenborg Foundation

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 restored 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.

The Lord achieved the redemption in His own power. He did it for all men, for all time. Whether in Europe, Asia, Africa, America or Australia; whether then, nor, or in a thousand-years' time, everybody has benefited by the spiritual freedom won for us by the redemption. But, whether you or I are saved is quite a different matter.

Equilibrium

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 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 on 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 inform 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.

Conversion

Have you been redeemed? Yes. Have you been saved? Not yet. Have you been converted? Hopeful, 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 in all points 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.

Regeneration

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 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!" In Swedenborg's terms, we must "shun evils as sins against God." 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 sun 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.

This rebirth usually takes a very long time, perhaps a whole lifetime. Conversion, as we have seen, may be instantaneous. A person might be able to say, quite truly, "I was converted on such and such an occasion, or at such and such a time," but nobody can give a date for his regeneration. We cannot even say how far we have gotten with it. Only the Lord knows.

Please note that rebirth is the Lord's work only. No person can regenerate himself. All we can do is to say "no" to our egoistic cravings; we have the power of veto. Then, as the new will begins to grow in us, we can say "yes" to its unselfish promptings. We thus open ourselves to the Lord, and His life floods into us, and we become new creatures.

Reformation

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

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 misuese their free-will and drop back again, even ending up in a hellish state. Only when he ruling love is fixed by death can it be seen whether they are saved or not.

The Lord Our Savior

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 Him, a just God and a Savior. Look unto Him and be saved, all the ends of the earth." 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 the previous article, Is Jesus God or Man:

(1) Faith - to see what is true, and believe it.
(2) Charity - to love what is good.
(3) Good Works - to do what is useful.

Faith is in the head; charity is in the heart; good works are in the hands.

Faith Alone

Some people think that if they have the correct faith or belief 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 establishes 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 (Swedenborgian) which have a powerful theology and lay great emphasis on correct teachings.

Jesus said of the Pharisees that they were "white sepulchers full of dead men's bones." 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.

Charity Alone

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 up 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 be effective. Faith must have charity within it. Charity must be guided by faith. Good works must be motivated by charity and 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.)

Daily Employment

Our daily employment takes up most of our time, 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." We should perform the uses of our daily employment conscientiously and to the best of our ability, form 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.

Previous Articles:

Redemption

How Jesus and God Merged into One

I highly recommend the book Inner Light by Brian Kingslake
and 
Emanuel Swedenborg's True Christian Religion
Both are available at the Swedenborg Foundation

Music: Fragments of My Soul
1999 Bruce DeBoer