Commentary

 

What the Bible Says about Being Born Again

     

By Rev. John Odhner

Photo by Jenny Stein

I was talking recently with someone who was looking forward to becoming a father. He asked me, "Is it hard to learn how to be a good father? How did you deal with that change in your life?"

"One of the nice things about becoming a father," I said, "is that it happened one step at a time. First we got engaged, and then some time later we got married. During that time, talking about parenting helped prepare me mentally. A few months after our marriage, my wife became pregnant, and then we still had nine months before our child was actually born."

"Of course, having a new baby was a big change, but still there were many parenting tasks that came later. For example, discipline wasn't an issue for the first year, and it was two years before we had to help our son learn to get along with his new baby sister. Being a good father all at once would be impossible, but the Lord gives us a chance to learn slowly."

Most changes in our lives are gradual. An inch of growth may take a child half a year. It can take several years to learn to speak a new language or play a musical instrument. Two people can be married in a day, but the actual marriage of minds takes decades to accomplish.

Changes in our spiritual life are also gradual. They take place one step at a time, and spiritual growth will be easier if we know that it does not take place in a moment. It is an ongoing process. Jesus said,

"Unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God." (John 3:3)

Many passages in the Bible indicate that being born again spiritually will be just as much a step by step process as physical conception, gestation, birth, growth, and development. For example, Peter describes it in seven distinct steps:

"Add to your faith, virtue, and to virtue, knowledge, and to knowledge, self-control, and to self-control, perseverance, and to perseverance, godliness, to godliness, brotherly kindness, and to brotherly kindness, love." Only by completing this process can we be sure to enter the Kingdom of God. (2 Peter 1:5)

One reason why being born again must be a gradual process is that it involves a complete change of character. Paul describes it this way:

"If any one be in Christ, he is a new creature: old things are passed away; behold all things are become new." (2 Corinthians 5:5)

Rebirth involves new knowledge, new habits, new activities, new loves, and new awareness of the Lord.

New Knowledge

Rebirth does not take place through a blind leap of faith, but through gradual education, study and enlightenment. Jesus said,

"If you continue in My Word, ...the truth shall make you free." (John 15:3)

Truth is the tool of change, the means to a new life. Jesus said,

"Now you are clean through the word which I have spoken unto you." (John 15:3)

Instead of accepting dogmas without question we must make sense of the truth in order to be reborn. Being "childlike" does not mean being childish in our beliefs.

"In malice be children, but in understanding be adults." (1 Corinthians 14:20)

In one of His stories, Jesus describes a good person as one "who hears the Word, and understands it, and also bears fruit." (Matthew 12:23)

Most important of all is the understanding of God. If God's nature is a mystery to us, we can hardly say that we are born again, or that we are His sons. (Compare John 15:15.)

Knowing God goes hand in hand with being born from Him. (1 John 4:7)

"The pure in heart shall see God." (Matthew 5:8)

When we are born again, God "shines in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the Glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ." (2 Corinthians 4:6)

New Habits

Anyone who is in the habit of doing or thinking evil things is living the "old" life, and is incapable of the genuine goodness of the person who has overcome them.

"Can the leopard change its spots? Then may you also do good who are accustomed to do evil." (Jeremiah 13:23) "He who commits sin is the servant of sin." (John 8:34)

Receiving the new life requires fighting against the old habits.

"Cast away from you all the transgressions which you have committed, and get yourselves a new heart and a new spirit. For why should you die? ...Turn and live!" (Ezekiel 18:21, 31-32.)

"Wash yourselves, make yourselves clean, put away the evil of your doing from My eyes! Cease to do evil, learn to do good." (Isaiah 1:16.)

This kind of repentance cannot take place merely by praying for forgiveness. It requires a struggle, an ongoing battle to overcome the old ways of life. Paul called this a struggle between the "flesh" and the "spirit." (Galatians 4:29, Romans 8:7.)

It is a battle that requires our greatest effort -- "all your heart and all your soul and all your might." (Deuteronomy 6:4)

Eventually, through constant effort, God gives us such power over our habits that we no longer would think of doing something evil. When this time finally comes, we can be called "born again."

"Whoever is born of God does not commit sin.... He cannot sin, because he is born of God." (1 John 3:9)

"Whatever is born of God overcomes the world.... We know that whoever is born of God does not sin, but he who is born of God keeps himself and the wicked one does not touch him." (1 John 5:4, 18)

New Activities

Along with new habits come new activities. A person who neglects to be useful cannot be born again, and cannot go to heaven. Jesus indicated that some Christians would not be saved because they lacked good works.

"Not everyone who says to Me, Lord, Lord, ' shall enter into the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father who is in the heavens." (Matthew 7:21)

In one of His parables, Jesus told of some people who would go into everlasting punishment, not because they had lacked faith, but because they had failed to help people who were in need. (Matthew 25:41-46)

After death, the Lord "renders unto everyone according to his deeds." (Matthew 16:27)

A person who is born again is concerned for others, and orients his life around the work he can do to help others.

"Faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead... A person is justified by works, and not by faith alone." (James 2:17, 24)

To be born again, you must "bring forth fruits worthy of repentance." (Luke 3:8) Service and usefulness are marks of the new life.

New Loves

Even more than faith and more than works, the power that causes a person to be born again is love. Peter tells us that we are reborn by means of loving and for the purpose of loving others.

"Since you have purified your souls in obeying the truth through the spirit in sincere love of the brethren, love one another fervently with a pure heart, being born again...by the word of God." (1 Peter 1:22, 23)

John also makes it very clear that only those who love others can receive the new life:

"We know that we have passed from death to life, because we love the brethren. He who does not love his brother abides in death." (1 John 3:14)

"Everyone who loves is born of God and knows God. He who does not love, does not know God, for God is love." (1 John 4:7-8)

New Awareness of the Lord

We must take it upon ourselves to have faith, to fight the evil impulses within ourselves, to serve others, and to love others if we wish to be born again. Yet in all these things we need also to realize that it is the Lord who is working within us.

"You have also done all our works in us." (Isaiah 26:12)

"There are many forms of work, but all of them, in all people, are the work of the same God." (1 Corinthians 12:6)

In the process of rebirth we come to realize that it is the Lord working within us that enables us to work, believe, struggle, and love. These abilities are His merciful gift. He says,

"I will give you a new heart, and put a new spirit within you...and cause you to walk in my statutes." (Ezekiel 36:26-27)

Patience

In order to be reborn we must renew our knowledge, habits, actions, loves and relationship with the Lord. All this takes time, even a lifetime. Just as childbirth and growth require patience and endurance, so does being born again.

"In your patience you will possess your souls." (Luke 21:19)

"Whoever endures to the end shall be saved." (Matthew 10:22)

God will give eternal life to those who seek it "by patient continuance in doing good." (Romans 2:7)

We cannot expect to be born again in a single moment. Again and again, the Bible advises steadfastness and endurance if we wish to gain the promise of heaven.

"It is good that one should hope and wait quietly for the salvation of the Lord." (Lamentations 3:26, 27)

For although it takes time, if we do our part, the Lord will certainly make it happen.

"Commit your way to the Lord, trust also in Him, and He shall bring it to pass." (Psalms 37:5, 7)

The Bible

 

John 8:34

Study the Inner Meaning

              

34 Jesus answered them, Verily, verily, I say unto you, Whosoever committeth sin is the servant of sin.

   Study the Inner Meaning

Explanation of John 8      

By Rev. John Clowes M.A.

Explaining the Inner Meaning of John 8

Verses 8:1, 2. That the Lord elevated himself into his divine love, and filling his humanity with that love, he excites mutual love in the church, and from that love imparts heavenly truth.

Verses 8:3, 4, 5. On which occasion he is questioned by those, who are principled in self-intelligence and self-love, concerning the punishment due to the perversion of the affection of good in the church, which punishment, according to the Word, was deprivation of the truths of faith.

Verses 8:6, 7. But this enquiry proceeds from a purpose of deceit and evil, and therefore the Lord pronounces them damned who make it, and when the enquiry is still persisted in, he announces from his divine love, that the punishment due to the perversion of good, does not come from good, but from the perverting evil.

Verse 8:8. And therefore they are damned, who are in the perverting evil.

Verse 8:9. And in consequence of that evil, they become mere external men, without mutual love, according to the several degrees in which they have confirmed themselves in evil, separating themselves from the Lord, and from the affection of good.

Verses 8:10, 11. That on this occasion the Lord's divine love to the church is excited, and from perception of the separation of those who were in evil, the church is led to enquire concerning the accusations of evil spirits, and the condemnation which they bring, and is thus taught, that no evil condemns, which is not seen to be sinful; but when it is seen to be sinful, then it must no longer be persisted in.

Verse 8:12. Instruction is also given, that the Lord in his Divine Humanity is the divine truth itself, and that whoever acknowledges his humanity to be divine, and does his precepts, shall be preserved from falsities, and shall be principled in divine truths, which teach man eternal life, and lead to heaven.

Verse 8:13. But this instruction is rejected, as contrary to the truth, by those who are principled in self-love, and who contend, that truth cannot be its own testimony.

Verse 8:14. They are therefore instructed further, that the truth carries its own testimony along with it, because it acknowledges its divine origin, and divine end, whereas they, who are principled in self-love, know neither the origin nor the end of truth.

Verse 8:15. Thus they are guided merely by their own self-derived intelligence, which condemns all that are opposed to itself, whereas divine truth united with divine good condemns no one.

Verse 8:16. Nevertheless divine truth exercises just judgement, but then it is a judgement not derived from truth alone, but from divine good in union with it.

Verse 8:17. Agreeable to what the Word teaches, in the internal sense, concerning the testimony of two men.

Verse 8:18. Thus the Lord's humanity, which is divine truth, and his divinity, which is divine good, bear united testimony to the truth.

Verse 8:19. That they of the perverted church, who are principled in self love, are hence led to enquire concerning the divine good, and are instructed that they are ignorant both of divine truth and divine good, and that had they been acquainted with divine truth, or the Lord's Divine Humanity, they would have been acquainted also with divine good, or his divinity.

Verse 8:20. That this instruction was from the knowledges of good and truth in the Lord's humanity, to which humanity no violence was as yet offered, because the period of its glorification was not yet arrived.

Verse 8:21. Therefore the Lord, in that humanity, testifies further concerning those who are principled in self-love, that he is about to leave the world, and that they will speculate concerning him, but still will destroy in themselves all heavenly life through their evils and falsities, and thus can have no communion with him.

Verses 8:22, 23. And when this testimony is misunderstood, he testifies yet further, that all, who are principled in self-love, are in connection with infernal spirits, and are also in worldly love, whereas his humanity is in connection with divinity, and thus undefiled by worldly love.

Verse 8:24. Therefore they, who are principled in self-love, separate themselves from the life of heaven, since such separation is a certain consequence of not acknowledging the Lord in his Divine Humanity to be Jehovah.

Verses 8:25, 26. That enquiry is hence excited amongst those who are of the perverted church, concerning the Lord's humanity, and they are instructed that it is the first and supreme of all principles, agreeable to its constant testimony, being in possession of all knowledge, by reason of its union with the divine good.

Verses 8:27, 28, 29. This however is not apprehended by them, and there fore they are instructed further, that when the humanity is glorified, or made divine, then it will be seen that it is essential life, and that all its operation and thought are from that life, and therefore the divinity is always present with the humanity, and the humanity never separated from divinity, since its operation is always in accord with the divine will.

Verses 8:30, 31, 32. That in consequence of this instruction, faith in the Lord's humanity is excited and prevails, and they, who receive it, are further taught, that if they continue to live according to his precepts, they will be taught of him, and will understand divine truth, and will thus be delivered from the bondage of sin.

Verse 8:33. This instruction however is rejected, and it is argued that since they are in possession of the Word, and were never in bondage to sin, it is to no purpose to speak to them about escaping that bondage.

Verses 8:34, 35. Therefore they are further instructed, that in the love of evil there is servitude, and that they who are in such servitude, cannot enter into heaven, which is open only to those who are in divine truth.

Verse 8:36. If then they are in divine truth, leading them to renounce evil love, then they will attain the true freedom, which consists in being led of the Lord.

Verses 8:37, 38. It is granted that they possess the Word, but inasmuch as they reject divine truth, it is a full proof that the truth of the Word is not received by them, since the truth of the Word is from the divine good, and therefore they, who reject it, cleave to what is false derived from infernal evil.

Verses 8:39, 40, and part of 41. Still they insist that they are regenerated of the Lord ; but they are again taught, that if they were regenerated of the Lord, they would love what the Lord loves, but that in rejecting divine truth, they oppose divine love, and by so doing prove themselves to be in infernal love.

Verses: part of 8:41, 42, 43. Still they insist that they are not principled in evils and falsities, but in divine truth; and therefore they are further instructed, that if they were principled in divine truth, they would love the Lord's humanity, because that humanity was from the divine truth, and is the divine truth; and the reason why they do not understand this, is, because they are not rightly affected towards the internal sense of the Word.

Verse 8:44. Therefore they are in the false of faith, and are thus in the cravings of evil, and destroyers of all intellectual truth, cherishing evil in the will, and the false principles thence derived in the understanding.

Verses 8:45, 46. On which account they reject the Lord in his humanity, although in his humanity he was essential purity, and ought to be believed in as essential truth.

Verse 8:47. For every one, who is principled in divine truth, lives in obedience to divine truth, and if any are disobedient, it is because they are not principled in divine truth.

Verses 8:48, 49. That the perverted church reject this instruction, as proceeding from ignorance of the Word, and from infernal agency, therefore they are further taught, that the Lord's humanity is not under infernal control, but under divine government, and is therefore rejected.

Verses 8:50, 51. And that it does not exalt itself, but is exalted and instructed by the essential divinity, and therefore whoever lives according to the Lord's precepts is delivered from damnation.

Verses 8:52, 53, 54. But this instruction is also rejected by the perverted church, through misinterpretation, and regarded as a further proof of infernal agency, and as exalting the Lord's humanity in an undue measure; therefore they are again taught, that if the humanity exalted itself, its exaltation is no exaltation, but that it is exalted by the Supreme Divinity, who is regarded in the church as the supreme teacher of truth.

Verse 8:55. Who yet is unknown in the church, and known only to the assumed humanity; therefore the humanity must testify to such knowledge, because it is the truth; thus it testifies that both in understanding and in will it is one with the Supreme Divinity.

Verse 8:56. And was accordingly seen in the representative church under a human form, exciting the affections both of truth and good.

Verses 8:57, 58. And notwithstanding appearances to the contrary, arising from its being born in time, is yet the Eternal Jehovah.

Verse 8:59. That this instruction is opposed by the false persuasions originating in the natural mind, which darken the truth in such a manner, that it is no longer seen, and therefore is unnoticed, though it is the central life of all men.

From Swedenborg's Works

Explanations or references:

Arcana Coelestia 1947, 9096, 9586

Apocalypse Revealed 3, 23

Divine Providence 145

True Christian Religion 495

The New Jerusalem and its Heavenly Doctrine 142


References from Swedenborg's drafts, indexes & diaries:

Apocalypse Explained 228, 409, 768, 836

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