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 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)


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


Matthew 10:22

Study the Inner Meaning


22 And ye shall be hated of all men for my name's sake: but he that endureth to the end shall be saved.

   Study the Inner Meaning

Exploring the Meaning of Matthew 10      

By Rev. Dr. Ray Silverman

Chapter 10.

Sending Out the Apostles

1. And calling for His twelve disciples, He gave them authority over unclean spirits, so as to cast them out, and to cure every disease and every malady.

2. And the names of the twelve apostles are these: first, Simon, who is called Peter, and Andrew his brother; James the [son] of Zebedee, and John his brother;

3. Philip and Bartholomew; Thomas and Matthew the publican; James the [son] of Alphaeus, and Lebbeus, [also] called Thaddaeus;

4. Simon the Canaanite, and Judas Iscariot, who also betrayed Him.

5. These twelve Jesus sent out, charging them, saying, “Into the way of the nations go ye not, and into a city of the Samaritans enter ye not.

6. But go ye rather to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.

7. And as you go, preach, saying that the kingdom of the heavens is near.

8. Cure the sick, cleanse the lepers, raise the dead, cast out demons; freely you have received, freely give.

9. Possess not gold, nor silver, nor bronze for your belts,

10. Nor pack for a journey, nor two tunics, nor shoes, nor a staff; for the worker is worthy of his food.”

In the previous chapter Jesus said that “the multitudes were weary and scattered, like sheep without a shepherd.” These “multitudes” represent our innocent affections and tender thoughts, especially our earnest desires to lead a deeply spiritual life. But these thoughts, affections are disorganized. We may have fragments of truth in our mind that we picked up from time to time, but they are not in a coherent framework. We may attempt meditation, or prayer, or daily readings from time to time, but we have no fixed aim or plan.

There comes a time, however, in the course of our spiritual development, when these scattered thoughts and affections must be gathered together, organized and arranged in proper order so that they can be summoned up quickly and used when necessary. Haphazard, hit-or-miss, random spirituality will no longer suffice.

This is precisely where we are at this point in the gospel narrative.

The religious leaders have begun to openly accuse Jesus of blasphemy and of being in partnership with the devil. It is becoming increasingly clear that Jesus’ life is in danger. Similarly, the time comes when our spiritual life is in danger; it is a time when we must bring together and organize all things of goodness and truth within ourselves, and prepare for action. It is time to organize the twelve disciples and send them out as apostles. 1

Each of the twelve apostles represents an essential spiritual principle. Peter, for example, represents faith, and John represents charity (love). 2 While this is not the place to go into the spiritual representation of each apostle, it should be noted that in calling them together and then sending them out in pairs, Jesus begins the initial work of organizing them. The “scattered sheep” are about to become apostles — those who, having been instructed, carry the message to others. But first, these individuals must be organized.

Having arranged the disciples into pairs, Jesus now sends them out, commanding them “Do not go into the way of the Gentiles, and do not enter a city of the Samaritans. But rather go to the lost sheep of the house of Israel” (10:5). In other words, they should not get sidetracked by misleading emotions and false beliefs (represented by the Gentiles and Samaritans). 3 Instead they should first of all gather together the lost sheep of Israel — the tender affections and innocent thoughts — and then subordinate them to the more comprehensive spiritual principles represented by each disciple. In this way they will be protected from oncoming attacks.

As they go, they are to preach, saying, “The kingdom of heaven is at hand” (10:7). Jesus is giving them essential instruction in the art of good preaching. They are to begin with the exciting news: the kingdom of heaven is rapidly approaching and could be right around the corner! Once the goal is announced (receiving heaven), Jesus explains the means for attaining the goal: “Heal the infirm,” He says, “cleanse the lepers, raise the dead, and cast out demons.” This is what first needs to happen before the kingdom of heaven can be received. The healing of every disease and the casting out of every demon represents the acknowledgement of our sins, and the work of removing them. In other words, it’s about repentance. This is why both John the Baptist and Jesus said, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand” (3:1 and 4:17).

The main thing to remember, as the apostles begin their ministry, is that the power to heal and the power to be healed is from the Lord: “Freely you have received,” says Jesus. And because of this they should “freely give” (10:8). It is vital, therefore, that in this work they include nothing of themselves. Their work is for God, and their power is from God. They must trust completely in His power and His providence. “Provide neither gold nor silver nor copper in your money belts, nor bag for your journey, nor two tunics, nor sandals, nor staffs” (10:10). God will see to it that all their needs are provided: “For a worker is worthy of his food” (10:10). As long as they are doing the Lord’s work, the Lord will continually instruct them, and every spiritual need will be met. 4

Wise as Serpents, Harmless as Doves

11. “And into whatever city or village you enter, search [out] who in it is worthy, and there remain until you go out.

12. And when you come into the house, greet it.

13. And if indeed the house be worthy, let your peace come upon it; but if it be not worthy, let your peace return to you.

14. And if anyone shall not receive you, nor hear your words, when you go out of that house or city, shake off the dust of your feet.

15. Amen I say to you, it shall be more tolerable for the land of Sodom and Gomorrah in the day of judgment, than for that city.

16. Behold, I send you out as sheep in the midst of wolves; be ye therefore prudent as serpents, and simple as doves.”

The sending out of the twelve apostles represents the way in which God gathers together the more general principles of spiritual truth in us, so that we can better organize the details of our everyday life. Some of these more general principles might include teachings such as the ever-present reality of the spiritual world, the importance of keeping the Ten Commandments, the acknowledgment that without God we can do nothing, the joy of useful service, the necessity of temptation as a part of regeneration, and the belief that God can bring good out of everything that arises, no matter how difficult it may seem at the moment. These are some of the fundamental truths that will become organizing principles for everything else we learn and do. 5

Spiritually speaking, this kind of ordering and arrangement of the mind is called “putting our house in order.” This is because in sacred scripture a “house” represents the human mind — the place where our thoughts and feelings are “housed.” This is why we are told to build our “house” (our mind) upon a rock (God’s commandments), and why our state of mind (what we are thinking about or “dwelling” upon) can be called our spiritual “dwelling-place.” Ideally, our minds should be like the mind of God, furnished with the most loving emotions and noble thoughts. This is the spiritual significance of David’s words, “And I shall dwell in the house of Lord, forever” (Psalm 23:6). 6

With an understanding of the spiritual significance of the word “house” in mind, we can see greater meaning in Jesus’ next command to the apostles. “If the household is worthy, let your peace come upon it.” This means that if a worthy thought or emotion arises, we are encouraged to enter into it, to dwell upon it, and let it become part of our peace. But Jesus also adds, “If it is not worthy, let your peace return to you” (10:13). In other words, if a thought or emotion arises that is not worthy, we should not enter into it or dwell upon it. Instead we should return to our state of peace.

This is the work of the “twelve apostles” in us, Spiritually seen, the twelve apostles represent the most general principles of spiritual life. These are the principles that will help us determine what thoughts and feelings our minds should enter into, and what thoughts and feelings we should avoid. If something does not agree with a spiritual principle, we are not to dwell there — or even visit. And if we find that something within us arises to disagree with a God-given principle, something that refuses to accept a clear teaching from God’s Word — we should withdraw from that state of mind and “shake it off” like dust from our feet. As Jesus says, “Whoever will not receive you nor hear your words, when you depart from that house or city, shake off the dust from your feet” (10:12-14).

This means that we can live our lives in quiet assurance, trusting in the power and permanence of truth to guide and protect us. There will be times, however, when objections will arise — doubts about the most fundamental truths we know. But we are not to worry. If there is no goodness or truth in these objections, they have no power over us. They are like dust on our shoes, which can easily be brushed off as we continue our journey. Others might disagree with us; doubts and reservations might arise in our mind. But we are not the ones being judged. Rather, the judgment is upon those doubts and reservations. Jesus puts it like this: “Verily, I say unto you. It shall be more tolerable for the land of Sodom and Gomorrah in the day of judgment, than for that city” (10:15).

The task of spiritual discernment, however, is not an easy one. “Behold, I send you forth as sheep in the midst of wolves” says Jesus (10:16). The “wolves” are the evil desires and false beliefs that will consume our good impulses and noble ideals. Therefore, we must be “gentle as doves” — non-violent in our behavior, but “wise as serpents” — very careful about the feelings and thoughts we allow to enter our minds. 7 Like a serpent with eyes on both sides of its head, we need to have 360 degree spiritual vision; we need to remain vigilant, aware of evil desires and false thoughts — predators that might endeavor to silently creep into our minds unnoticed. And whenever the wolves come sniffing around, we must be like doves, able to gently take wing and rise above them.

Warnings about Coming Persecutions

17. “And beware of men; for they will deliver you up to councils, and will scourge you in their synagogues.

18. And you shall be led before governors and also kings on account of Me, for a witness to them and to the nations.

19. But when they shall deliver you up, be not anxious [about] how or what you shall speak, for it shall be given to you in that hour what you shall speak.

20. For you are not they that speak, but the spirit of your Father [is] what speaks in you.

21. And brother shall deliver up brother to death, and father child; and children shall rise up against parents, and put them to death.

22. And you shall be hated by all on account of My name; but he that endures to the end, he shall be saved.

23. And when they persecute you in this city, flee into the other; for amen I say to you, you shall not have finished the cities of Israel until the Son of Man has come.

24. The disciple is not above the teacher, nor the servant above his lord.

25. It is sufficient for the disciple that he become as his teacher, and the servant as his lord. If they have called the householder Beelzebub, how much more them of his household?

26. Fear them not therefore; for there is nothing covered, that shall not be uncovered, and secret, that shall not be known.

27. What I say to you in the darkness, say ye in the light; and what you hear in the ear, preach ye upon the housetops.

28. And be not afraid of those that kill the body, but are not able to kill the soul; but rather be afraid of Him who is able to destroy both soul and body in hell.

29. Are not two sparrows sold for an assarion [penny]? And not one of them shall fall upon the earth without your Father.

30. And of you, even the hairs of the head are all numbered.

31. Fear not therefore; you are of more value than many sparrows.

32. Whoever therefore shall profess Me before men, I also will profess him before My Father that [is] in the heavens.

33. But whoever shall deny Me before men, I also will deny him before My Father that [is] in the heavens.

34. Suppose not that I am come to cast peace upon earth; I am not come to cast peace, but a sword.

35. For I am come to set a man at variance against his father, and a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law.

36. And the man’s enemies [shall be] they of his own house.

37. He that loves father or mother above Me is not worthy of Me, and he that loves son or daughter above Me is not worthy of Me.

38. And whoever does not take his cross, and follow after Me, is not worthy of Me.

39. He that finds his soul shall lose it, and he that loses his soul for My sake shall find it.

40. He that receives you, receives Me, and he that receives Me, receives Him that sent Me.

41. He that accepts a prophet in the name of a prophet shall receive the reward of a prophet; and he that accepts [someone] just in the name of [someone] just shall receive the reward of [someone] just.

42. And whoever shall give a cup of cold [water] to one of these little ones to drink in the name of a disciple, amen I say to you, he shall not lose his reward.”

As the apostles are being prepared for their mission, Jesus tells them to be wary of human reasoning. This is the tendency to twist and pervert spiritual truths so as to make them subordinate to one’s own will: “Beware of men, for they will deliver you up to councils and scourge you in their synagogues” (10:17). Evil desires and false ideas will invade our minds attacking the good emotions and true thoughts that proceed from God just as mercilessly as the religious leaders of Jesus’ day attacked and persecuted Him. In other words, Jesus warns them in advance that whatever is good and true in them will be tested. In fact, they will be delivered up to councils and scourged.

The news is not pleasant. It will be rough going. Nevertheless, Jesus offers His disciples the greatest encouragement: “When they deliver you up, do not be anxious about how, or what you should speak. For it will be given you in that hour what you should speak, for it is not you who speak, but the Spirit of your Father who speaks in you” (10:19-20).

In terms of the continuous internal sense of this gospel, it is important to recall the final miracle in the previous episode: a mute man was given the gift of speech. We too shall be given the gift of speech; we shall speak from love, for that is what is meant by the words, it is “the Spirit of your Father who speaks in you.” 8

Jesus continues to balance bad news with good news: “And you will be hated by all for My name's sake. But he who endures to the end will be saved” (10:22). Such words are to be read simultaneously on two different levels. On one level Jesus is forewarning His disciples of the persecutions they will face as they go forth to proclaim and live His message. On a more interior level, these apostles represent spiritual principles in ourselves that will meet with one form of opposition or another. Nevertheless, we should not worry about these inevitable attacks, for no matter what happens to us, these principles — which are the very soul of our life — cannot be harmed. “And do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul” (10:28).

In truth, spiritual life — the life that endures forever — is the only real life; it is the only life that really matters. What is the loss of a few earthly years compared to the gain of eternal life? In giving up ego concerns, which seem to be our very life, God flows in with spiritual blessings beyond number. If we willingly surrender the old life and its selfish ways, we gain an entirely new life. Therefore, Jesus says, “He who loses his life for My sake will find it” (10:39).

In asking His apostles to give up everything, even their very lives, in order to faithfully follow Him, Jesus takes another step in revealing His Divine identity. It is here that Jesus confesses that He has been sent by the Father: “He who receives you receives Me,” He says. “And he who receives Me receives Him who sent Me” (10:40). Jesus’ promise is unmistakable and profound. His words add up to this: Whoever receives Me, receives God. Surely, Jesus is gradually manifesting His divinity.

This chapter closes with a final word of encouragement to the disciples: “Whoever gives one of these little ones a cup of cold water in the name of a disciple, assuredly, I say to you, he shall by no means lose his reward” (10:42). Here Jesus assures His disciples that even the least effort to share truth (“cup of cold water”) with others or to perform an act of kindness will be rewarded — provided that it is done “in the name of a disciple.” That is, as long as God is acknowledged as the source of all goodness and truth, it matters not how little or how much we accomplish. Even “a cup of cold water,” given in the right spirit, will suffice.

It’s a powerful lesson, and one that is given to inspire and encourage the disciples who are about to face persecution. In brief, Jesus is assuring them that whatever they say or do, no matter how small or great, if done in the right spirit, will have the blessings of heaven within it — inner peace and limitless joy. This is what Jesus means when He says, “Whoever shall give to one of these little ones a cup of cold water in the name of a disciple shall not lose his reward” (10:42).


1. The Greek word ἀπόστολος (apóstolos) means “one who is sent” or “messenger.” We are “disciples” when being instructed by the Lord, and we are “apostles” when we are being sent off to carry His message to others. See Arcana Coelestia 10490: “To be a disciple of the Lord is to be led by Him and not by self, thus by the goods and truths which are from the Lord, and not by the evils and falsities which are from one’s self.” Also, Apocalypse Revealed 79: “The term ‘apostles’ signifies all who teach the goods and truths of the church, and in the abstract sense, this term refers to the goods and truths doctrine.”

2. Apocalypse Revealed 17: “John represents the good of life, and Peter the truth of faith.” See also Apocalypse Explained 821: “The twelve apostles, like the twelve tribes of Israel, represented all things of truth and good. Also, Peter, James, and John, signified faith, charity, and the works of charity, in their order. It follows, therefore, that when they were together they represented these as one. It is said, as one, because the faith that is a faith without charity has no existence; and the charity that is a charity without works has no existence.”

3. Arcana Coelestia 4169: “The ‘Gentiles’ to whom they should not go, denote those who are in evils. The ‘cities of the Samaritans’ denote those who are in falsities; and ‘sheep,’ those who are in goods.”

4. Apocalypse Explained 242:22 “Jesus said to His disciples, whom He sent forth to preach the gospel, that they should possess no gold, nor silver, nor brass in their purses. By this was represented that they should have nothing of good and truth from themselves, but only from the Lord, and that all things would be given them freely. ‘Gold’ signifies the good of love.” See also Apocalypse Explained 827:6: “Gold and silver, signify the knowledges of good and truth from the Word.”

5. Apocalypse Explained 904: “It is according to Divine order for what is general to precede, in order that particulars may be introduced into them, rightly arranged, made homogeneous, and joined together in close connection.”

6. Arcana Coelestia 7353: “The ancients compared the mind of a person to a house, and those things which are within a person to chambers. The human mind is indeed like this; for the things therein are distinct, scarcely otherwise than as a house is divided into its chambers; those things which are in the middle are like the inmost parts; those which are at the sides are like the outer parts, these being compared to the courts; and those which while outside are connected with the inside parts, being compared to the porches.”

7. Arcana Coelestia 197 “To the earliest people a ‘serpent’ signified circumspection, lest they be hurt by evil.”

8. Arcana Coelestia 10265: “Divine Love, called the Father, exists within the Lord’s Divine Human, called the Son.” When Jesus speaks from this love, the influence it has upon us is called the “Holy Spirit.” See also True Christian Religion 167: “The Holy Spirit is the Divine that goes forth out of the Lord from the Father” This is analogous to a person who has an inmost soul, visible body, and an influence on others. These are not three aspects of the same person, but one person. Similarly, the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are not three separate persons, but three aspects of One God. See Ath 4: “The Father signifies the Divine Itself, the Son the Divine Human, and the Holy Spirit, the Divine proceeding.”


From Swedenborg's Works

Explanations or references:

Arcana Coelestia 2009, 2724, 3703, 6674

Apocalypse Revealed 81, 839

Divine Providence 230, 231

True Christian Religion 682

References from Swedenborg's drafts, indexes & diaries:

Apocalypse Explained 102

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The items listed here are provided courtesy of our friends at the General Church of the New Jerusalem. You can search/browse their whole library at the New Church Vineyard website.

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