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 5:8

Study the Inner Meaning


8 Blessed are the pure in heart: for they shall see God.

   Study the Inner Meaning

Exploring the Meaning of Matthew 5      

By Rev. Dr. Ray Silverman

Chapter 5.

On the Mountaintop

1. And seeing the crowds, He went up into the mountain; and when He had sat down, His disciples came to Him.

2. And opening His mouth He taught them, saying,

3. “Happy [are] the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of the heavens.

4. Happy [are] they that mourn, for they shall be comforted.

5. Happy [are] the meek, for they shall inherit the earth.

6. Happy [are] they that hunger and thirst after justice, for they shall be satisfied.

7. Happy [are] the merciful, for they shall have mercy.

8. Happy [are] the clean in heart, for they shall see God.

9. Happy [are] the peacemakers, for they shall be called the sons of God.

10. Happy [are] they that are persecuted for the sake of justice, for theirs is the kingdom of the heavens.

11. Happy are you when they shall reproach you, and persecute [you], and say every wicked saying against you, telling lies, on account of Me.

12. Leap for joy and rejoice, for your reward [is] much in the heavens; for so they persecuted the prophets that were before you.”

As the crowds begin to gather, and as great multitudes come to Him, not only from Galilee, but also from Decapolis, Jerusalem, Judea, and from areas beyond the Jordan, Jesus decides to go up onto a mountain and preach. His instruction begins with this essential teaching: “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven” (5:1).

One purpose served by temptation is to make us aware of our spiritual poverty, so that we might choose to acknowledge in heart that everything we have is from God. This is one of the great purposes of temptation — to remind us that without God we are utterly helpless. This is the part of us that follows Jesus up the mountain in order to receive the opening words of His most famous speech, referred to as the “Sermon on the Mount.”

Jesus begins with the words, “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven” (5:3). This is the main idea which reigns throughout the sermon. To the degree that we acknowledge that all love and all wisdom is from God alone, and nothing from ourselves, we can receive the love and wisdom that constantly flows in from God. It is this acknowledgment — the acknowledgment of our spiritual poverty — which receives the kingdom of heaven.

But there are times when we forget this essential truth. And when we forget that everything good and true is from the Lord alone, sorrow and suffering are inevitable. That’s why the second blessing speaks about how God offers comfort during times of mourning: “Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.” As we turn to the Lord in prayer and call upon His name, the Comforter comes to us, restoring lost truths, teaching us new ones, and filling us with hope and consolation. When these lost truths are brought again to our remembrance, we remember that without God we are indeed “poor in spirit.” Relieved of the arrogance that believes we are the source of truth and goodness, we experience humility. We find that we are agreeable, good-natured, and willing to admit our faults. No longer eager to win an argument, or defend ourselves, our unruly lower nature (“the earth”) is tamed, quieted, and subdued. The third blessing describes this gentler disposition: “Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth” (5:4). 1

These first three blessings speak about the qualities of people who acknowledge God as the giver of all things (“poor in spirit”), people who long for the comfort of truth (“they who mourn”), and people who are gentle and temperate in disposition (“the meek”). People who are of this nature are open to the blessings that flow in from God, beginning with the desire to serve the neighbor. Consequently, the fourth blessing speaks not only of humility, meekness and the desire to receive truth, but also of the desire to bring those truths forth in their lives. Such people desire to live a righteous life. Therefore we read, “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst after righteousness, for they shall be filled” (5:6).

This marks the transition to the next three blessings. The fifth, sixth and seventh blessings summarize the works of charity that constitute a life of righteousness. As we turn to God for all things, we are filled with mercy towards others. And insofar as we exercise that mercy, we become more merciful. “Blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy” (5:7). As we practice mercy in all our relationships, our hearts become purified enabling us to see the good in others — their God-given qualities: “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God” (5:8)

This leads to the seventh and culminating blessing: “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called the sons of God” (5:9). This is not just a state of being (humble, meek), it is also a state of doing: blessed are the peacemakers. But the kind of “doing” that takes place in this state is not human doing; it is what God does through each of us. That is why those who obtain this blessing are called “the sons of God.”

The seven blessings in their order are a divine series which reveal the process of spiritual development, beginning with the recognition of our spiritual poverty, and ending in a state in which we become instruments through which God operates to bring peace into the world.

But there is also an eighth blessing: “Blessed are you when they revile you and persecute you, and say all kinds of evil against you falsely for My sake” (5:10). This eighth blessing reminds us that spiritual life is a cyclical pattern. As we achieve the blessings associated with one state of spiritual development, we are simultaneously being prepared for entrance into higher and even more elevated states of spiritual life. But in order to enter those higher states, subtler evils will have to be exposed, combated, and overcome.

Thus, the trials of temptation will begin again, as less obvious evils are exposed by the brighter light of divine truth. These evils will rise up within us, fiercely defending themselves, as they fight for their life. But if we persevere, refusing to succumb to the rationalizations and justifications that support our selfish concerns, there will be a great blessing: “Blessed are you when they revile and persecute you, and say all kinds of evil against you falsely for My sake. Rejoice and be exceedingly glad, for great is your reward in heaven” (5:11-12).

The seven blessings, which are given in a divinely ordered series, perfectly describe the spiritual evolution of every person. These blessings begin with the acknowledgment that we cannot do good from ourselves, and they steadily progress to the highest blessing that God can confer upon us: we become sons of God, people through whom God works to bring peace on earth. “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God.” The eighth blessing returns us to the beginning of the series, and reminds us once again that temptation provides us with the opportunity to follow God. This is not something to be dreaded; rather it is to be anticipated with joy. “Rejoice,” says Jesus, “and be exceedingly glad, for great is your reward in heaven.”

Doing Good Works

13. “You are the salt of the earth; but if the salt become saltless, with what shall it be salted? After that it is of no use, except to be cast out, and to be trampled by men.

14. You are the light of the world. A city that is laid out on a mountain cannot be hidden.

15. Neither do they light a lamp, and put it under the bushel, but on the lampstand, and it shines for all that [are] in the house.

16. So let your light shine in front of men, so that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father that [is] in the heavens.”

The Sermon on the Mount provides wonderful instruction. Yet mere instruction, without a desire to do good works in the spirit of that instruction, is useless. It is like salt which has lost its flavor, like a light hidden under a basket. All truth is given for the sake of use. Every blessing God bestows upon us is done so that we may be of greater service to the neighbor. And in that service is true blessing, for all heavenly reward is the delight that we experience when we are involved in some loving service towards the neighbor. 2

It is for this reason that the divine series continues with these words: “You are the salt of the earth; but if the salt loses its flavor, how shall it be seasoned? It is then good for nothing but to be thrown out and trampled underfoot by men” (5:13).

Salt is highly useful as a seasoning. But salt that has lost its flavor is useless. Similarly, a human being who has no desire to do good is like salt with no flavor. That person is useless. 3 Truth must be put to use. This is the thrust of this section of the sermon. Light is good, but it must be put to use: “You are the light of the world,” says Jesus. “A city that is set on a hill cannot be hidden. Nor do they light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a lampstand, and it gives light to all who are in the house” (5:14-15).

The emphasis is not just on learning truth, but on living it. Jesus therefore says to His disciples, “Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works and glorify your Father in heaven” (5:16).

Spiritual instruction has no other end but the doing of good works. And good works are truly good, only when they are done by the Father through us. That’s why this section of the sermon includes the all-important reminder that when others see our good works, all praise, glory, and honor should go to God. As Jesus puts it, let them see your good works, but be sure that they glorify your Father in heaven. It’s not about us; it’s about God working through us. 4

Jesus Begins to Reveal the Inner Meaning of Scripture

17. “Do not suppose that I have come to undo the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to undo but to fulfill.

18. For amen I say to you, Till heaven and earth pass away, one yodh or one little horn shall not pass away from the Law, till all things come to pass.

19. Therefore whoever shall loosen one of the least of these commandments, and shall teach men so, shall be called least in the kingdom of the heavens; but whoever shall do and teach [them], he shall be called great in the kingdom of the heavens.

20. For I say to you that unless your justice shall exceed [that] of the scribes and Pharisees, you shall not enter into the kingdom of the heavens.

21. You have heard that it was declared by the ancients, Thou shalt not murder; and whoever shall murder shall be subject to the judgment.

22. But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother rashly shall be subject to the judgment; and whoever shall say to his brother, Raca, shall be subject to the council; and whoever shall say, Thou fool, shall be subject to the gehenna of fire.

23. If therefore thou offer thy gift on the altar, and there rememberest that thy brother has anything against thee,”

24. Leave there thy gift in front of the altar, and go thy way; first be reconciled to thy brother, and then come offer thy gift.

25. Be of good will with thine adversary quickly, while thou art in the way with him, lest the adversary deliver thee up to the judge, and the judge deliver thee up to the attendant, and thou be cast into prison.

26. Amen I say unto thee, Thou shalt not come out from there until thou hast paid the last farthing.

27. You have heard that it was declared to the ancients, Thou shalt not commit adultery.

28. But I say to you that everyone who looks at [another] woman to lust after her has already committed adultery with her in his heart.

29. And if thy right eye cause thee to stumble, pluck it out, and cast it from thee; for it is expedient for thee that one of thy members should perish, and not [that] thy whole body be cast into gehenna.

30. And if thy right hand cause thee to stumble, cut it off, and cast [it] from thee; for it is expedient for thee that one of thy members should perish, and not [that] thy whole body be cast into gehenna.

31. And it has been declared that whoever shall send away his wife, let him give her a divorce.

32. But I say to you, whoever shall send away his wife, outside of the reason of scortation, makes her commit adultery; and whoever shall wed her that is sent away commits adultery.

33. Again, you have heard that it has been declared to the ancients, Thou shalt not swear falsely, but shalt render to the Lord thine oaths.

34. But I say to you, Swear not at all; neither by the heaven, for it is the throne of God;

35. Nor by the earth, for it is the footstool of His feet; neither by Jerusalem, for it is the city of the great King.

36. Neither shalt thou swear by thy head, because thou canst not make one hair white or black.

37. But let your word be, yes, yes; no, no; and whatever [is] beyond these is from evil.

38. You have heard that it has been declared, An eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth.

39. But I say to you, Do not stand against the wicked; but whoever shall hit thee on thy right cheekbone, turn to him the other also.

40. And [if anyone] wills to have thee judged and take thy tunic, let him have the cloak also.

41. And whoever shall compel thee [to go] one mile, go with him two.

42. Give to him that asks thee; and turn not away him that wills to borrow from thee.

43. You have heard that it has been declared, Thou shalt love thy neighbor, and shalt hate thine enemy.

44. But I say to you, Love your enemies, bless those that curse you, do well to those that hate you, and pray for those that injure you and persecute you,”

It’s undeniably true that truth must be put to use. But before the Word of God can most fully be put to use, it must be fully understood. That’s why Jesus now gives His disciples a brief tutorial on how to read scripture, beginning with this disclaimer, “Do not think that I came to destroy the Law or the Prophets. I did not come to destroy but to fulfill” (5:17).

On one level, Jesus did fulfill the Law in that His coming fulfilled the prophecies of the Hebrew scriptures. But He was also about to fulfill the Law by infilling it with higher meaning. He would explain how the Law speaks not only about our outward behavior, but, also about our inner attitudes; He would explain how the Law speaks not only about our bodily actions, but also about the desires of our spirit. In this way, Jesus would fill the Law full of a spiritual meaning. It would be of use not only for regulating one’s external conduct, but, more importantly, for reforming one’s inner life.

Jesus begins with the commandments: “You have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not murder’ … But I say unto you that whoever is angry with his brother without a cause shall be in danger of the judgment.” (5:21-22). Similarly, He reveals the spiritual meaning of the law against adultery: “You have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’ But I say unto you that whoever looks upon a woman to lust after her has already committed adultery with her in his heart” (5:27-28).

These are new teachings, but not totally beyond the grasp of His audience. There would be more to come, more interior teachings about the human spirit and the path to heaven, and it would take time before people could completely grasp these higher messages. For now, however, it would be enough to give people concrete, literal examples that they can understand — not abstract truths that are beyond their comprehension. In this regard, Jesus teaches them to forgo oath-making (5:33-37), to turn the cheek when struck (5:39), to give more than what is demanded (5:40), to go further than what is required (5:42), to give to everyone who asks, and to lend to anyone who wants to borrow (5:42).

These teachings would be hard to follow, but not difficult to understand. Within them are higher truths about our response when our inmost beliefs are under assault — not just in the public arena, but more specifically, when we are being persecuted by hellish spirits. At such times, we must not worry, for if we abide in the truth we will remain in God’s protection. 5 The only thing that can avert this divine protection is our free decision to identify with and succumb to the promptings of our lower nature (arrogance and conceit, resentment and anger, anxiety and fear, misery and despair and etc.) — promptings which flow in from hell. 6

Instead of teaching these interior truths, Jesus keeps their minds on more obvious issues — like the need to overcome their desire to take revenge: “You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’ But I tell you not to resist an evil person. But whoever slaps you on your right cheek, turn the other to him also.”

This would, of course, have seemed impossible and illogical. Questions would inevitably arise: “Why should anyone turn the cheek to an attacker?” “What about self-defense?” “What about protecting our loved ones and our country?” “What good can come from turning the cheek, especially if it leads to evil people taking greater and greater advantage of good people?” These are legitimate questions, and Jesus would have answers for each of them — at a later time. 7

The people to whom Jesus is speaking are not yet able to understand the more interior truths contained within these teachings. They are not ready to understand that “turning the cheek” is something we do internally when our beliefs are being attacked. These attacks do not necessarily come through other people, but rather through unseen spiritual forces that endeavor to destroy our faith in God and our trust in the power of His truth. Therefore, whenever we turn the cheek internally, we practice interior forgiveness. We know that no words spoken, whispered or insinuated can possibly bring us down or hurt our faith. This is what enables us to pray for our enemies, to forgive them, and even to love them. Because we are under God’s protection, we know that evil can do us no spiritual harm. Therefore we need not resist it.

On the physical plane, however, we must be more cautious. People can cause a great deal of physical harm. Therefore, we cannot and should not give to everyone who asks, nor lend to everyone who wishes to borrow. Such indiscriminate charity would leave us penniless and without resources to do good to others. Similarly, we should not allow thieves, cheats, and scam artists to take advantage of us. If we allowed ourselves to be abused in this way, society would be destroyed. Therefore, people who prey on innocent victims must be reported, prosecuted, and if found guilty, appropriately punished. It does evildoers no good, society no good, and us no good to ignore criminal behavior or support malicious intentions. We must defend ourselves and our loved ones.

In brief, self-defense is not contrary to divine law; nor is it wrong to defend one’s family and country when under enemy assault. God never asks us to be doormats. On the external plane we must resist evil. But on the internal plane, there is no resistance. Instead, there is love, mercy, understanding, compassion and forgiveness. It is these God-given states of consciousness that make us impervious to spiritual danger. In such states we need not resist interior evil — for God alone resists those evils that would take away our faith and destroy our happiness. 8

These are the more interior lessons that Jesus will offer at a later time. For now, it is Jesus’ task to keep their minds on a simple, clear lesson: the need to learn forgiveness: “You have heard it said that you shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy. But I say to you, love your enemies, bless those who curse you, do good to those who hate you, and pray for those who spitefully use you and persecute you” (5:43-44). These literal teachings would be troubling, difficult, seemingly impossible to keep. But the struggle to do so would be important. It would teach them the most important lesson of all: they could never do so without God.

“Be ye therefore perfect”

45. “So that you may be sons of your Father that [is] in the heavens; for He makes His sun to rise on the wicked and the good, and sends rain on the just and the unjust.

46. For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the publicans do the same?

47. And if you greet your brothers only, what do you do beyond [others]? Do not even the publicans do so?

48. Be ye therefore perfect, just as your Father that [is] in the heavens is perfect.”

Because the people are not yet ready to understand, Jesus cannot yet reveal that these teachings have a higher, more interior spiritual meaning — a meaning that will be revealed to them at a later time. 9 Eventually (and in a different gospel), He will tell His disciples, “I have yet many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now” (John 16:12). For now, however, these initial teachings will become vital steps along the pathway to human perfection. All they have to do is live according to these introductory teachings.

Therefore, Jesus’ focus, at this point, is to instruct them in the fundamentals of charitable service — to help them become perfect in the art of charitable giving. This will involve doing good works that are purified from selfish motives, seeking nothing in return. Moreover, these charitable works should not be limited to friends and neighbors. From now on their good works are to be extended even to enemies. After all, it’s easy to love one’s friends and do good things for them. That’s natural — not spiritual. But to be “perfect” they will have to love their enemies: “Love your enemies,” says Jesus “For if you love those who love you, what reward have you?”

Jesus is here speaking about heavenly rewards, the spiritual delights that flow in when we truly love others — including our enemies. “Be ye, therefore, perfect, as your Father who is in the heavens is perfect” (5:45-48).

It should be noted that this verse is often translated as a promise rather than a command. Instead of “Be ye, therefore, perfect,” it has been translated as “You shall be perfect” — not exactly what Jesus is getting at. It is the striving to be perfect, not the attainment of perfection that matters. As Swedenborg teaches, even the angels never reach a state of final perfection; neither can we. But we can persevere; we can strive; we can endeavor to be perfect “even as our Father in the heavens is perfect.” 10

Admittedly, striving for perfection can be difficult — not just for the people of biblical times, but even for us today. Self-interest must be overcome; resentments must be put aside; generosity must prevail over greed; forgiveness must displace revenge, and love must triumph over hate. Without God, no one can accomplish any of this — and “perfection” becomes an unachievable goal. The only way to get there is through recognizing and acknowledging one’s imperfection. Only then, with God’s help, can we begin to strive towards states of greater perfection. From this point onward the only thing required is a willingness to receive divine truths and live according to them.

If we do so, it will inevitably lead to combats of temptation in which interior evils rise up to revile and persecute whatever flows in from God. These evils strive to take away our affection for learning truth and for doing good. A blow to the left cheek represents an attempt to take away our desire to learn truth, and a blow to the right cheek represents an attempt to take away our desire to do good. 11 But, once again, we should not worry, nor even resist, for evil can do no harm to those who are under God’s protection.

All this is contained in Jesus’ command, “Be ye, therefore, perfect, even as your Father in the heavens is perfect.” In this way, as we come to trust more and more in the Lord’s leading — acknowledging that He is the source of every loving feeling, every noble thought, and every chartable action — we will be continually perfected. 12


1. In the original Greek, the word for “meek” is praos meaning “tame.” 2. Arcana Coelestia 8002:7: “The reason why the Lord says so many times that those who do good will have their reward in heaven is that before a person has been regenerated he cannot help thinking about reward. But it is different once he has been regenerated. Then he is indignant if anyone thinks that he does good to his neighbor for the sake of reward; for he feels delight and bliss in the doing of good, but not in repayment. In the internal sense ‘reward’ is the delight belonging to the affection that goes with charity towards the neighbor.”

3. Arcana Coelestia 9207: “By ‘the salt of the earth’ He means truth that has a desire for good, and by ‘tasteless salt’ He means truth devoid of any desire for good. The fact that such truth is worthless is portrayed by the idea of salt which has become tasteless and no longer has any use, except to be thrown outdoors and trodden down by people. Having a desire for good means having a desire to do good and thereby be joined to good.”

4. Doctrine of Life 29: “The Word teaches that no one can do what is good from himself, but that he does it from the Lord. Jesus said, “I am the true vine, and My Father is the vine-dresser…. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself, except it abide in the vine, so neither can ye except ye abide in Me (John 15:1-6).

5. Arcana Coelestia 9049:4-6: “The Lord says, ‘Ye have heard that it was said, An eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth; but I say unto you, Resist not evil; but whosoever shall strike you on your right cheek, turn to him the other also….’ Who cannot see that these words are not to be understood according to the sense of the letter? For who will turn the left cheek to him who deals a blow on the right cheek? And who will give his cloak to him who would take away his coat? And who will give his property to all who ask? And who will not resist evil? …. The subject there treated of is spiritual life, or the life of faith; not natural life, which is the life of the world. The reason therefore why evil ought not to be resisted, is that evil does no harm to those who are in truth and good, for they are protected by the Lord.

6. Apocalypse Explained 556: “The words, ‘Resist not him that is in evil’ signify that there should be no fighting back or retaliation; for angels do not fight with the evil, much less do they return evil for evil, but they allow it to be done, since they are protected by the Lord, and therefore no evil from hell can do them harm. The words, ‘Whoever shall strike you on thy right cheek turn to him the other also.’ signify if anyone wishes to do harm to the perception and understanding of interior truth, it may be allowed to the extent of the effort; ‘the cheek’ signifies the perception and understanding of interior truth, the ‘right cheek’ affection for it and consequent perception of it, and the ‘left cheek’ understanding of it…. This is what angels do when they are with the evil, for the evil can take away nothing of good and truth from angels, but they can from those who on that account burn with enmity, hatred, and revenge, for these evils avert and repel protection by the Lord…. This is the spiritual sense of these words, in which are stored up the hidden things that have now been said, which are especially for the angels who perceive the Word only according to its spiritual sense; they are also for people in the world who are in good, when the evil are trying to lead them astray.”

7. Heaven and Hell 390: “To do good to the evil is to do evil to the good; that is not loving the neighbor. For example, the judge who punishes an evil-doer so that he may be reformed . . . loves his neighbor.”

8. Apocalypse Explained 695:19: “The Lord resists and conquers for a person in the combats of temptations.”

9. The Lord always speaks in accommodation to our understanding, and yet His words contain and conceal more interior truths. See, for example, Arcana Coelestia 3857:7: “If they had been told that by ‘the disciples’ are not meant themselves, but all who are in the good of love and faith also that in the Lord’s kingdom there are neither thrones, sovereignties, nor rule, as in the world, and that they could not even judge the least thing in a single person, they would have rejected the saying, and, leaving the Lord, would have returned everyone to his own occupation. The reason why the Lord so spoke was that they might receive external truths, and thereby be introduced into internal ones, for within those external truths which the Lord spoke, internal truths were concealed, which in course of time stand open; and when these stand open, the external truths are dissipated and serve only as objects or means of thinking about the internal truths.”

10. Conjugial Love 71: “No human or angelic love can ever become utterly pure, thus neither can conjugial love; but the intention which is of the will is what is primarily regarded by the Lord. Therefore, as far as a person has the intention and perseveres in it, so far is that person introduced into and gradually advances in the purity and holiness of conjugial love.”

11. Arcana Coelestia 9049:8: “To ‘smite the cheek’ denotes to destroy truths. This is plain from passages in the Word where mention is made of ‘smiting the cheek.’ And because in the genuine sense this signifies the destruction of truth, therefore in the opposite sense it signifies the destruction of falsity, as in this passage: ‘Thou wilt smite all mine enemies on the cheek; Thou wilt break the teeth of the wicked’ (Psalm 3:7).”

12. Arcana Coelestia 894: There is no definite period of time ever exists when anyone is regenerate enough to be able to say, 'Now I am perfect.” In fact an unlimited number of states of evil and falsity exist with everyone, not only simple states but also varied and complex ones which have to be disposed of in such a way that they do not recur. In some states an individual can be called more perfect, but in countless others the individual cannot. People who have been regenerated during their lifetime, and in whose lives faith in the Lord and charity towards the neighbor have been present, are in the next life being perfected all the time.”


From Swedenborg's Works

Explanations or references:

Arcana Coelestia 2371, 3863

Apocalypse Revealed 526

Divine Providence 33

Doctrine of the Sacred Scripture 57

Doctrine of Life 17, 84

References from Swedenborg's drafts, indexes & diaries:

Scriptural Confirmations 20, 101

Related New Christian Commentary

  Stories and their meanings:

Hop to Similar Bible Verses

Psalms 17:15, 24:3, 4

Bible Word Meanings

The symbolic meaning of "seeing" is "understanding," which is obvious enough that it has become part of common language (think about it; you might see...

Resources for parents and teachers

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.

 Acknowledging Our Mistakes
Spiritual tasks offer a reflection on a Biblical story and suggest a task for spiritual growth.
Activity | Ages over 18

 Attitudes for Heavenly Happiness
Article | Ages 15 - 17

 Be A Peacemaker
Spiritual tasks offer a reflection on a Biblical story and suggest a task for spiritual growth.
Activity | Ages over 18

 Blessed Are Those Who Mourn
In the process of trying to be a person who is growing spiritually, there will be mourning. We will see things that are not the way they should be - in ourselves and in the world around us. This sermon examines ways in which we can be comforted?
Worship Talk | Ages over 18

 Blossoming from the Lord
When we perform acts that agree with the Lord’s teachings in the Word, the Lord will guide them and be in them. 
Worship Talk | Ages over 18

 Cleaning Up Our Act
Spiritual tasks offer a reflection on a Biblical story and suggest a task for spiritual growth.
Activity | Ages over 18

 Compassion for Others
Spiritual tasks offer a reflection on a Biblical story and suggest a task for spiritual growth.
Activity | Ages over 18

 Does the Lord Forgive?
Lesson and activities looking at the Lord's love and mercy in forgiving us.
Religion Lesson | Ages over 15

 Echo the Ten Blessings
Help children learn the Ten Blessings by echoing (repeating) each line or finishing each line for you.
Activity | Ages 4 - 10

 He Makes His Sun Rise on the Evil and the Good
Illustrate the sun shining or the rain falling and being received by two very different kinds of plants: a thorny bush and a fruit tree.
Project | Ages 4 - 14

Spiritual tasks offer a reflection on a Biblical story and suggest a task for spiritual growth.
Activity | Ages over 18

 Inspirational Quotation - Let Your Light Shine
Poster showing a lighthouse with the Lord's words telling us to let our light shine.
Picture | Ages over 8

 Let Your Light Shine
Take turns lighting a candle as you "give glory to the Lord" for letting you help Him touch the lives of people around you.
Activity | Ages 11 - 17

 "Let your light shine…" Calligraphy
Project | Ages 7 - 14

 Loving One Another
This sermon shows that someone who really cares about others will seek to understand the truth so that he may serve in intelligent ways. When this happens, greater blessings are achieved for all. 
Worship Talk | Ages over 18

 Loving Others
The Lord wants us to love everyone but the way we love friends will be different than the way we love those who harm us or others.
Sunday School Lesson | Ages 11 - 17

 Matching Quotes with the Ten Blessings
Match each of the Ten Blessings with a quotation from the Old Testament.
Activity | Ages 11 - 17

 Memory Verse: Being a Good Neighbor
Activity | Ages 4 - 14

 Memory Verse: The Ten Blessings
Activity | Ages 4 - 14

 Peace Like a River
Worship Talk | Ages over 18

 Power Under Control
Spiritual tasks offer a reflection on a Biblical story and suggest a task for spiritual growth.
Activity | Ages over 18

 Protecting Marriage
Worship Talk | Ages over 18

 Quotes: The Ten Blessings
Teaching Support | Ages over 15

 Self Awareness
Spiritual tasks offer a reflection on a Biblical story and suggest a task for spiritual growth.
Activity | Ages over 18

 Separation and Divorce
Marriage is a civil and spiritual covenant. Spiritual laws about divorce and remarriage are not always in agreement with what civil law permits.
Sunday School Lesson | Ages 11 - 17

In order for us to receive the Lord's words, we must be simple - simple in the sense of being single-minded, looking to one source of truth, and in having our internal and external thoughts agree. 
Article | Ages 15 - 17

 Strength Through Trials
Spiritual tasks offer a reflection on a Biblical story and suggest a task for spiritual growth.
Activity | Ages over 18

 Ten Blessings Vocabulary Discovery
Explore the meaning of vocabulary used in the Ten Blessings to help you understand what the Lord is teaching us.
Activity | Ages 7 - 14

 The Blessings of Adversity
Worship Talk | Ages over 18

 The Kingdom of Heaven Is Within
When we think of blessings we do not usually think of sadness, difficulty or want. We usually think of happiness, peace and plenty. Indeed the word blessing means happiness. Why, then, does the Lord seem to say the opposite in the Sermon on the Mount? 
Worship Talk | Ages over 18

 The Lord and His Disciple, Simon Peter
Four scenes about the Lord and Peter from the gospels of Matthew and John, and two later scenes from the book of Acts.
Activity | Ages 11 - 14

 The Lord's Sermon on the Mount
Coloring Page | Ages 7 - 14

 The Lord’s Ten Blessings
Worship Talk | Ages 4 - 6

 The Meaning of the Ten Blessings
When the Lord gave the Sermon on the Mount, He was teaching people the steps leading to a heavenly life. The words He spoke then can still teach us how to follow Him into eternal happiness. 
Worship Talk | Ages 7 - 14

 The Sermon on the Mount
A New Church Bible story explanation for teaching Sunday school. Includes lesson materials for Primary (3-8 years), Junior (9-11 years), Intermediate (12-14 years), Senior (15-17 years) and Adults.
Teaching Support | Ages over 3

 The Sermon on the Mount (3-5 years)
Project | Ages 4 - 6

 The Ten Blessings
The Ten Blessings from the Sermon on the Mount in a color border.
Picture | Ages over 15

 The Ten Blessings (9-11 years)
Project | Ages 11 - 14

 The Ten Blessings Word Search
Find key words of the Ten Blessings in this word search.
Activity | Ages 7 - 14

 True Satisfaction
Spiritual tasks offer a reflection on a Biblical story and suggest a task for spiritual growth.
Activity | Ages over 18

 What Is Heaven Like?
Emanuel Swedenborg visited heaven. His vivid accounts describe the nature of angels and the communities they live in.
Sunday School Lesson | Ages 11 - 17

 Why Did the Lord Come on Earth?
A lesson and activities exploring the reasons Jesus came on earth and what He accomplished.
Religion Lesson | Ages over 15

 You Are As Happy As You Choose To Be
Spiritual tasks offer a reflection on a Biblical story and suggest a task for spiritual growth.
Activity | Ages over 18