“Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” Matthew 3:2
These are the words of John the Baptist in the New Testament. Another translation is “Turn to God and change the way you think and act, because the kingdom of heaven is near.” But many people wonder why they should repent, and what sins did they commit.
Now, we are not born out of nowhere. We are born from humanity and are always in connection with the collective consciousness of humanity. This means we receive all kinds of free stuff just by being part of humanity. For example, the human form took billions of years to evolve but we obtain a complete human physical body at our birth. Some of us are even blessed with good looks, others of us receive more intelligence or more stamina. We receive all this from our hereditary DNA. Unfortunately, we also inherit all the hereditary spiritual tendencies of our human ancestors. This is also why we may inherit the potential to manifest certain diseases.
Most people become fatalistic and erroneously believe that they cannot change anything. But, if that were true, the Lord would never have advised us to repent. Although we may have all this spiritual baggage from humanity’s past, our will is FREE. Therefore, although spiritual reformation and regeneration is a long and arduous process, with the Lord’s help within us, we can change inwardly. But, first, we must be truthful about our present state of being; we can no longer lie to ourselves because this is what people who live in sin usually do. We are in denial. Almost all of us are living in spiritual darkness but do not realize it.
What happened to our human ancestors? They fell into love of self, love of the world and love of abuse. And humanity has been living for so long in this state that most of us believe this is a normal way to live. In fact, there are presently so-called spiritual gurus that promote love of self. Other spiritual leaders are advocating that we should study spirituality so we can become rich and powerful in the world. But, when we witness all the corruption, violence, addiction, and perversion that is taking place on earth, some of us are beginning to suspect that there is something fundamentally wrong with humanity. This is not the way God intended us to be or to live. And, if money were the answer, those who have an abundance of it would not fall more readily into addiction, sin and suffering.
Now, since we are in spiritual darkness, most of us actually do evil and call it “good.” There is a certain delight in doing evil. But it is very fleeting and it usually ends in addiction and suffering. For example, we have all heard the saying “revenge is sweet.” But, when someone does evil to us and we retaliate, we are just perpetuating evil and becoming evil ourselves. Remember how the Lord was mistreated by others when He was on earth, although He was only doing good. Yet, although He was all-powerful, He always resisted the temptation to retaliate. We must carefully watch our own state of being and make sure that we are at peace with others and God.
Swedenborg says that those who are in hell are in infernal delights. The infernal fire of hell that we read about in the Bible is the fire of selfish desires and lusts because the more we try to fulfill these selfish lusts, the more desire grows. On earth, we certainly have heard of persons who become addicted to food, sex, drugs, or violence. Well, these people are indulging in infernal delights. At first, it is delightful and then it spirals into addiction, suffering and misery. From self-love, everyone in hell wants also to rule and control others. This is why there is “gnashing of teeth.” This clashing of opinions is how fights, violence and wars begin. Hell is also a realm of fantasies, illusions and lies. On earth, we can see how some people prefer to believe their own lies, live in their own dream world of insanity and lose touch with Reality.
Since the literal sense of the Bible is replete with contradictions, we can also use the Bible or other Sacred Scriptures to justify our evil (selfish) acts. How many crimes and murders have been perpetuated in the name of God and religion! When we are in spiritual darkness, we tend to project our own faults onto others. This is why human beings spend their time criticizing others, telling them what to do and how to live instead of changing themselves. But even if everyone else changed, it would not help us in any way. We would still remain in our egocentric hell:
…when the truth is only in the intellect and not yet in the will, it is a common thing for people to find fault with others, and this because finding fault with others touches only the intellect, whereas finding fault with oneself is much more difficult because it touches the will. Emanuel Swedenborg [TCR 535]
Many people are surprised when they hear that love of self is the root of all sin. But, when we understand how human beings evolved, it becomes clearer. Our human self is an empty receptacle that has the capacity to be filled by the Love and Wisdom of God. So, when we love our self, we are loving emptiness or spiritual darkness. God gave us this self in order to have FREEWILL. We can love Him but we can also hate or reject Him and love our self instead. If we were completely united and part of God as some new age gurus seem to believe, we would not be FREE. Eventually, some of these gurus start to believe that they are “God.” And this is the greatest sin of all. In fact, in hell, some believe they are “God” and they wish to rule and control others through threat and punishment. On earth, we have examples of this in selfish dictators. Swedenborg says, when it is let loose, self-love can continue to grow until we ultimately desire to rule the whole universe. But, if we did not have a self that is separate from God, we would be like robots. This is not what God wanted when He created the universe. He wanted beings that would love Him freely and truly. So, even the angels who are in Heaven with God still have this self which they obtained from being on earth.
Thus, we see that the root of our sin and suffering is in what we love. And the first step is repentance. We may have inherited tendencies but it is when we FREELY give in to these selfish urges that we commit sin. Some people think they are doing God a favor when they practice religion. But we should refrain from sin because it leads to addiction, misery and suffering (or hell). And we should obey spiritual law because it results in true joy and inner peace (or Heaven).
Many people who are still in love of self and the world do good deeds such as giving money to the poor or helping others. However, since these so-called good works originate from their self-love, these conceited individuals usually attribute merit to themselves and only continue to inflate their hellish ego. For example, the actions of the Pharisees appeared good to the world but Jesus judged their actions as evil because their intentions were selfish. They were only performing these so-called good actions to maintain their high stature in the community and perhaps to merit an equally high position after death. In reality, they loved themselves and the world more than God or their neighbor.
We should always remember that only God is good and any truly good action that we may do can only originate from the Goodness that is in-flowing into our own empty self from God. Hence, it is God who is manifesting Goodness through us. And it is God who deserves all the merit.
Therefore, to repent is to examine our intentions and actions and make sure that they are pure, innocent, wise, just, useful and unselfish. These are the harmonic qualities of real Goodness.
Good before repentance is not good, nor, before repentance, is charity charity.
Before repentance a man is in evil; he is evil only, for he is a form of evil and an image of hell. By repentance, however, the evil is removed and good is implanted. From which it follows that the good before repentance is not good. Before repentance the good is not done from the Lord, but from the man; and therefore it has not an essence of good but an essence of evil within it, however much in its form it appears outwardly as good. This is not recognized in the world, but it is after death, manifestly. It is heard in the very tone of his speech, and more, which evil there is in it, whether there is deceitfulness, enviousness, vaingloriousness, haughtiness, blasphemousness, or what is hypocritical, or even a desire for reward. All the words of his speech derive their tone from the evil that is in it and regards only itself. After repentance, however, the good is quite a different thing. It is a full good, open from the Lord Himself. It is lovely, innocent, pleasing, heavenly. There is the Lord and heaven in it, there is good itself in it. It is alive; it is formed out of truths though being from good, in good, and towards good; it is nothing else but some use to the neighbour; and hence it is serving. With every breath it puts away itself and its proprium, thus putting away evil. Its form is like the form of a lovely and beautifully coloured flower, shining out brilliantly under the sun’s rays. Consequently, too, in the case of those who are in good, they are forms that can never be comprehended by the natural man: they cannot be depicted, nor can they be described: the forms they have are forms of good. It is rightly said that they are forms of good; yet the form itself consists of truths, while its life is the good of love; for the good sets the truths into a form suited to itself, and makes every one of its truths living. This is what good after repentance is like. Emanuel Swedenborg [C 207]
Repentance of the mouth and not of the life is not repentance. Sins are not forgiven through repentance of the mouth, but through repentance of the life. Sins are continually being forgiven man by the Lord, for He is mercy itself; but sins adhere to the man, however much he may suppose that they have been forgiven, nor are they removed from him except through a life according to the commands of faith. So far as he lives according to these commands, so far his sins are removed; and so far as they are removed, so far they have been forgiven. For by the Lord man is withheld from evil, and is held in good; and he is so far able to be withheld from evil in the other life, as in the life of the body he has resisted evil; and he is so far able to be held in good then, as in the life of the body he has done what is good from affection. This shows what the forgiveness of sins is, and whence it is. He who believes that sins are forgiven in any other way, is much mistaken. Emanuel Swedenborg [AC 8393]
TRUE REPENTANCE CONSISTS IN A MAN’S EXAMINING NOT ONLY THE ACTS OF HIS LIFE, BUT ALSO THE INTENTIONS OF HIS WILL.
True repentance consists in a man’s examining not only the acts of his life, but also the intentions of his will because the understanding and the will are the cause of those acts. For a man speaks from thought and acts from will, so that speech is thought speaking and action is the will acting. It follows, therefore, that those two, thought and will, commit the sin when the body sins. It is possible, also, for a man to repent of evils committed by the body, and still to think and will evil; but this is like cutting down the trunk of a noxious tree, and leaving its root in the ground, from which the tree grows again and spreads in all directions. It is different, however, when the root is pulled up; and this is what happens in a man when he, having examined not only his acts but also the intentions of his will, removes his evils by repentance.
A man examines the intentions of his will whilst he examines his thoughts, for intentions manifest themselves in the thoughts; as for example, when he meditates, wills and intends revenge, adultery, theft, false witness, and their lusts; and also blasphemy against God, the Holy Word, and the Church, and so on. Should he still give those evils further attention, and then consider whether he would commit them if no obstacle stood in the way, such as fear of the law and loss of reputation; and should he, after this consideration, determine not to will them because they are sins, he performs the work of true and interior repentance. This is especially the case if he resists those evils and abstains from them when they appear delightful to him and he is at liberty to commit them. He who practices this repeatedly finds the delights of evils when they return no longer a pleasure, and finally relegates them to hell. This is what the Lord meant when He said:
“He that will find his life shall lose it: and he that loseth his life for my sake shall find it.” Matt. x. 39.
He who removes the evils of his will by such repentance, is like a man who in good time pulls up from the field the tares sown by the devil, so that the seeds implanted by the Lord God the Savior remain undisturbed in the ground, and grow to a harvest, Matt. xiii. 24-30. Emanuel Swedenborg [TCR 532]