Swedenborg & Life Live Recap: What Does It Mean to Be Born of Water and Spirit? 8/12/19

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The idea of being “born of water and spirit” may be familiar to Christians, but what it truly means can be relevant to people from all backgrounds. In this episode, hosts Curtis Childs and Jonathan Rose explore the true spiritual meaning of that phrase through the lens of eighteenth-century theologian Emanuel Swedenborg.


Is there a particular concept or practice that has helped bring you into a more spiritual phase of life?

Jonathan finds that the time he sets aside for meditation and reflection helps him see the world more spiritually. He also has an established practice of repentance that he goes through at certain times of the year. Meanwhile, Curtis finds that letting go of the false thoughts that cross through his mind can be extremely freeing.

The Set-up

The birth of something that will function and thrive requires two things: 1) information and 2) information put into action. Whether it’s genetic information becoming life or musical notation becoming a symphony, there’s always data and action working in tandem.

So when the Bible talks about being “born of water and spirit,” or “born again,” it’s actually describing the same phenomenon on a spiritual scale.

Jesus replied, “Very truly I tell you, no one can see the kingdom of God unless they are born again. . . . Very truly I tell you, no one can enter the kingdom of God unless they are born of water and the Spirit. Flesh gives birth to flesh, but the Spirit gives birth to spirit.” (John 3:3–6)

And according to Swedenborg:

To be born again means to be regenerated. (Apocalypse Explained §419:6)

Swedenborg discusses regeneration a lot. We are always going through this process as we grow as people. For more on this, check out our episode Regeneration: How Radical Love Is Born.

To understand being “born of water and spirit,” it’s important to understand Swedenborg’s concept of correspondences—physical symbols of spiritual truths. 

To be born of water and the spirit means to be born of truths related to faith and of a life lived by those truths. (True Christianity §572)

So it’s a matter of both knowing something and living by it. But when Jesus talks about flesh giving birth to flesh, what’s that about?

‘Flesh’ however means the human . . . selfhood, in which there is no spiritual life at all. (Secrets of Heaven §9818)

Swedenborg means something very specific when he says “selfhood”—it’s a kind of love of self, like what we might call ego. Common to most moral codes and religions, across all backgrounds, are principles that emphasize overcoming the ego—and these principles represent the “water,” meaning “truth,” that the Bible discusses.

Live a life of love, and you will be reborn.

Three Seeds

Let’s get deeper into this by exploring Swedenborg’s works.

So why do we need this process?

We are born into sin, which is accumulated in a long series by our parents, grandparents, and great-grandparents and becomes hereditary, so that it passes on to the next generation. Every human born is born into all the inherited evil that has steadily grown this way. . . . Unless we are reborn, then, we remain totally immersed in sin. If we are to be reborn, we . . . need to learn about goodness from the Word or from teachings based on the Word, and this knowledge of goodness from the Word or from teachings based on it is called religious truth. All religious truth wells up out of good and flows toward good, because it considers good to be the ultimate goal. This is the first state and is called a state of reformation. Most people in the church are being introduced to this state from childhood through to early adulthood, but few are reborn. After all, most people in the church learn religious truth (or knowledge about goodness) with a view to reputation and status and to monetary gain. So although these drives introduce us to religious truth, we cannot be born anew or regenerate until they have been removed. For the sake of their removal, then, we are brought into a state of trial, which is done this way: Hell’s crew, which likes to wallow in such passions, stirs them to life. At the same time, though, angels stir up a desire for truth and goodness, which is instilled into us in states of innocence from childhood on and is then stored up inside us, preserved for this purpose. A fight ensues between the evil spirits and angels, and we experience it as a spiritual crisis, or time of trial. Since the issue is over truth and goodness, the truth that was instilled earlier is virtually banished by falsity that evil spirits inject, and once banished, it is not visible. Afterward, as we allow ourselves to be reborn, the Lord instills into our earthly dimension the light shed by truth based on goodness, sending it along an inner path. In that light, truth returns, arranged in its proper pattern. (Secrets of Heaven §5280:2–3)

Regeneration is necessary from the moment we’re born, because we inherit the sin of humanity. From there, we grow and reform as we learn across the various stages of our life.

Here is the secret: From infancy up to early adolescence, the Lord is introducing us into heaven, among the heavenly angels there. They hold us in a state of innocence, which we stay in from the time we are babies until we turn adolescent, as everyone knows. When adolescence starts, we gradually shed the state of innocence but are still kept in a state of neighborly love through the feeling of love we share with our peers. In many of us this state lasts till adulthood, and during it we are among spiritual angels. Afterward we start to think for ourselves and to act on such thoughts, with the result that we can no longer be kept in neighborly love as before. We then summon our inherited evil and allow it to lead us. When this state arrives, the good impulses of neighborly love and innocence that we had previously welcomed are abolished by degrees, as we contemplate evil and solidify it with action. They are not really abolished, though. Instead, the Lord draws them up toward our inner depths and stores them away there. At that point we do not yet know truth, so the innocent and charitable goodness we had adopted in the first two stages has not yet developed a character. After all, truth gives goodness its quality (and goodness gives truth its being). From that age on, the instruction we receive and more especially our own thinking and resultant convictions instill truth in us. The more we then desire goodness, the more the Lord unites truth with goodness in us and stores it up for our use. . . . Such truth linked with goodness is what is properly called a remnant. Consequently, the more we allow ourselves to be reborn, the more our remnant serves its purpose, because to that extent the Lord brings some of the remnant out of storage and reintroduces it into our earthly level to create a correspondence between our outer and inner planes, or earthly and spiritual planes. . . . That is the secret. . . . No one can be accepted and welcomed into heaven without receiving spiritual life, no one can receive spiritual life without being regenerated, and no one can be regenerated except through goodness in life united with truth in doctrine. That is how we obtain spiritual life. The Lord explicitly says in John that no one can go to heaven without receiving spiritual life through rebirth: Truly, truly, I say to you: unless one is born anew, one cannot see God’s kingdom. (John 3:3) And right afterward: Truly, truly, I say to you: unless one has been born of water and spirit one cannot enter God’s kingdom. (John 3:5) The water is truth in doctrine, and the spirit is goodness in life. (Secrets of Heaven §5342:2–4)

Finally, we see how rebirth works—and how God drives it all in us. 

Anyone who is conceived anew re-enters the womb, so to speak, while one who is born anew comes out of the womb again. What is conceived in and born from the womb is not the person per se but faith that comes of neighborly love. This kind of faith is what creates spirituality in a person and therefore creates the actual person anew, because the spiritual dimension is then the source of the person’s life. . . . The Lord is called our maker and the one who forms us from the womb [Isaiah 44:2] because he regenerates us and turns us from earthly beings into spiritual ones. (Secrets of Heaven §8043:1–2)

Correspondence Meditation

Having planted those three seeds in our minds, let’s take a moment to meditate on these ideas. Though some have read the Bible to mean that you need a Christian baptism, understanding water as a higher truth representative of love from heaven unlocks a whole new view into life.

We’re here to love and to be constantly regenerated.

Elevator Pitch

In this segment, Curtis and Jonathan explain Swedenborgian concepts in just one minute or less.

Jonathan: Explain a correspondence

Curtis: Spirals


At the beginning of the episode, we asked about your spiritual practices. Here’s what viewers had to say:

  • Watching your show reading SB books – Dave Shults​
  • ​Confessing sins – Tacitus
  • Definitely: Saying the Lords Prayer every night and as often as I could – Matthew Bush
  • Constant self reflection. – Alesia Rico Flores
  • ​Gnosticism gospel of thomas – Peace
  • Taking time morning and evening to meditate and devotional reading – it lead me to eventually have a growing feeling of God’s love in my heart, a real gift – Jon Childs
  • ​Being in nature, and having more time in this phase of my life to appreciate stillness – Jo Lucas
  • Asking if the thoughts and feelings I am entertaining hellish or heavenly? Being aware gives me an obvious choice to make. – Joy Borazjani
  • I looked for people’s good actions around me: smiles and greetings from strangers, random kind actions from strangers, and happy coincidence. that reminds me the blessing from God flow to me and it is my choice to accept them, amplify them and deliver to others. – Chenyi Zhang
  • Meditation and prayer helps me to be in a more spiritual state. – mtp358
  • Taking some time to be quiet and moving away from religion and moving toward spirituality instead. I have much more joy now. – Angel Shining​
  • The particular concept that has promoted my spiritual life is the knowledge that our souls are immortal and that we continue to live after physical death. I’ve known this since childhood. – Pete Dawson​
  • Meditation, coloring mandalas, musical improvisation, reading, talking to my angels – Shane’s Aegis
  • Consciously focusing on breath – Amber Zekic

Thanks for joining us—we’ll see you next week!


Related Swedenborg & Life Videos

Regeneration: How Radical Love Is Born

Spirals of the Spirit

The Spiritual Meaning of Water

Throwback Show: Physical Correspondences

“Who Was Swedenborg?”

Free E-Book Downloads

Apocalypse Explained

Apocalypse Revealed

Divine Love and Wisdom

Divine Providence

Heaven and Hell

Last Judgment / Supplements

Life / Faith

The Lord

New Jerusalem

Other Planets

Sacred Scripture / White Horse

Secrets of Heaven

True Christianity

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About Swedenborg & Life

In a lighthearted and interactive webcast format, host Curtis Childs from the Swedenborg Foundation and featured guests explore topics from Swedenborg’s eighteenth-century writings about his spiritual experiences and afterlife explorations and discuss how they relate to modern-day life and death.
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When we wake up in heaven, Swedenborg tells us, angels roll a covering from off of our left eye so that we can see everything in a spiritual light. The offTheLeftEye YouTube channel uses an array of educational and entertaining video formats to look at life and death through an uplifting spiritual lens.
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