Greg explains how God's choice and our repentance work together.
If forgiveness requires repentance, how do we reconcile that with the Reformed view that God chose us before we repented?
First observation – that isn't the Reformed view. That is the Christian view. We were chosen before the foundation of the world. All theological points of view acknowledge that. The difference between a Reformed, or Calvinistic, view and the Arminian view is the grounds of that choice. Both sides agree that the choice came before the repentance.
Here's another clarification, and this is where you’re going to get some difference of opinion: The word repentance means to change one's mind, metanoia, to have a change of mind. The problem for a lot of Christians is that the word repentance has come to mean simply turning from sin, when in fact, that's not the biblical definition. Sometimes the change, or the turning, is regarding sin. Sometimes it's a change regarding God. So, it might be repentance from sin or repentance towards God. Not that they're disconnected from each other, but they are separate things.
The word repentance itself means a change – a change of mind. Do we need a change of mind to become followers of Christ? Absolutely. Do we need to turn from all of our sins before we trust Christ? In my view, no. In fact, you’re not able to turn from all of your sins without the power of the Holy Spirit. God first catches His fish, and then He cleans them, on my own view. The spirit enables us to trust and turn from a life contrary to God to a new life following Christ. That spiritual regeneration then has ramifications for the way that we live.
The repentance, the turning, is a critical act of putting our trust in Christ, and is evidence that is required for salvation. Then, there is an additional repentance that is part of the process of growing as a Christian, and that is turning from an old way of life, as Paul puts it in Romans 8, Putting to death the deeds of the flesh by the power of the Spirit – that's an ongoing process.
There is no contradiction, in my view, with either theological point of view that we are chosen before the repentance. On one view, it is that God chose us in a sovereign way, a unilateral way, that the repentance that comes in the future – the change of mind, and the transformation, the durability – is possible. That is grounded in God's choice. In the more Arminian way, the choice is an act of prescience, or seeing into the future, what we would choose to do, but it turns out to be the same kind of act of turning away from our old way of life to Christ. Then, in the process of doing that, being regenerated, and our lives are transformed. No contradiction from either perspective.