I have two friends who argue all the time. One of them says that salvation is the result of God’s choice of a few, to pay the price of their sin and set them apart for his service. The other insists that apart from our choice to turn around and follow Jesus, there would be no salvation for us.
My problem is that they inevitably turn to me, expecting me to declare which one I agree with. On the one hand, Jesus preached, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” (Matthew 3.2) He told people, “Unless you repent, you will all likewise perish.” (Luke 13.3) Why tell people to do something unless there is something they need to do? On the other hand, Scripture also is clear: “For those whom he foreknew, he also predestined to become conformed to the image of his son.” (Romans 8.29)
I never quite knew how to sort that out until I looked at the Greek word translated in the New Testament as “repent.” Metanoeo means “to change one’s mind” or “to change one’s purpose.” Is that something God does or something I do?
Not only do you not have to choose between predestination and free will, you can’t choose between them! Metanoeo is as radical a change of mind as metamorphosis is a radical change of form. A caterpillar does not turn himself into a butterfly. Only the power of God can take a creature that crawls on its belly in the dirt and give it the gift of flight.
Jesus tells us to repent, but who among us have the ability to transform our own minds? That’s why Romans 12.2 tells us to “be transformed by the renewing of your mind.” It doesn’t say “transform yourself.” I choose Jesus’ way over my way, but it also takes God’s action for it to happen. Repentance is something I do, but it also is something God does.
I understood repentance better once I saw that it is intertwined with rebirth. Jesus said, “Unless one is born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God.” (John 3.3) A new life does not create itself. It takes life to create life, and prior to accepting Christ all I have to offer is death. My choice of Jesus is critical, but I have chosen something I cannot accomplish by myself.
The marvel and mystery of salvation is that I choose to cooperate with a choice God made before time began. As he looked across the millennia, he saw the choices I would make, and he planned a destiny for me that fit those choices.
My two friends may go back to arguing whether God’s choice negates my choice, but if they do, they have missed the point.
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