In regard to the doctrine of election unto salvation, there’s two different views of understanding:
Election based on free will (Arminian): God chooses to save anyone who decides to receive Christ as Lord and Savior. Christ died for every individual who comes into the world, and that salvation is available to everyone who hears the gospel message. Those who hear the gospel are not only given grace to see and understand it (in varying degrees), but also given a choice to receive it or reject it. The Holy Spirit convicts sinners, opens their eyes to the truth and frees their will — which enables them to either believe in Christ as Lord and Savior, or to reject Him. In other words, God’s saving grace is resistible; they can refuse to believe.
This is known as conditional election, where election is based or conditioned on faith, where the sinner has the freedom to choose to receive Christ or to reject Him. When a sinner believes in Christ as Lord and Savior, then God chooses to save the believing sinner.
Election based on God’s Choosing (Calvinist): God chooses to save certain individuals, foreknown and chosen by God before the world was created (Eph 1:4; Ro 9:29-30). This is known as Unconditional Sovereign Election. Christ died only for the elect, those specifically chosen by God for salvation. At some point, God intervenes in their lives and draws them to Christ. He enables them to see and understand the truth, and grants them the gift of faith where they willingly receive Christ as Lord and Savior. Everyone who is drawn to Christ, receives Christ. In other words, God’s saving grace is “irresistible.” However, this is not something that is forced upon a person, but it’s the type of response that a sheep has to their shepherd when he calls them. They know the voice of their shepherd, and willingly and naturally follow.
This is a hotly debated subject among Christians, and we’re all in one of the two camps described above — with one exception: there are a minority of Christians who believe that Christ not only died for everyone, but that everyone will be saved through Him — everyone throughout history. This is known as universalism. This is not what the Bible teaches. Proponents of universalism are nothing more than a fringe group, who are out step with historical Christianity.
If there’s a passage in the Bible that settles the argument about the nature of election, it’s the one that follows:
(2 Corinthians 3:14-18) — 14 But their minds were closed. For to this very day, the same veil remains when they hear the old covenant read. It has not been removed because only in Christ is it taken away. 15 But until this very day whenever Moses is read, a veil lies over their minds, 16 but when one turns to the Lord, the veil is removed. 17 Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is present, there is freedom. 18 And we all, with unveiled faces reflecting the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another, which is from the Lord, who is the Spirit. (NET)
(2 Corinthians 4:3-6) — 3 But even if our gospel is veiled, it is veiled only to those who are perishing, 4 among whom the god of this age has blinded the minds of those who do not believe so they would not see the light of the glorious gospel of Christ, who is the image of God. 5 For we do not proclaim ourselves, but Jesus Christ as Lord, and ourselves as your slaves for Jesus’ sake. 6 For God, who said “Let light shine out of darkness,” is the one who shined in our hearts to give us the light of the glorious knowledge of God in the face of Christ. (NET)
(Whole context: 2 Corinthians 3:7 thru 4:6)
There are several phrases that I want to key in on, so we’ll take this verse by verse:
(2 Corinthians 3:14-16) — 14 But their minds were closed. For to this very day, the same veil remains when they hear the old covenant read. It has not been removed because only in Christ is it taken away. 15 But until this very day whenever Moses is read, a veil lies over their minds, 16 but when one turns to the Lord, the veil is removed.
Veil = a veil that hides the truth
Paul is talking about the Jews. “Their minds were closed.” They rejected Jesus, the Messiah that their Old Testament Scriptures prophesied. There’s a veil that covers their spiritual eyes so they cannot understand the truth about Jesus. That’s true to this very day. It’s “only in Christ” that this veil is removed. Again, Paul is speaking specifically about the Jews at this point, but as we’ll see, Paul reveals that it’s true of everyone. It’s only “in Christ” that the veil is removed and one is able to see the truth about Him. That is, it’s only when someone “turns to the Lord” that the veil is taken away.
This is a highly significant revelation, because that means for everyone who is given eyes to see the truth about Christ, in every case it results in their salvation — which means that no one who is enabled to see the truth ever chooses to reject Christ. In other words, they do not and cannot resist the drawing of God unto salvation. This disproves the Arminian understanding of election. Notice what Paul says next:
(2 Corinthians 3:17-18) – 17 Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is present, there is freedom. 18 And we all, with unveiled faces reflecting the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another, which is from the Lord, who is the Spirit.
The reason a person “turns to the Lord” is because of the active “presence” of the Holy Spirit in their lives. The Spirit of God intervenes in a sinner’s life, regenerates them, opens their eyes to the gospel of Christ, convicts them of their sins and reveals their need for Christ as Lord and Savior (Lu 24:45; Acts 16:14). This results in their “freedom.” They’re freed from spiritual blindness and granted the gift of faith unto salvation, freeing them from the bondage and penalty of sin.
Again, this means that the active work of the Holy Spirit in a person’s life, where they’re being drawn to Christ, always results in salvation. At that point, “we all, with unveiled faces reflect the glory of the Lord.” Those who have been exposed to the “glory of the Lord,” will “reflect the glory of the Lord.” That precludes the idea that someone can be exposed to the glory of the Lord and reject it.
(2 Corinthians 4:3) — 3 But even if our gospel is veiled, it is veiled only to those who are perishing,
Paul began his discussion about the Jews. But here he reveals that this veil of spiritual blindness is present in all sinners, and not just the Jews. But what’s most significant about this statement is that this veil is only “removed” for those who end up getting saved. In other words, this spiritual veil is not lifted so that people can decide if they want to receive Christ or not. No, it’s lifted for the purpose of drawing sinners to Christ, which always results in salvation. Everyone who is granted eyes to see, experience new life in Christ.
Once again, this revelation convincingly disproves the Arminian understanding of election and salvation. Because in their view, a sinner’s eyes are opened to the truth and are then given the opportunity to either receive Christ or to reject Him. But their position cannot be correct, because that means that there are a lot of people whose eyes have been unveiled to the truth of the gospel, but doesn’t result in their salvation — which contradicts what Paul says here. To reword what Paul says: “the veil is not lifted for those who are perishing, but lifted only for those who aren’t.” Meaning, for everyone who is granted eyes to see, it results in their salvation.
(2 Corinthians 4:4) – 4 among whom the god of this age has blinded the minds of those who do not believe so they would not see the light of the glorious gospel of Christ, who is the image of God.
For those who do not have the veil lifted for them, the truth remains hidden to them. They remain in their “blindness” and “unbelief.” They’re not able to “see the light of the glorious gospel of Christ.” To be more clear, those who end up perishing, are never granted eyes to “see the light….” Meaning, they’re not given the option to receive Christ or to reject Him.
For this veil to be removed, it requires a miracle of God, where God intervenes in a sinners life:
(2 Corinthians 4:5-6) – 5 For we do not proclaim ourselves, but Jesus Christ as Lord, and ourselves as your slaves for Jesus’ sake. 6 For God, who said “Let light shine out of darkness,” is the one who shined in our hearts to give us the light of the glorious knowledge of God in the face of Christ.
As God “commanded” (NKJV) light to shine out of darkness in creation (Ge 1:3), so does He command light to “shine in our hearts to give us the light of the glorious knowledge of God in the face of Christ.” The veil of blindness and darkness is removed by God by opening our spiritual eyes so that we can see the light of Christ. All humanity is spiritually dead (Eph 2:1-5) and spiritually blind to the truth. Therefore, it requires God to sovereignly move in a sinner’s life to draw them to His Son (John 6:37, 44-45). It’s totally a work of God’s grace.
I believe this makes the Calvinist understanding of election certain, that this spiritual unveiling is not for just anyone, but is reserved or limited to the elect, sovereignly and unconditionally chosen for salvation. This speaks of limited atonement or particular redemption.
This doesn’t mean that people can’t understand the gospel intellectually or academically. But they cannot understand it spiritually, where the full reality and truth of the gospel is fully revealed and comprehended in a manner that is desired and believed, where one is fully convicted of sin and made aware of their need of salvation. It’s where the light of truth is so bright and glorious, and the awareness of need is so great, that no one rejects it, but willingly embraces Christ as Lord and Savior. This kind of light and revelation cannot be resisted, but everyone who is fully exposed to the light will be drawn to the light to the point of faith.
I believe God reveals the light of the gospel of Christ via the new birth (John 3:3-8; 1 Cor 2:13-14). But whether He just commands light and truth to shine within us – and sinners are born-again upon faith (Arminian view) – or whether the new birth precedes faith, it really doesn’t matter as far as the point of this article is concerned. The point is, everyone who is exposed to the truth of the gospel message (veil removed), receives Christ as Lord and Savior. No one who sees, resists what they see. Everyone who sees the truth, embraces the truth. The light is never revealed for those who are perishing. It’s only revealed to those whom God has elected to save.
There are many passages in the Bible that support Unconditional Sovereign Election. But in my opinion, no passage provides a stronger case for it than 2 Corinthians 3:7 thru 4:6. If spiritual eyesight and the light of truth is granted to everyone who hears the gospel message, and if salvation is ultimately left up to the individual, then this passage makes no sense. It’s contradictory to what’s revealed here. This passage only finds harmony in the sovereign election of God, where certain individuals are chosen for salvation before they come into the world.
Otherwise, the veil of blindness is removed for the saved and unsaved alike. However, that’s not what Paul says. The removal of the veil of spiritual blindness is only granted to those being saved. The removal of the veil always results in salvation. Therefore, if the veil is removed for everyone who hears the gospel message, then everyone who hears, also responds to it in faith. But we know that’s not true.
The Arminian position on election and salvation cannot be reconciled with this passage. It offers no adequate explanation.
For many Christians, the idea of God choosing to save only certain individuals while bypassing all others, is difficult to accept. I used to one of them. If this is where you’re at today, I invite you to read the following article. I believe it will put things in proper perspective for you: