Why is there a need for God to break into the universe and justify the ungodly by grace? What’s the problem? No comment has been made about the problem yet. Everything’s just hanging in the air. What’s this about? What’s wrong? And the biblical answer is every human being is dead — spiritually dead apart from grace — and every human being is under the wrath of God. Apart from grace, we are spiritually dead and legally guilty before God.
If anybody is going to escape hell and have everlasting pleasure at God’s right hand, God himself will have to raise the dead and find a way for the wrath that is just and holy against my sin to be absorbed so that he can be one hundred percent for me and not against me. So, God, in his great mercy, sent Christ to bear our punishment and to become our righteousness. Christ alone is the all-wrath-removing sacrifice and Christ alone is our all-justifying righteousness.
“Only grace could raise us from the dead. Only Christ could become our punishment and our perfection.”
But since we are all dead and can’t believe any of that, don’t want to believe any of that, are strongly resistant to all of that supremacy of God in salvation — since we are all dead — grace alone, with no contribution from any corpse at all, must raise us from the dead. Ephesians 2:5:
Even when we were dead in our trespasses God made us alive, together with Christ by grace you have been saved.
Paul breaks into the sentence to make clear what sovereign grace is: it’s dead raising power and mercy. God made us alive together with Christ — by grace you have been saved — this is not your own doing, it is the gift of God.
The Protestant Reformation was a controversy with the Roman Catholic Church over how helpless we are to raise ourselves from the dead and be justified. If you want to see the biggest dispute, it’s between Erasmus and Luther. Their two books make it crystal clear. Luther thought this was the bottom issue and the most important book he ever wrote — On the Bondage of the Will — which could be paraphrased, the deadness of the human soul.
That was the bottom issue: Are we really as helpless as the Bible says? Everything else follows if you believe we are. Only grace could raise us from the dead, only Christ could become our punishment and our perfection. Those two miracles — life from the dead and wrath removed — can only be received as a gift. A gift that’s unmerited and unearned, so that the entire transaction would lead ultimately to the glory of God, not me.