I have had conversations with people in the past that seem to indicate that at least among some there is a lack of preparedness to connect the bloody sacrifice of Christ to the forgiveness of sins. If God is truly gracious, the argument goes, then Christ's death wasn't necessary - a truly gracious act, so it is said, must require nothing at all in return. Their argument amounts to the assertion that God, being truly gracious, must never have required Christ's death, but that Christ's execution was outside the redemptive plan of God.
Despite the fact that this does grave injury to Scripture, which clearly proclaims God's hand in and predestinating purpose in Christ's death for sin (one need only look to Isaiah 53:1-12, Acts 2:23-24, and Acts 4:24-28 to name only three pertinent passages), people seem to want God to forgive sins without the need for justice. God's justice must be maintained, however - it would be unjust of God to grant a status of "just" upon one whose sins remain on him - and it would be unjust of God to merely remit sins without requiring atonement. The whole of Scripture clearly speaks against his "mere grace" idea - and Calvin does also, in his sermon on Ephesians 1:7-10. He writes,
"How then does it come about that God's wrath is pacified, that we are made at one with him, and that he even accepts and acknowledges us as his children? It is by the pardoning of our sins, says St. Paul. And furthermore, because pardon necessitates redemption, he yokes the two together. The truth is that, in respect of us, God blotted out our sins of his own free goodness and shows himself altogether bountiful, and does not look for any payment for it at our hands. And, in fact, what man is able to make satisfaction for the least fault that he has committed? If every one of us, therefore, should employ his whole life in making satisfaction for any one fault alone, and by that means seek to win favor at God's hand, it is certain that such a thing far surpasses our abilities. And therefore God must necessarily receive us to mercy without looking for any recompence or satisfaction at our hands. But, for all this, the atonement, which is freely bestowed in respect of us, cost the Son of God very dear. [1 Peter 1:19] For he found no other payment than the shedding of his own blood, so that he made himself our surety both in body and soul, and answered for us before God's judgment to win absolution for us. (p. 51, Sermons on Ephesians, Banner of Truth, emphasis mine)Free indeed his this grace, as respects us and our efforts at remediation. We cannot pay a dime toward our rescue - for we are not capable, being sinful and being finite. God Himself, the God-man Jesus Christ, is able and has. For all for whom His death was given, all are redeemed through His blood. The Old Testament picture of substutionary atonement is clear - there is no general redemption, but it is in every sense particular... the lamb slaughtered is for those who have looked to it as a covering. Christ's death is given, and payment is received by God... once the payment is received, Peace is had - and those for whom payment is given are accepted in the Beloved. It is free - but not free, for it is no mere "grant"; it is without respect to persons, but with respect to God's election. Calvin continues, along these lines:
"...the full remission of our sins through God's free goodness, is not given without the ransom that was paid by our Lord Jesus Christ, not in gold or silver (as St. Peter says in his first epistle, 1 Peter 1:18), but it was necessary that he who was the spotless Lamb should give himself for that purpose. Wherefore, whenever we intend to seek God's favor and mercy, let us fasten the whole of our minds on the death and passion of our Lord Jesus Christ, that we may there find the means by which to appease God's wrath. And, furthermore, seeing that our sins are done away by such payment and satisfaction, let us understand that we cannot bring anything of our own by which to be reconciled to God. ... For there is, so to speak, an inseparable bond between these two things, namely that God puts our sins out of his remembrance and drowns them in the depth of the sea, and, moreover, receives the payment that was offered him in the person of his only Son. Therefore we cannot obtain the one without the other." (pp. 52-3, Sermons on Ephesians, Banner of Truth)The fact of God's perfect redemption, and the substitutionary atonement of Christ for believers again points out the fact that Calvin has been hammering on in his discussion of election as the ground for every blessing. It is NOT IN US, but only IN CHRIST that we have acceptance before God, and true Peace.