One day in 1514, Luther was studying the Letter to the Romans. As usual, he was in his private office, a room on the second floor of a tower attached to the monastery. As he worked his way through the first chapter, he came to verses 16 & 17: "I am not ashamed of the Gospel, because it is the power of God for the salvation of everyone who believes; first for the Jew, then for the Gentile. For in the Gospel a righteousness from God is revealed, a righteousness that is by faith from first to last, just as it is written (Habakkuk 2:4), 'The righteous will live by faith'."
Luther paused. "Now wait a minute," he told himself. What does God mean when he talks about the 'righteousness from God? And how does man become righteous, or just, before God? Oh, I know. God shows His righteousness by punishing sinners every time they do wrong. And the only way a man can become righteous is to do all that God wants him to do'."
"But, no, that can't be right. Paul says man is made righteous or just by faith, by believing in something God has done for him. Well, what has God done for man to make him righteous or holy? Let me see now. Paul says the Gospel is the power that saves. Now what the the Gospel talk about? Oh, yes, it tells about Jesus Christ. Jesus kept the Law perfectly, yet He was punished on the cross. But why? Because He had done something wrong? No, because I had."
"I see the answer! God punished Jesus in my place, the same Jesus who had kept God's holy Law. By punishing His Son, God carried out His threat that sin will be punished by death. All I have to do is accept this fact and I need not fear that God will punish me with eternal death. I am holy in God's sight because I know and believe that Jesus is holy for me and has taken my punishment."
Luther had just had his great "tower experience."
From "Luther - Biography of a Reformer" by Frederick Nohl, pages 45, 47. Concordia Publishing House