In times past, we would have run to the ends of the world if we had known of a place where we could have heard God speak. But now that we hear this every day in sermons…we do not see this happening. You hear at home in your house, father and mother and children sing and speak it; the preacher speaks it in the parish church — you ought to lift up your hands and rejoice that we have been given the honor of hearing God speak to us through the Word. Oh, people say, what is that? After all, there is preaching every day often many times every day so that we soon grow weary of it. What do we get out of it? All right, go ahead, dear brother if you don’t want God to speak to you every day at home in your house and in your parish church, then be clever and look for something else: in Traer is our Lord God’s coat, in Aachen are Joseph’s britches and our blessed Lady’s chemise; go there and squander your money; buy indulgence and the pope’s secondhand junk.
Luther was referring to yearnings for spiritual change, progress, and growth. And they would look for it in things like relics and pilgrimages. So they would travel great distances to see items supposedly attached to patriarchs of the faith: Joseph’s coat, Mary’s garments, a hair from John the Baptist’s beard, a nail from Christ’s cross, and the like. As Sproul comments, “the people were suffering from impotency in their spiritual lives, and they believed there was wonder-working power in the relics of the church. They wanted the heavens to open with miracles and showers of divine demonstrative power and they looked for it in the bones and possessions of the dead.”
Yet at times the same thing happens today. We believe that a particular way of presenting the gospel, or a series of prayers, or the right people praying, or listening to the right preacher will result in the salvation of our loved ones. But salvation comes from and through the working of the Holy Spirit. This is what Jesus affirmed to Nicodemus at the beginning of His ministry: “The wind blows where it wishes and you hear the sound of it, but do not know where it comes from and where it is going; so is everyone who is born of the Spirit” (John 3:8; NASB). And He affirmed the same thing to the disciples at the end of His ministry, on the night before He went to the cross: “But I tell you the truth, it is to your advantage that I go away; for if I do not go away, the Helper will not come to you; but if I go, I will send Him to you. And He, when He comes, will convict the world concerning sin and righteousness and judgment” (John 16:7–8; NASB).
In both places, Jesus is asserting that salvation comes by the power of the Holy Spirit. He makes unbelievers come to life (regeneration, Jn. 3:8), and He convicts unbelievers of their rebellion against God and their need for salvation (Jn. 16:7ff). It is the Spirit of God — and the Spirit of God alone — that produces salvation in men. And that is good news in two ways. First, for those who are Christians, it means that their salvation has come as a work of divine grace through the Spirit’s working. And secondly, it means that believers are not alone in their work in the world; the Spirit is not only indwelling believers, but He is working in the world to bring to life those who have been chosen by God from the foundation of the world (Rom. 8:28-30; Eph. 1:3-6).
Salvation is not the result of a mystical incantation or being slain in the Spirit or having some “spiritual” experience. Salvation is the direct result of the work of the Holy Spirit of God.
What in the world is the Spirit doing? He is bringing unbelievers to salvation in Christ. Along with all that He does in and for believers, this also is His work.