As a result of man’s sin, the Spirit cannot dwell among us otherwise than in physical things. God could have saved the human race in another way but it is His will to save fallen mankind through external means and to reveal Himself to us in this way (LW 6:128). It is in these forms that the Holy Spirit is clearly exhibited to our eyes (LW 4:121). Therefore, since the Holy Spirit works nothing without externals, it is the responsibility of mankind to apprehend Him where and in what manner He has chosen to make Himself known (LW 4:144). Yet, not every visible or external thing reveals God. Luther believed that only in Christ, and in the forms instituted by Him, does God reveal Himself to man. In the earthly medium of the Incarnation, the Word, Baptism, and the Lord’s Supper, God is clothed and meets us through these external means. They are the God-given means of knowing God. “They are places where He reveals Himself and where He is present” (Bornkamm 1958:98).
In His goodness, God chose to reveal Himself in these physical, concrete and tangible forms. Luther offers five reasons why God comes to us through His concrete Spirit. They are as follows:
(1) Since the beginning of the world, divine wisdom has so ordained and arranged things that there is always some public sign toward which all people might look, in order that they might find, worship, and pray to the true God and be saved (LW 3:107).
(2) These outward and visible signs have been placed alongside the Word so that men, “reminded by the outward sign and work or Sacrament, would believe with greater assurance that God is kind and merciful” (LW 1:248). By means of these visible signs of grace, God shows us that He is with us, takes care of us, and is favorably inclined toward us (LW 3:109).
“I have always displayed Myself to the eyes and ears of men in such a way that they could have become aware of My presence in the sacrifices, in circumcision, in burning incense, in the cloud, in the Red Sea, in the manna, in the brazen serpent, in the tabernacle of Moses, in the temple of Solomon, and in the cloud. And it was My delight to display and reveal Myself in this manner to the children of men” (LW 1:248).
“In the same way the very Word, Baptism, and the Eucharist are our lightbearers today, toward which we look as dependable tokens of the sun of grace. We can state with certainty that where the Eucharist, Baptism, and the Word are, there are Christ, forgiveness of sins, and eternal life” (LW 1:249).
(3) He presents Himself to us in these visible forms in order that we might be kept from degenerating into the erratic and vagabond spirits who boast of visions, revelations, and enlightenment and follow them (LW 2:46). Since we cannot ascend to Him, He has chosen to come to us and reveal Himself within the range of our comprehension (LW 2:47) so that He can be found and known. The true God is not a wandering God but has limited Himself to a place and certain external forms.
As God has provided reliable, concrete marks of His presence, so it is the mark of all false spirits to cast aside the external Word and signs (LW 24:69) and to tell God how He must deal with them (LW 24:69). As a result, they place God and His externals in heaven and devise their own externals (LW 24:69). Yet these fluttering spirits lead us, not to God, but to the devil (LW 6:128).
(4) As God comes to us in these concrete forms, He deals with us in a twofold manner, FIRST OUTWARDLY, THEN INWARDLY. He draws us outwardly through Christ’s Word and the Gospel and inwardly through the Holy Spirit (LW 23:94).
“Outwardly He deals with us through the oral Word of the Gospel and through material signs, that is, baptism and the Sacrament of the altar. Inwardly He deals with us through the Holy Spirit, faith and other gifts. But whatever their measure of order the outward factors should and must precede. The inward experience follows and is effected by the outward. God has determined to give the inward to no one except through the outward. For He wants to give no one the Spirit or faith outside of the outward Word and sign instituted by Him…Observe carefully, my brother, this order, for everything depends on it” (LW 40:146).
(5) He comes to us in the Word, the Sacraments, and the Keys in order to prepare us for His second coming and to remind His people that, until He comes, they are the true church (LW 4:402).
Therefore, in order that God might be known and comprehended, the Spirit of Christ meets us in simple, earthly, and concrete ways. These concrete forms of the Holy Spirit are God’s way to us and a rejection of every way from man to God. They are the common epiphanies or appearances for all Christians (LW 3:168). When God comes to us, He does not hide Himself in a corner but He appears publicly before us all. When we get to heaven, concludes Luther, we shall see God differently but here we see Him enveloped in an image, namely, in His Word and Sacraments.