What Lutherans Believe
The answer to the question “What is a Lutheran?” can really only be answered by looking at the teachings of the Lutheran Church. Although the scope of what is written below does not encompass a complete discussion of our teachings, a general idea can be given.
Lutheran teaching can be summed up by what are called the “Three Alones”: (1) Grace Alone; (2) Faith Alone; (3) Scripture Alone.
A Lutheran believes in “Grace Alone.” That is, a Lutheran believes that on the basis of God’s Holy Word that a person is forgiven and enters heaven by God’s grace alone. The Biblical word “grace” refers to God’s attitude of undeserved kindness toward us. “For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast.” (Ephesians 2:8-9).
It is not our conduct or performance that moves God to save us, it is his grace that moves God to save us. In fact, we can’t do a thing to save ourselves. According to the Bible we are dead in sin (read Eph. 2:1; Romans 5:6). But God offers us full forgiveness and heaven as a free gift because Jesus lived and died to atone for our sin. Our salvation is not teamwork between us and God. It is not a matter of us doing our part and God doing His. We are not saved by God’s grace plus our good works or anything we do. We are not saved by God’s grace plus anything. We are saved by God’s grace ALONE.
We don’t deserve this. What we do deserve is eternal punishment in hell for our sin. But God, because Jesus bore our punishment on the cross, gives us what we don’t deserve: eternal life. “For the wages of sin is death. But the free gift of God is eternal life through Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 6:23).
A Lutheran also believes that we are forgiven and enter heaven by “Faith Alone.” “For we maintain that a man is justified [declared innocent, righteous] by faith, apart from the works of the law” (Romans 3:28). Throughout the history of the Church, Christians have been tempted to believe that faith in Jesus as Savior (or faith in the Gospel promise) is not enough. They have been tempted to believe that something WE do must be added to faith: our keeping of God’s Commandments, our love, our holiness, our victory over sin, or something else that we do. But the Scriptures consistently teach that we are saved through faith plus NOTHING. We are saved by faith ALONE.
Since God truly promises heaven as a gift to the human race on account of Christ, then there is only one way to receive a promised gift: faith. The moment we think that our entrance into heaven is contingent upon our conduct in any way, at that moment heaven ceases to be a gift and begins to be something we have earned and deserve. For a gift to remain a gift it must simply be received. Faith in Jesus as Savior is the open hand that receives God’s gift of salvation. “For God so loved the world that He gave his only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him may not perish but have eternal life” (John 3:16).
A Lutheran believes in “Scripture Alone.” That is, a Lutheran believes that all teaching that claims to be Christian is to be drawn from the Bible alone. The canonical books of the Bible are the only source, the only authority, and the only judge of Christian teaching. When the question is raised, “is this teaching or practice Christian?” the Holy Scriptures are the highest Court of Appeals and only they can decide the matter.
The reason the Bible is such an authority for Lutherans is because we believe that Holy Scripture is not merely the word of man; it is also the inspired and inerrant Word of God himself. The human authors were inspired by the Holy Spirit to write down exactly what they did. Every word of the canonical Bible is the Word of God. “All Scripture is given by inspiration of God” (2 Timothy 3:16) and “Holy men of God spoke as they were moved by the Holy Spirit” (2 Peter 1:21).
The Lutheran Confessions
For a fuller discussion of what Lutherans believe one need only turn to a group of writings called “the Lutheran Confessions.” Written by Martin Luther and others, these are historical statements of faith taken from the Bible that Lutherans believe to be a correct exposition of God’s Word. They provide a standard of what is truly Lutheran and what is not. They include the three ecumenical creeds (Apostles’, Nicene, and Athanasian), the Augsburg Confession of 1530, as well as seven other Confessions. They are gathered together in the “Book Of Concord of 1580.”
The Lutheran Church, when faithful to its historical roots and Confessions, is a Biblically conservative Church made up of joyful and committed Christians serving their crucified and risen Lord. Anyone searching for a Church that truly teaches the Bible need look no further.