What do you Lutherans Believe, Anyway?


“What do you Lutherans Believe, Anyway?”
A Couple of Notes on the Proper Distinction between Law and Gospel
[This Article, by Pastor Bryan Wolfmueller, is reprinted from the Hope Lutheran, Aurora newsletter]

A few days ago someone asked me, “So what is it that you Lutherans believe?” I only had a couple of minutes, and I knew I would probably never see this person again. A question like this cuts out all the extras and invites an often needed clarity. How, dear friends, would you answer a question? What would you say if a stranger gave you five minutes to teach them what we believe, teach and confess?

I’ll tell you what I said, “Lutherans see two teaching from God in the Scriptures: the law and the Gospel.” The law shows us what God requires, and because we do not and cannot keep the law, it also shows us that we are sinners. The Gospel, on the other hand, shows us what God has done for us in Christ, especially in His suffering and death, to win for us the forgiveness of our sins.

This distinction between the law and the Gospel stands at the heart of everything we believe, teach, preach, pray and do. It is the foundation of our worship, our church, our lives and our hope. We must then, dear saints, continue to study and learn the difference between law and Gospel.

When we read the Scriptures we ask, “Is this passage law or Gospel? Is it telling me what to do (or what I have not done), or is the text telling me what Jesus has done for my salvation?”

We ask the same question when we listen to sermons and Bible lessons: “Is this law or is this Gospel?” And even more, we listen to our daily conversations, “Am I being told the law or the Gospel?” When we ask this question we find that most of our days are filled with law, instruction, demands, criticisms, etc., and that each of us lives is a barren wilderness in which the Gospel is rarely heard, even we Christians!

That which we need to hear the most is that which is least spoken: that Christ Jesus has died for us, has forgiven us, and because of Him we are the beloved of God the Father. This promise of forgiveness for the sake of Jesus is what gives us life, salvation, forgiveness and freedom.

This distinction between the law and the Gospel is the foundation of all that we believe, teach and confess. I hope that the next time you are asked what Lutheran believes you speak of the Lord’s law and the Gospel, and that you speak of these two teachings even when you’re not asked! And even more, that in our own lives we are always sorting out words of law and Gospel, and we continue to hold and cling to the life giving words of the forgiveness of sins which we hear in the holy and precious Gospel. Amen.

The Lord’s Blessings in Christ,
Pastor Wolfmueller

Law Gospel
Tells us what to do Tells us what Jesus has done
Shows us our sin Shows us our Savior
Always accuses Always forgives
Brings death Brings life
Demands perfect righteousness Gives the righteousness of God
Kept by works Had by faith
The Ten Commandments The Apostle’s Creed
Revealed in nature and creation Revealed in the Scripture alone
Threatens Promises
Demand Gift

The Law and the Gospel
This difference between the Law and the Gospel is the height of knowledge in Christendom. Every person and all persons who assume or glory in the name of Christian should know and be able to state this difference. If this ability is lacking, one cannot tell a Christian from a heathen or a Jew; of such supreme importance is this differentiation. This is why St. Paul so strongly insists on a clean-cut and proper differentiating of these two doctrines. [Martin Luther, Sermon On Galatians, 1532]

As the distinction between the Law and the Gospel is a special brilliant light, which serves to the end that God’s Word may be rightly divided, and the Scriptures of the holy prophets and apostles may be properly explained and understood, we must guard it with especial care, in order that these two doctrines may not be mingled with one another, or a law be made out of the Gospel, whereby the merit of Christ is obscured and troubled consciences are robbed of their comfort, which they otherwise have in the holy Gospel when it is preached genuinely and in its purity, and by which they can support themselves in their most grievous trials against the terrors of the Law. [The Formula of Concord V: On the Law and the Gospel]


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