Whenever we begin to wonder about why we were born or why bad things happen to good people or what God is really like, we are doing theology. Theology (from the Greek, "the word about God") deals with our questions about God and how we answer those questions.
The Lutheran church is a "confessional" church. These confessions are statements that explain and defend what our church teaches and believes. Written in the 16th century, they are found in The Book of Concord. They were intended to help people discuss their faith, and they still help us to do that.
Everything we believe and teach about God is found in the Bible. We insist on that. The core of what the Bible has to tell us about God is the Gospel. For us everything in the Bible is centered in the good news of Jesus Christ. Martin Luther taught that the Bible deals with two basic categories: Law and Gospel.
God gives the Law so that we have basic principles for taking care of each other; basic rules that are needed for a just society. However, the Law never does anything that helps to make us right with God. When our actions are measured in the courts of heaven by the pure Law of God and we are asked if we are sinners, we can do nothing but plead, "Guilty."
The Gospel tells us that God decided to treat us as if we were not guilty, as if we were saints without any hint of sin, because God loves us.
There is a problem in trying to explain God who really cannot be explained with human terms. To help us, we affirm the collective wisdom of the churches throughout the ages as expressed in the Apostles' Creed, the Nicene Creed and the Athanasian Creed.
These creeds talk about God in "Trinitarian" language. We know or experience God in three persons. This doesn't mean three different gods. We believe that there is only one God. The Trinity—God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit—sums up what we know about God.
One of the most helpful ways of understanding Lutheran teaching is to study The Small Catechism by Martin Luther. This little book of questions and answers discusses such things as the Ten Commandments, the Apostles' Creed, the Lord's Prayer, the Sacraments of Holy Baptism and Holy Communion, and Confession and Absolution. Although I've used this catechism both for teaching and personal use for many years, I'm still discovering fresh ideas in Luther's words that I never noticed before.
Martin Luther developed a slogan that we Lutherans believe is the heart of Christianity: "justification by grace through faith." What that means is that the way our lives turn out for here and eternity has nothing to do with how much we try to be good and do good, or how badly we fail in our efforts. Salvation is a pure act of grace on God's part.
The root meaning of salvation is health or wholeness. When you are completely healthy and whole in body, mind, soul and spirit, and in your relationships with God and humanity, that's salvation.