Over the Easter holiday, Pastor Ralph Warnock, the recently elected Democratic senator from Georgia, made headlines for tweeting a message that is antithetical to everything the Bible says about Christ’s resurrection. He wrote:
“The meaning of Easter is more transcendent than the resurrection of Jesus Christ. Whether you are Christian or not, through a commitment to helping others we are able to save ourselves.”
Warnock later deleted the tweet, but not before setting off a firestorm of controversy. In response, for example, Jenna Ellis said that Warnock’s statement is a “false gospel and heresy.” She added, “The absolute truth and only meaning of Easter that matters is the literal, physical resurrection of Jesus Christ, and we must accept Him as Lord and Savior.”
MSNBC’s Joy Reid weighed in on Ella’s response by tweeting, “Madame, I’m gonna take @ReverendWarnock’s take, as a pastor and a scholar, on the Word over yours, if you don’t mind.”
It is Ms. Reid’s choice to believe who she wants to believe, whether based on political bias or on her actual opinion on the Gospel, but with all due respect, I do mind. Sen. Warnock is not only a pastor but a national figure. His statement carries weight to many like Reid who believe he is a shepherd of the Gospel. And Ellis is correct: Warnock’s statement is not only heresy, but it is the exact opposite of the Gospel and it must be confronted.
One of the most beautiful aspects of the Protestant Reformation and the Christian faith in general is that the Christian message is not beholden to what those in power say, be they political or religious officials. Each person can read the Bible for themselves and see what God’s Word actually says. Even a cursory reading of scripture shows Warnock’s comment to be false.
First, Warnock’s claim that the meaning of Easter is more transcendent than Christ’s resurrection is nonsense because Scripture sets up the crucifixion and the resurrection of Christ as the most pivotal moment in human history. The entire Old Testament leads up to the coming of the Messiah who delivers on God’s promise to Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden to crush the serpent’s head, meaning He would defeat death. Christ’s resurrection signals the transition from the Old to the New Covenant and changed the world. Without Christ’s resurrection, Easter has no meaning.
As Paul wrote in 1 Corinthians 15:14-18, NASB,
“…and if Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is vain, your faith also is vain. Moreover we are even found to be false witnesses of God, because we testified against God that He raised Christ, whom He did not raise, if in fact the dead are not raised. For if the dead are not raised, not even Christ has been raised; and if Christ has not been raised, your faith is worthless; you are still in your sins. Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ have perished.”
Secondly, Warnock’s claim that whether Christian or not, through helping others we are able to save ourselves has nothing to do with Easter, and it too is the opposite of what Easter means.
Jesus Himself famously said in John 14:6b, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father but through Me.”
There is only one way to salvation, Christ Jesus, and no one is able to save themselves. As Peter stated in Acts 4:12, “And there is salvation in no one else; for there is no other name under heaven that has been given among men by which we must be saved.”
The message of Easter is not that we can save ourselves, it is that we could not save ourselves, that unless God became a man and died as an atonement for the sins of many, we had no hope. Warnock’s statement was in direct opposition to what God planned for us by sending His Son to die for our sins!
Paul underscored this point in Galatians 2:20-21, when he wrote:
“I have been crucified with Christ; and it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself up for me. I do not nullify the grace of God, for if righteousness comes through the Law, then Christ died needlessly.”
No, the picture the Bible paints of the human condition before Christ is not one of self-triumph but of despair. Ephesians 2:1 tells us that we were “dead in your trespasses and sins,” and Paul went on to remind Gentile believers in verse 12, “Remember that you were at that time separate from Christ, excluded from the commonwealth of Israel, and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world.”
However, Paul showed that through God’s grace, salvation is made possible to even the spiritually dead. Ephesians 2:4-7 says,
“But God, being rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us, even when we were dead in our transgressions, made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved), and raised us up with Him, and seated us with Him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the ages to come He might show the surpassing riches of His grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus.”
To dispel any concept of our ability to save ourselves, Paul continued in Ephesians 2:8-9,
“For by grace you have been saved through faith; and this is not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not as a result of works, so that no one may boast. For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand so that we would walk in them.”
The book of Romans is thought by many to be the fullest example of Paul’s theology. In Roman’s 5:1-2, NIV, Paul wrote,
“Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have gained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand. And we boast in the hope of the glory of God.”
He added in verses 6-8,
“You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly. Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous person, though for a good person someone might possibly dare to die. But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.”
Paul, in writing to the young pastor Timothy, emphasized in 2 Timothy 1:8-9,
“Therefore do not be ashamed of the testimony of our Lord or of me His prisoner, but join with me in suffering for the gospel according to the power of God, who has saved us and called us with a holy calling, not according to our works, but according to His own purpose and grace which was granted us in Christ Jesus from all eternity.”
In the aforementioned letter to the Galatians, Paul was distressed because many of the Galatian believers were listening to the Judaizers, a group of people claiming Gentile believers must become Jews and obey the Old Testament law to be saved. Paul called this a distorted gospel that led to destruction. Galatians 1:6-9 says,
“I am amazed that you are so quickly deserting Him who called you by the grace of Christ, for a different gospel; which is really not another; only there are some who are disturbing you and want to distort the gospel of Christ. But even if we, or an angel from heaven, should preach to you a gospel contrary to what we have preached to you, he is to be accursed! As we have said before, so I say again now, if any man is preaching to you a gospel contrary to what you received, he is to be accursed!”
In chapter 3, Paul called the Galatians “foolish” and asked who had “bewitched” them. He made it clear that salvation is by faith, not by the law. The Judaizers were claiming the Galatian believers needed to be circumcised, a claim Paul soundly denounced. Their heresy made Paul so angry that he said he wished these false teachers would “mutilate themselves.”
I want to be gracious to Sen. Warnock, who did delete the tweet, and perhaps it was a poorly worded tweet that he regretted. Unfortunately, it is hard to imagine that anyone, especially a pastor, could express such an antithetical statement to the Gospel by accident.
The central message of the entire Bible is that we are not good enough. Our sins are so great, and God is so holy, that the only way we could possibly be saved was for God Himself to step in and make atonement for our sins. The crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus Christ more than any other event or statement signifies our own wickedness and incompetence next to Christ’s righteousness and triumph over death and the sins of the world, past, present, and future.
Jesus told Nicodemus, a Pharisee and teacher of the law, in John 3:3b, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God.” Jesus never gave any indication that men can save themselves apart from Him.
The British theologian John Stott summed it up this way: “But God demonstrates His own love for us — His unique love — in this, that He died for sinful, godless, rebellious and helpless people like us. The value of a love-gift is assessed both by what it costs the giver and by the degree to which the recipient may be held to deserve it … But God in giving His Son gave Himself to die for His enemies. He gave everything for those who deserved nothing from Him. And that is God’s own proof of His love toward us.”
So, to Ms. Reid or anyone else who may be considering listening to Warnock’s take, don’t. Listen to the Scriptures, which teach not a social program or a message of reform and self-salvation, but a message of hope for sinners through Christ — and only Christ.