CNLP 246: John Ortberg On What’s Wrong With How We Define Salvation and What It Really Means to Follow Jesus

It’s not often you get a deep dive into theology on this podcast, but today, we go there with John Ortberg.

John talks about what’s wrong with how we define salvation in liberal and conservative circles, how a better understanding can change lives (including yours) and why you may not need to wait for heaven to experience more of God or the life you long for.

It’s a fascinating conversation that has implications for non-Christians, Christians, and even impacts how church leaders do altar calls.

Welcome to Episode 246 of the podcastListen and access the show notes below or search for the Carey Nieuwhof Leadership Podcast on Apple Podcasts or wherever you get your podcasts and listen for free.

Guest Links | Twitter | Menlo Church

Eternity Is Now In Session by John Ortberg

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Episode Links And Free Downloads

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3 Insights from John

1.  Saints use up more grace than sinners

Many Christians view God’s grace as something only for sinners. That is just not true. God’s grace is better defined as God’s power at work within us to do what we normally can’t do on our own. The reality is that saints burn through grace like a 747 burns through Jet-Fuel.

One of the most dangerous ideologies we take on as Christians is that we must do the minimum amount required to get into heaven at the end of our lives. There is no place in the Bible that clearly states the minimum amount required to get into heaven. As a result, biblical discipleship does not easily fit with this belief system. That’s a problem.

2. The primary characteristic of heaven is to be with God

People generally think of heaven as a giant pleasure factory. Society has baked this into our minds and that has caused us to have a skewed theology of what the afterlife is really like. We think we go to heaven to feel good all the time, but heaven is actually more about being with God than it is about you feeling good.

This is critical for understanding why we as christians do what we do. We aren’t just stocking up souls in some eternal vault of fun, we are calling people into a lifestyle and afterlife that is saturated with the presence of God.

3. We might need to rethink how & why we do altar calls

When preparing to preach an altar-call, John keeps in mind that the primary thing he is calling people to do is become lifelong followers of Jesus who are devoted to doing his will. Not trying to convince people to say the magic words to get out of hell. Including a call to intentionally learn and obey Jesus’ commands with your altar call is always a good idea.

The disciples didn’t have perfect theology when they signed up to become followers of Christ. They started by following and obeying Jesus’ commands and their theology and formation came later. We should call our people to do the same. As we live for christ, his truths overtake us.

Quotes from Episode 246

Salvation isn’t about getting you into heaven, it’s about getting heaven into you. @JohnOrtberg Click To Tweet Grace is God’s power in you to do what you cannot do on your own. @JohnOrtberg Click To Tweet Most of us never give serious adult thought to words like heaven, hell, salvation, trusting Christ, or afterlife. We just don’t think about it. @JohnOrtberg Click To Tweet Heaven isn't so much about relocation as it is transformation. @JohnOrtberg Click To Tweet One of the signs of spiritual maturity are the thoughts that no longer occur to you. Dallas Willard Click To Tweet

Read or Download the Transcript for Episode 246

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Read or download a free PDF transcript of this episode here.

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“Deep biblical insight, straightforward truth, and practical wisdom to help you grow.” Craig Groeschel, Pastor and NYT bestselling author

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Over the years, one of the things I’ve enjoyed most about being a public speaker is having opportunities to hang out with Carey…It’s not a matter of if you’ll run into these challenges; it’s a matter of when. Be prepared by spending a little time with a leader who has already been there.” Jon Acuff, NYT best-selling author

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Next Episode: Brad Lomenick, Clay Scroggins & Carey Nieuwhof 

Brad Lomenick and Clay Scroggins join Carey for this year’s roundtable on church leadership. Brad, Clay and Carey talk about church trends: what’s happening online, what part of our current models is dated, why internal culture in the church has to change and much more. This roundtable highlights key issues they’ll be discussing this May at Rethink Leadership.

Subscribe for free now and you won’t miss Episode 247.

CNLP 246: John Ortberg On What’s Wrong With How We Define Salvation and What It Really Means to Follow Jesus


  1. Maya Trams on April 12, 2019 at 4:06 pm

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  2. Jacob Pannell on February 21, 2019 at 10:55 am

    I needed this conversation, especially the parts about growing in grace. I am having a bit of a crisis where I know what I need to pray for, but praying for those things terrifies me because God will probably give me those things. Growing in grace is a concept I don’t hear enough about. I am at the limits of myself, so its time to tap into God and surrender. Thank you for taking the time to unpack some of John Ortberg’s ideas and theology. I really needed it today.

  3. Doug Bullock on February 21, 2019 at 6:11 am

    I love so much of what you do, and have greatly appreciated John Ortberg over the years, and I agreed with much of what he said in this podcast, but I found his comments on what it means to become a believer/Christian disturbingly unclear and at times inaccurate. Carey, in opening the podcast you referred to Christians as “believers”. This implies that there is some content or some person that they believe. This podcast confused this idea.

    I would be glad to interact more over this if it is helpful, but I realize you have a lot going on.

    BTW-I have attended Rethink Leadership and purchased 2 courses over the years

  4. Jan Gregory-Charpentier on February 20, 2019 at 4:18 pm

    I found this conversation immensely refreshing. I call myself an “evangeliberal,” embracing a convert’s love of Jesus and a progressive world view. I’m forever yearning for voices that straddle the strident division of so-called conservative/liberal Christianity. As a new Christian in late adolescence, I heard the call to “give my life to Christ.” As a believer with a progressive worldview, I heard a fuller gospel being shared by the likes of the Sojourner Community, Mother Teresa, Henri Nouwen, where faith in God’s grace was inextricable from a Christ-shaped commitment to the poor and social justice. Thirty years on it is so hopeful to hear evangelicals talking about the need to actually follow Jesus into living with and serving the world God so loves, and for my liberal church to be talking about the need to be converted. Salvation is for life not just death. Thank you, Carey. You, among others, give me hoe for our deeply divided, Western/Northern Hemisphere church.

  5. It's a relationship on February 19, 2019 at 10:11 am

    Believing is not simply ‘acknowledging’ Him and accepting a few facts about Him. Believing by definition is the (life-style action) of ‘trusting, relying upon and adhering to’ the Master.

    John 17:3 Now this is eternal life: that they know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom you have sent.

    It’s not saying a prayer.
    It’s not ‘getting to go to Heaven’.

    Matthew 25: 31-46 Should give great pause. “but Lord, we (did such and so)” and “…depart from me, for I never knew you…”

    Glad to see this issue raised. I suspect many churches haven’t been ‘telling the whole story’…..

  6. Son on February 19, 2019 at 12:50 am

    “There is no place in the Bible that clearly states the minimum amount required to get into heaven. ” – John Ortberg, quote.
    John 3:16
    ” For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.”
    Ephesians 2:8-9
    “For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God:
    9 Not of works, lest any man should boast.”
    John 10:27-29
    “My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me:
    And I give unto them eternal life; and they shall never perish, neither shall any man pluck them out of my hand.
    My Father, which gave them me, is greater than all; and no man is able to pluck them out of my Father’s hand.”
    The minimum amount we need to do to “get into Heaven” is The Blood of Jesus. He already did whatever was necessary.
    Just believe on Him.


    • Brian on December 31, 2019 at 1:01 pm


      There is no reference in any of the verses to heaven. Not one. There is reference to “eternal life ” but infer that that means heaven is just that an inferrence.


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