"And it shall come to pass that whoever calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved" (Acts 2:21). We need to know what it means to call on the name of the Lord, for our salvation is dependent upon such a calling. Whatever it means to call on the name of the Lord, it is the same thing for everyone. Calling on the name of the Lord can not be one thing for you and another thing for me. Such would make God a respecter of persons (Acts 10:34-35). The Bible must settle this question.
Not an endorsement of the false doctrine of salvation by Faith Only. Without a careful study of this statement, some may conclude that salvation is obtained through a verbal appeal, such as, "Lord Jesus, come into my heart and save my soul!" Jesus actually taught the exact opposite. "Not everyone who says to Me, 'Lord, Lord,' shall enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father in heaven" (Matthew 7:21). Heaven is not made available on the basis of making a verbal acknowledgement of the Lord.
Biblical examples of calling upon the name of the Lord. This phrase is found again in Romans 10:13 - "For whoever calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved." An examination of the context will show that calling on the name of the Lord comes after hearing and believing the gospel (vs. 13-17). After affirming that whoever calls on the name of the Lord will be saved, Paul laments that "they have not all obeyed the gospel" (v. 16). "Calling on the name of the Lord" and "obeying the gospel" are synonymous in this passage. Thus, it is more than a verbal appeal to the Lord for salvation.
The Bible actually contains two specific accounts of individuals calling upon the name of the Lord. The first is in Acts 2 - the source of our text at the beginning of this article. When these Jews heard the gospel, and believed that they had crucified the Lord, they asked, "Men and brethren, what shall we do?" (v. 37). Peter had told them that those who call on the name of the Lord shall be saved. They were wanting to know how to do this. Peter responded, "Repent, and let every one of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins; and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit" (v. 38).
The second example occurs in Acts 22:16, which gives an account of the conversion of Saul. Ananias came to Saul and said, "And now why are you waiting? Arise and be baptized, and wash away your sins, calling on the name of the Lord." Notice, in both of these accounts, submitting to the command of baptism was the means of calling upon the name of the Lord.
An appeal to the Lord for our salvation. To call on the name of the Lord is to appeal to the authority of the Lord for our salvation, as opposed to trusting in ourselves or appealing to some other source. If we are appealing to the Lord, we will naturally follow the conditions that He set forth. When we meet those conditions, we show that we are relying upon Him to save us on His terms. When the Jews on Pentecost repented and were baptized, they were appealing to the Lord to save them on His terms. When Saul arose and was baptized, he was "calling on the name of the Lord" in that he was submitting to the conditions that the Lord set forth.
To use the phrase "to call on the name of the Lord" as a means of denying the necessity of repentance and baptism for salvation is as great a misuse of Scripture as there can ever be.
The good news of the gospel is that salvation is available to everyone that calls upon the name of the Lord. This obviously does not mean everyone who calls Jesus "Lord," but everyone who submits to the conditions that He has set forth in His word.