“And it shall come to pass that whoever calls on the name of the LORD shall be saved” (Joel 2:32 cf. Acts 2:21; 22:16; Romans 10:13).
What does it mean to call on the name of the LORD? This is an extremely important question because it concerns salvation. Let’s consider the scriptures –
Peter’s sermon began by quoting Joel (Acts 2:16-21 cf. Joel 2:28-32). Peter included these words, “Whoever calls on the name of the LORD shall be saved” (Acts 2:21 cf. Joel 2:32). Then, the sermon exposed the people’s sin, and the righteousness of Christ (Acts 2:22-33). The people cried out, “Men and brethren, what shall we do?” (Acts 2:37). Finally, Peter extended the invitation saying, “Repent and let every one of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins” (Acts 2:38). “And with many other words he testified and exhorted them, saying, ‘Be saved from this perverse generation” (Acts 2:40). We are told “then those who gladly received his word were baptized; and that day about three thousand souls were added to them” (Acts 2:41).
Acts 2:21 Whoever calls on the name of the LORD shall be saved
Acts 2:38 Every one repent and be baptized for the remission of sins in the name of Jesus Christ
Wayne Jackson has commented, “If calling on the Lord results in salvation (2:21), and yet repentance combined with baptism produces forgiveness of sins (2:38), it logically follows that ‘calling’ is the equivalent to penitent baptism” (The Acts of the Apostles From Jerusalem to Rome, p. 22). When one submits to the Lord, appealing to His authority for forgiveness of sins, he is calling on the name of the Lord.
Saul, on the road to Damascus, was told by Jesus, “Arise and go into the city, and you will be told what you must do” (Acts 9:6). He was led to the city (Acts 9:8). The penitent Saul neither ate nor drank the next three days (Acts 9:9). He continued in prayer (Acts 9:11). Finally, Ananias instructed, “Arise and be baptized, and wash away your sins, calling on the name of the Lord” (Acts 22:16).
He is told: (1) “Arise.” Wayne Jackson wrote, “’Arise’ (probably from his prone position of prayer cf. 9:11). It is a noteworthy observation that if ‘baptism’ could be administered by the sprinkling of water, there would have been no need for Saul to ‘arise’ prior to submitting to the rite. Of course, the verb baptize (to immerse) excludes sprinkling anyhow” (ibid, p. 285). (2) “Be baptized and wash away your sin.” Baptism is necessary for salvation (Mark 16:15-16; Acts 2:37-38; 22:16; 1 Peter 3:21). The wording “be baptized” is in the middle voice, and could be rendered “have yourself baptized.” (3) “Calling on the name of the Lord.” This is a participle phrase. In context, “Calling on the name of the Lord” is the equivalent of what Saul did, when he did “Arise and be baptized.” Consider this sentence: “The children see-sawed on the teeter-totter, spun on the merry-go-round, swung on swings, and slid on the slide, playing in the park. The phrase “playing in the park” does not describe another activity. Instead, the verbs, “see-sawed,” “spun,” “swung,” and “slid” explains what they did “playing in the park” or how they were “playing in the park.”
There are different ways to call on the name of the Lord. It does not always refer to baptism. However, it does here.
“There is no distinction between Jew and Greek, for the same Lord over all is rich to all who called upon Him. For ‘whoever calls on the name of the LORD shall be saved’” (Romans 10:12-13). This passage makes clear that Joel’s prophecy included those beyond Jewish origin.
In context, calling comes after faith (Romans 10:14) and before salvation (Romans 10:13). Roy Deaver commented, “If ‘calling’ follows after faith and precedes salvation, and if repentance, confession, and baptism follow after faith and precede salvation – then it is clear that ‘calling on the Lord’ and repentance, confession, and baptism are the same!” (Romans: God’s Plan for Man’s Righteousness, p. 379). Wayne Jackson commented, “The term ‘call’ reveals that salvation is not unconditional. A comparison of Acts 2:21 and 2:38 indicates that ‘calling’ is a generic expression embracing specific conditions of obedience (viz. repentance and immersion). The apostle continues by asserting that one cannot call on whom he has not believed; thus, the calling is an addition to believing, which excludes the notion of salvation by faith alone. There is more. One cannot believe unless he is willing to hear, which adds yet another condition – a disposition willing to listen to and critically examine the gospel message” (A New Testament Commentary, p. 284).
Jesus said, “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). He also said, “Why do you call Me ‘Lord, Lord,’ and not do the things I say?” (Luke 6:46). Certainly, more than words are demanded.
It seems that at times, even under the Old Testament, “calling on the LORD” included more than prayer. Isaiah 55:6-7 reads, “Seek the LORD while He may be found, call upon Him while He is near. Let the wicked forsake his way, and the unrighteous man his thoughts, let him return to the LORD, and He will have mercy on him; and to our God, for He will abundantly pardon.” Does not seeking the LORD and calling upon Him for mercy and pardon include repentance in this passage?
Even in everyday usage the language of calling upon someone can mean more than merely speaking to someone. Eric Lyons used these illustration from Bobby Bates has saying, “When a doctor goes to the hospital to ‘call on’ some of his patients, he does not merely walk into the room and say, ‘I just wanted to come by and say, ‘hello.’ I wish you the best. Now pay me.’ On the contrary, he involves himself in a service. He examines the patient, listens to the patient’s concerns, gives further instructions regarding the patient’s hopeful recovery, and then often times prescribes medication. All of these elements may be involved in a doctor ‘calling upon’ a patient. In the mid-twentieth century, it was common for young men to ‘call on’ young ladies. Again, this expression meant something different than just making a request’” (Eric Lyons, Calling on the Name of the Lord, apologeticspress.org).
Abraham called upon the name of the LORD” (Genesis 12:8) when he worshipped. The early church called on the name of the Lord, or the name of Jesus Christ our Lord, following their conversion (Acts 9:14, 21; 1 Corinthians 1:2). It does not always mean “repent and be baptized.” However, it does always mean approaching God in submissive obedience.