The prophet of Joel famously prophesied, “And it shall come to pass that everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved (Joel 2:32).”
The apostle Peter, on the day of Pentecost, when he introduced the world to the Gospel of the Resurrected Jesus, inextricably connected the prophecy of Joel with the message of salvation found in Christ (cf. Acts 2:16-21). The message of salvation was the Gospel of Christ and the “name of the Lord,” was the name of Christ. There was no other name to call on for salvation (cf. Acts 4:12). Thus, when Peter told the crowd what they needed to do in response to their sin of crucifying God’s anointed, he told them, “Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins (Acts 2:38).”
Some few years later, Saul of Tarsus, stricken with remorse over his attacks on the risen Christ, and having been told by Jesus to wait in Damascus, where he would be told what he needed to do, was approached by the preacher, Ananias. Ananias, who had been sent by Jesus to give the necessary instructions to the penitent sinner, commanded, “And now why do you wait? Rise and be baptized and wash away your sins, calling on his name (Acts 22:16; ESV).”
The importance of this connection between salvation and calling on the name of the Lord was subsequently stressed by Saul himself, more commonly remembered today as the apostle Paul, in his epistle to the Roman church. There, in the middle of a discussion about faith and the salvation available through Christ, Paul, like Peter years before, quotes the prophecy of Joel, “everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved (Romans 10:13).” This prophecy encapsulated the promise of salvation preached via the gospel.
Relatedly, in a different epistle, this one to the church in Corinth, Paul identifies all Christians as belonging to that group of individuals who call on the name of the Lord. Specifically, he writes in his opening, “To the church of God that is in Corinth, to those sanctified in Christ Jesus, called to be saints together with all those who in every place call upon the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, both their Lord and ours (1 Corinthians 1:2; ESV).” Our identity as Christians, Paul was teaching, is part and parcel of our activity in calling on the name of the Lord.
Which raises the question, what does it mean to call on the name of the Lord? Many make an assumption that calling on the name of the Lord is primarily about prayer, but the Scriptures don’t necessarily bear that idea out. Calling on the name of the Lord is more than the activity of a moment; it is descriptive of a manner of life.
The phrase was neither original nor unique to Joel. In fact, as a theological concept, it is first found in the opening chapters of Genesis. There, following the murder of Abel (cf. Genesis 4), and the subsequent birth of Seth, we read the following: “To Seth also a son was born, and he called his name Enosh. At that time people began to call upon the name of the Lord (Genesis 4:26; ESV).” The action, it is understood, referred to the emergence of a line of humanity who feared God and kept His commandments. From this line arose Noah, who found favor in the eyes of the Lord (cf. Genesis 6:8).
The “name” of the Lord is not a reference to the collection of sounds which make up the name “Jesus.” Rather it is a reference to the authority of Jesus, as the Son of God, possessed as an intrinsic part of His person. It is the same authority Jesus appeals to when He said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you (Matthew 28:18-20; ESV).”
One cannot call on the “name” of Jesus while at the same time rejecting the authority of Jesus and the commands of Jesus. Those who “call on the name of the Lord,” are not merely those who utter the name of Jesus in some singular moment of distress, but rather they are those who, in faith, trust and obey the words of Jesus at all times. The church, being comprised of those who have so called on the name of the Lord, is comprised of those who have submitted to Christ and the Gospel of Christ, and who are striving to live it to the best of their ability.
It is then, as a final thought, worth noting that in Acts 2:16 and 2:38, as well as in Acts 22:16, the action of calling on the name of the Lord is linked to that baptism Jesus commanded to be done in His name. You cannot properly call on the name, or authority of Christ, for salvation, while rejecting that thing He commanded be done according to His name, or authority, for the purpose of salvation.
Jonathan McAnulty is minister of Chapel Hill Church of Christ. Viewpoints expressed in the article are the work of the author.