When kids misunderstand things, we think it is cute. In fact, people share these adorable misunderstandings with their friends and anyone else who wants to know (look at Facebook for a few days and you’ll see them).
But when adults misunderstand things, it’s not the same, is it? Adults are rightfully expected to put some effort into understanding things. A wife isn’t going to post on Facebook about how cute it was that her husband misunderstood what she wanted. Instead, it’s often times the basis of a (ahem) “discussion” (if you’re married, you know what I mean).
Today, we will consider one of the biggest misunderstandings in the religious world today: Calling on the name of the Lord.
The majority of so-called “Christian” denominations teach that to call on the name of the Lord is to ask Jesus into your heart, praying for salvation from sin. It’s interesting that if you just take the sheer number (not groups, but individuals) of people claiming to be Christians, the overwhelming majority actually REJECT this doctrine. However, it has been popularized by televangelists and others who twist God’s word to their own destruction (II Peter 3:16). Salvation through prayer is “another gospel”, and all those who bring such doctrines will be cursed by God (Galatians 1:8-9).
But what does “calling on the name of the Lord” actually mean?
What is calling on the name of the Lord?
Though this phrase appears in the New Testament, it also appears in the Old Testament.
Seth had his son, Enos, THEN men began to call on the name of the LORD (Genesis 4:26).
This is generally referred to as the “Godly line.” This isn’t saying that no one prayed to God until Enos was born. But it was this line that obeyed God (see Enoch and Noah for examples).
Abraham built an altar and “called on the name of the LORD” (Genesis 12:8).
This “calling on the name of the LORD” could have included prayer, but that isn’t all that it entailed. It involved praise to God, worship to God, and doing what was acceptable to God – in short, it was obedience.
Isaac built an altar and “called on the name of the LORD” (Genesis 26:25).
This is not an instance of Isaac praying, because in the previous verse, GOD APPEARED UNTO HIM.
Calling on the name of the LORD was the expression of a life lived for God in thankfulness and obedience.
Elijah, on Mt. Carmel, made the challenge to the prophets of Baal,
“you call on the name of your gods, and I will call on the name of the LORD. And the God that answers by fire, let him be God.” (I Kings 18:24).
As you will well remember, the prophets of Baal cried out long and loud and nothing happened. Elijah then prayed,
“LORD, God of Abraham, Isaac, and Israel, let it be known this day that thou art God in Israel, and that I am thy servant, and that I have done all these things at thy word.” And of course God answered him (I Kings 18:36-38).
So, see, calling on the name of the Lord means praying! Not so fast…
It is true that Elijah prayed, but notice that in his prayer, the answer was requested completely based upon Elijah’s obedience. His calling on the name of the LORD was turning to God for help based on his–Elijah’s–obedience.
Psalm 116:12-19 describes calling on the name of the Lord.
What shall I render unto Jehovah For all his benefits toward me? I will take the cup of salvation, And call upon the name of Jehovah. I will pay my vows unto Jehovah, Yea, in the presence of all his people.
Precious in the sight of Jehovah Is the death of his saints. O Jehovah, truly I am thy servant: I am thy servant, the son of thy handmaid; Thou hast loosed my bonds. I will offer to thee the sacrifice of thanksgiving, And will call upon the name of Jehovah. I will pay my vows unto Jehovah, Yea, in the presence of all his people, In the courts of Jehovah’s house, In the midst of thee, O Jerusalem. Praise ye Jehovah.
As you read through this passage, you will notice that calling on the name of the Lord is the equivalent of living right before God, taking the salvation that God offers, and keeping your vows to God.
In short, calling on the name of the Lord is a life of obedience and thankfulness to God.
That they may all call upon the name of the LORD, to serve Him with one consent (Zephaniah 3:9).
Here, calling on the name of the Lord is described as serving God.
In the New Testament, the concept of calling on the name of the LORD only appears three times.
Two of those times (Acts 2:21, Romans 10:13) are quotations from Joel 2:32.
In Acts 2:21, Peter mentions it at the beginning of his Pentecost sermon (those who call on the name of the Lord shall be saved). In 2:38, Peter tells the people there to “repent and be baptized.” In 2:41, those who gladly received his words were baptized and added to their number. In 2:47, Those who were being added were the ones being “saved.” Therefore, calling on the name of the Lord involved obedience to His word (including repentance and baptism).
In Romans 10:8-18, Paul discusses salvation. 10:17 – faith comes by hearing. 10:10 – belief and confession = salvation. 10:13 – Calling on the name of the Lord = salvation. 10:16 – but some have NOT obeyed the gospel. Therefore, hearing, belief, confession, and calling on the name of the Lord are requirements for salvation.
The other passage in the New Testament that discusses “calling on the name of the LORD” is Acts 22:16.
And now why tarriest thou? Arise and be baptized, and wash away thy sins, calling on the name of the LORD.
Calling on the name of the Lord is NOT baptism. Let me say that again, calling on the name of the Lord is NOT baptism. If it were, then Abraham, Isaac, David, and Elijah all got baptized…and more than once.
Calling on the name of the Lord means the same thing in the New Testament as it did in the Old Testament – OBEDIENCE to God.
The “name of the LORD.”
In Matthew 28:18-20, we read Jesus instructing the eleven apostles to baptize people in the NAME of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.” When something is done “in the name of” someone, it means it is done by their authority.
There is a big argument in some religious circles about whose name you are to baptize in. Some say you have to recite the three names (citing Matthew 28:18-20). Others say that we are only supposed to baptize in the name of Jesus (citing every example in the book of Acts). People are having massive arguments over this, and it is all because they don’t understand what “in the name of” means. If something is done by the authority of Jesus Christ, then BY DEFINITION it is by the authority of the Father, as delivered by the Holy Spirit.
The “name of the Lord” is the authority of the Lord. Just like “stop in the name of the law” means “by the authority of the law.”
How do we call on the name of the Lord?
When a doctor called on someone (back when they did that kind of thing), they went to where the patient was. When a boy went to call on his girl, he went to where she was. It involved action and a need to be where the one being called on was.
Calling on the name of the LORD is going to where God is. Calling on the name of the Lord is doing what is necessary to be with Him.
For Abraham and Isaac, this involved living properly under the laws God had given them. For David and the Israelites, it involved living properly under the Law of Moses.
It is interesting to note that all of the Old Testament examples of people calling on the name of the Lord WERE ALREADY children of God. They weren’t calling on the name of the Lord to become a child of God. That didn’t take place until the New Testament.
Calling on the name of the Lord is this:
Turning yourself over to God’s authority in faithful obedience.
For those on the Day of Pentecost, and everyone since then who want to be saved, calling on the name of the Lord involves hearing the gospel, believing in Jesus Christ as the Son of God, repenting of their sins, confessing Christ with their mouth, and being baptized.
Calling on the name of the Lord isn’t baptism, but is sure includes it!
Turn your life over to God, submit yourself to His authority, and enjoy the blessings of salvation!