CHAPTER 31 // BELIEVE IN CHRIST ≠ CALL ON THE NAME OF THE LORD

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Believe in Christ and Call on the Name of the Lord

In this chapter we will explore the difference between the phrase, “believe in Christ,” and “Call on the Name of the Lord.” It would be easy to lump these terms together as if they mean the same thing, but we will find that one corresponds to salvation, while the other to discipleship. Let’s start by looking at John 6:40.

And this is the will of Him who sent Me, that everyone who sees the Son and believes in Him may have everlasting life; and I will raise him up at the last day.”[1]

As we’ve seen so many times in this book, Jesus affirms that salvation comes by belief in him. This verse in particular carries a significance for those that try to teach that salvation requires works. For, this is Jesus’ response to a group of people who wanted to know what actions they need to perform to do the works of God. Since they were unbelievers, he gave them the first and foremost instruction from God. God’s mission is that, “that everyone who sees the Son and believes in Him may have everlasting life.” For those that don’t yet believe, this is the will of God for their life.

However, once their salvation is established, there are other hopes and desires that Jesus has for the life of the believer. Salvation comes by grace, and not by works. Though, if the believer wants to be a committed disciple there are many things he must do as he obey’s Christ on a daily basis.

One of the instructions that is given to those who seek to escape the deadly damage of sin in this life, is to call upon the name of the Lord. Let’s see how Paul puts it in Romans 10:13-15.

For “whoever calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved.”[2]

It would be easy to take this verse out of it’s context. In fact, many have by claiming that Paul is talking about salvation from Hell. However, we need to ask what Paul is talking about here. Our question ought to be, “saved from what?”

“Whoever calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved” is a direct quote from Joel 2:32. It comes at the end of chapter 2 when Joel has been describing a coming destruction that would descend upon Israel. It would be a physical destruction where a physical army would invade. It describes how the armies would come into the city and climb over the walls. It happened happened in actual history. So when Joel says, “whoever calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved,” we know that he means, “saved from physical destruction, and defeat.” It was a specific promise to Israel in which, their repentance and willingness to call out to God would save them from the armies they faced.

The phrase shows up again in In Acts 2:21, just days after the time when the jews had rejected their Messiah. Peter quotes a longer section of the verses from Joel, where he identifies, once again, that Israel has the option of being saved from coming destruction. From the time that Peter gave this speech, there was only about 37 years before Jerusalem would be destroyed. So, once again, like in Joel’s time, Israel was facing a judgment of destruction. He gives new meaning to the phrase, “call upon the name of the Lord,” though. This time he shows that it’s actually Jesus the Messiah who they must call upon, in order to avoid destruction. The promise he offers, is that if Israel would call upon the name of the Lord, Jesus would save them from the coming destruction, likely by ushering in the long awaited kingdom. They, however, didn’t do that and the threat of destruction continued to linger.

That brings us to the Romans 10 passage that we started with. Once again, Paul quotes Joel 2:32. It shouldn’t surprise you to find out that he does so in the context of discussion about the Jews. The entire section is about how the Jews have rejected their Messiah, Jesus. He wishes that they would call upon God’s Messiah so that they wouldn’t have to face the destruction that awaits. This fits in with what we have learned about Romans already, that it is about how to be saved from temporal wrath. For more info on that see chapter 26 of this book. Paul wants the Jews to be saved from the destruction of God’s wrath. Paul broadens the perspective in the previous verse when he says, “For there is no distinction between Jew and Greek, for the same Lord over all is rich to all who call upon Him.[3]

With that he points out that the principle applies to everyone, not just Jews. They Jews can be rescued from destruction by calling upon the name of Lord, and so too Gentiles can be rescued from the destruction of sin if they call upon the name of the Lord. Now with that context, let’s read Romans 10:13-15.

For “whoever calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved.” How then shall they call on Him in whom they have not believed? And how shall they believe in Him of whom they have not heard? And how shall they hear without a preacher? And how shall they preach unless they are sent?[4]

Notice the progression here. (4) There must be preachers sent. (3) Then they will hear the message. (2) Then they will believe [and have everlasting life.] (1) then they will call upon the name of the Lord [to be saved from destruction].

He specifically says that believing comes before calling upon the name of the Lord. We’ve seen dozens of times that it’s believing in Christ that brings eternal salvation. Since he shows that one follows the other, we know they are not the same thing. Calling upon the name of the Lord is something that only believers can do. It’s an action, or a good work. Therefore, calling upon the name of the Lord is a work of discipleship not a requirement for salvation from Hell.

Acts 22:16

And now why are you waiting? Arise and be baptized, and wash away your sins, calling on the name of the Lord.’[5]

Here, Paul is explaining what was expected of him after he was converted. At this point he was already a believer. He had believed in Christ for eternal life, but he was waiting to be instated into service by God. Obviously his salvation was secure by faith alone, but in order to be a disciple in good standing with God, he had to get baptized, which is true of all disciples.

He also needed to call upon the name of the Lord, which would wash away his sins. This should not be understood as a requirement for positional forgiveness. For more information on positional forgiveness see chapter 20. He had the kind of forgiveness that got him into heaven when he believed in Jesus. Yet, he still needed to gain the forgiveness that leads to fellowship with Christ. It was probably difficult for him to call upon the name of the Lord, since he had persecuted the early church so severely. However, it would be a requirement for him to be used in ministry. God’s specific discipleship plan for Paul was that he get baptized and call upon the name of the Lord to wash away the bad blood that had been between him and Christ.

There is another sense in which this statement should also be understood. God told him to get baptized. Does someone baptize themselves? Obviously not. For Paul to be baptized, he had to seek out some other believer to baptize him. The difficulty was that Paul had persecuted the church so severely that anyone who was willing to baptize him would likely be afraid of him. Paul had not only sinned against God, but he had sinned tremendously against the church. What’s more, God had just told him, “For you will be His witness to all men of what you have seen and heard.[6]” Paul had work to do that required him to be in good standing with other believers. His sins between himself and God were forgiven, but the sins he had committed against other believers needed to be dealt with. He needed to make things right with the church so that he could start his ministry.

It seems that God was telling him that his public baptism, and calling upon the name of the Lord would be part of the proof that other believers needed to see in order to wash away his sins.

In this chapter we have seen the distinction between believing in Christ and calling upon the name of the Lord. The former brings us salvation as the free gift of God. The latter is an action that disciples are expected and commanded to do.

[1] John 6:40.

[2] Romans 10:13

[3] Romans 10:12.

[4] Romans 10:13–15.

[5] Acts 22:16.

[6] Acts 22:15.

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About Lucas

Lucas is a staff writer with simply belief, and sci-fi/fantasy novelist. He has a B.S. in Bible, Psychology, and History/Political Science. He lives and writes from his home office in East Texas with his wife, daughter, and cat.