Calling On The Name Of The Lord

by Douglas Hoff


People interested in obeying God are familiar with the phrase “calling on the name of the Lord.”  That exact wording is found only in Acts 22:16.  However, variations such as “call(s, -ing, -ed) on the name of the LORD” are plentiful and attest to the importance of this expression.  The first instance is found in Genesis 4:26 where Moses recorded, “And to Seth, to him also there was born a son; and he called his name Enos: then began men to call upon the name of the LORD.”  The context does not explain exactly what this means.  A study of the other passages using this phrase give a better indication of what is meant.

The second occurrence of the phrase is in Genesis 12:8.  Here we read of Abram “And he removed from thence unto a mountain on the east of Bethel, and pitched his tent, having Bethel on the west, and Hai on the east: and there he builded an altar unto the LORD, and called upon the name of the LORD.”  This shows worship is connected with calling upon the name of the LORD.

Other passages show it refers to making a request of God.  When Naaman the leper was instructed to wash in the Jordan seven times he remarked, “Behold, I thought, He will surely come out to me, and stand, and call on the name of the LORD his God, and strike his hand over the place, and recover the leper” (2 Kings 5:11). Psalm 99 clearly shows prayer is meant by this expression: “Moses and Aaron among his priests, and Samuel among them that call upon his name; they called upon the LORD, and he answered them” (Psalms 99:5).

Calling on the name of the LORD includes praise, thanksgiving and service.  The following three passages demonstrate this: “O give thanks unto the LORD; call upon his name: make known his deeds among the people” (Psalms 105:1).  “And in that day shall ye say, Praise the LORD, call upon his name, declare his doings among the people, make mention that his name is exalted” (Isaiah 12:4). “O LORD, truly I am thy servant; I am thy servant, and the son of thine handmaid: thou hast loosed my bonds.  I will offer to thee the sacrifice of thanksgiving, and will call upon the name of the LORD.  I will pay my vows unto the LORD now in the presence of all his people” (Psalms 116:16-18).

In the Old Testament calling on the name of the Lord is likewise associated with salvation.  “Then called I upon the name of the LORD; O LORD, I beseech thee, deliver my soul. I will take the cup of salvation, and call upon the name of the LORD” (Psalms 116:4, 13). “And it shall come to pass, that whosoever shall call on the name of the LORD shall be delivered: for in mount Zion and in Jerusalem shall be deliverance, as the LORD hath said, and in the remnant whom the LORD shall call” (Joel 2:32).

In the New Testament calling on the name of the Lord is also linked to salvation.  On the day the church was established Peter was preaching the gospel of Christ.  In his discourse he cited Joel 2:32 and proved Jesus is the Savior (Acts 2:21ff).  Peter’s preaching was interrupted when his audience asked, “What shall we do?” (Acts 2:37).  The implication is, “What shall we do ... to avoid God’s wrath for crucifying his Son?” (Acts 2:36).  By inspiration of the Holy Spirit the apostle declared, “Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins, and ye shall receive the gift of the Holy Ghost” (Acts 2:38; cf. 2:4).

Paul wrote that calling on the name of the Lord yields salvation (Romans 10:13).  But, what does this mean?  Does it mean the alien sinner need only pray for forgiveness?  Saul of Tarsus, later known as the apostle Paul, learned prayer was insufficient to obtain salvation.  After fasting and praying for three days he heard Ananias say, “And now why tarriest thou?  Arise, and be baptized, and wash away thy sins, calling on the name of the Lord” (Acts 22:16; cf. Acts 9:9-11).  Today, the lost sinner calls on the name of the Lord when he repents and is baptized.

Calling on the name of the Lord is clearly more than just praying for forgiveness.  The Lord Jesus indicated some who acknowledge him as Lord will find their profession is in vain.  Jesus taught, “Not every one that saith unto me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven; but he that doeth the will of my Father which is in heaven.  Many will say to me in that day, Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in thy name?  And in thy name have cast out devils?  And in thy name done many wonderful works? And then will I profess unto them, I never knew you: depart from me, ye that work iniquity” (Matthew 7:21-23).  Not everyone who calls Jesus Lord is telling the truth.  On another occasion Jesus asked, “And why call ye me, Lord, Lord, and do not the things which I say?” (Luke 6:46).

Though some give lip service to God, thankfully there are many followers of Christ who call him Lord and do what he says.  These are the ones who really call on the name of the Lord.  They prove it as they worship in spirit and in truth, by their fervent and sincere prayers and through their praise, thanksgiving and service they render as they work out their own salvation with fear and trembling (Philippians 2:12).