Calling on His Name
Most persons in the world of so-called Christendom are taught that since Romans 10:13 says, "Whosoever calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved," then the alien sinner needs to pray for salvation. Of course they do not use the term "alien sinner," for they apparently do not know the meaning of the term. At least in the 60 or more years I have been listening, I do not recall any preacher of any denomination using the term or distinguishing properly between the responsibilities of an alien sinner and a child of God who sins as a citizen of the Kingdom.
Probably a large number of those who claim to be "New Testament Christians" know there is something wrong with that doctrine, and may be able to quote John 9:31, "For we know that God does not listen to sinners," or Matthew 7:21, "Not everyone who says to me, 'Lord, Lord' shall enter into the kingdom of heaven." But to many, this is too much like simply arraying one scripture against another, so you can just take your choice of which one to believe and overlook or reject the one that does not fit your preconceived notions. Of course an honest Bible believer will take ALL the Bible says on any subject, and if one thing seems to contradict another, will try to see wherein he can find harmony.
There needs to be an examination in more detail of what is involved in the expression, "calling on the name of the Lord," and also its meaning when used in a particular grammatical construction. Most of us surely know that words and phrases do not have absolute meanings apart from contexts and grammatical constructions.
It may be interesting and instructive to point out that even in our common English usage, "call on" means more than simply making a request for something. When a doctor "calls on" a patient, he does not merely drive by and say, "Hello in there! I wish you well!" He goes in and is involved with service. When I grew up, young men were said to "call on" young ladies. I am not sure what they are said to do -- or what they do -- now. But I was aware that "to call on" someone meant something different than merely to ask for some favor. Of course no Bible expression should be defined simply by an appeal to our common usage, although such examples may serve to clarify or illustrate. Bible expressions should always be defined in terms of Bible usage. What do we find as we examine the sacred pages?
When we find the expression in Romans 10:13, we immediately find in the following verses that "calling on" must have some prerequisites. One could not "call on" God in a scriptural sense without hearing and believing.
Let us examine briefly some other passages. In Zephaniah 3:9, we find "that all may call upon the name of the Lord, to serve Him." It appears that both in the Septuagint and in the English, "to serve" (tou douleuein) is in apposition to "call upon" (tou epikaleisthai). That is, "to call on the name" is "to serve" Him, not merely request something from Him. You may notice that this usage is very comparable to the illustration of the doctor calling on his patient -- serving him -- not merely asking him for payment of a bill.
Note again in Acts 9:14, Paul was reported to have asked for the authority to bind all who "call upon" the name of the Lord. Paul was not persecuting those who simply prayed, but those who were serving the Lord.
In Acts 25:11, Paul uses the words, "I appeal to Caesar." The words "appeal unto" are from "epikaloumai," the same word translated "call upon." What Paul did was not simply say, "Caesar, save me!" He put his case in Caesar's hands, submitting to Caesar's judgment and will. In a nutshell that is what "calling on the Lord" involves. You turn your life over to the Lord in His appointed way.
But let us probe a little deeper. In Acts 22:16, Saul was told to "Arise and be baptized and wash away thy sins, calling on His name." Although this may be translated in some versions as if it were four imperatives: 1. Arise, 2. Be baptized, 3. Wash away thy sins and 4. Call on his name, they are not all imperatives in the original. "Arise" is a second aorist participle and should be translated, "having arisen." "Be baptized" (baptisai) is first aorist imperative in the middle voice, as is "wash away" (apolousai). "Calling on" (epikalesamenos) is not an imperative, but an aorist middle participle. Although I am neither a Greek or English scholar, and cannot even quote a scholar to uphold my conclusion, the best usage I remember suggests to me that the participle in this sort of construction is used to show how the action of the main verb is to be performed. In this case it is a passive participle, and indicates how the two acts of submission to God are to be performed. (You may want to note here a sort of side issue which may be enlightening. Some of our religious friends and/or enemies take the position that since we are saved by faith, baptism must be ruled out of our salvation since it is an act or work which we perform. You may note that both verbs are passive. They do not relate to acts which we perform, but which are performed on or for us. Baptism is no more our work than washing away sins is our work. They both refer to things done to or for us.)
"Calling on His name" is an aorist middle participle and relates to how submission to Christ is done. There can be no "calling on the name of the Lord" in the Bible sense without submitting to Christ. In this case, by arising and being baptized and having your sins washed away.
Although my study has not been as exhaustive as it should be to make an absolute judgment, I am unable to find any exception to these general principles in the whole Bible. In the 33 times the word is used in the New Testament, not one of them seems to have any clear reference to "praying to," but to such ideas as serving, submitting to, or being put under another by being surnamed, etc.
It may also be interesting to note that this conclusion fits very well with a logical or mathematical comparison. We learned in high school math (or maybe earlier) that "things that are equal to the same thing are equal to each other." Let us note how it works in this connection.
"He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved" (Mark 16:16). "He that calleth on the name of the Lord shall be saved" (Romans 10:13). Therefore, he that believeth and is baptized and he that calleth on the name of the Lord are the same person. If not, why not?
"Except ye be converted and become as little children, ye shall not enter the kingdom of heaven" (Matthew 18:3). "Except a man be born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of heaven" (John 3:5). Therefore, being converted and becoming like little children and being born of water and the Spirit involves the same things.
"Repent -- and be baptized -- for the remission of your sins" (Acts 2:38). "Repent and be converted -- sins blotted out" (Acts 3:19). Therefore, to be baptized and be converted relate to the same thing. So, both logic and scriptural usage compel us to conclude that "calling on the name of the Lord" is not just prayer, but submission and obedience.
T. Pierce Brown
Published in The Old Paths Archive