What does it mean to call upon the Name of the Lord for Salvation?

Twice in the NT, we are told that anyone who calls upon the name of the Lord shall be saved. (Acts 2:21 and Romans 10:13)  Both Peter and Paul are quoting from Joel 2:32, where the prophet Joel promises a coming day where anyone can call on the name of the Lord for salvation. Joel’s emphasis is not upon the act of calling but rather the promise of whosoever. Both Peter and Paul use the verse in that context.  Paul makes that clear in Romans 10:12 by stating, “For there is no difference between the Jew and the Greek: for the same Lord over all is rich unto all that call upon him.” 

So then how should we understand the word “call”? Does Paul mean “pray to”? Is that the context of Romans 10? Certainly not. The context of Romans 10 is salvation, and Paul is reminding his audience that all (i.e., Jews and Gentiles) who name the name of Jesus as their Savior will be saved.  Without question, the reason these people identify Jesus as their Savior is that they believe in Him.  The reason I call my wife “my wife” is because I am married to her; the reason I call the President “President Trump” is because he is the President; and the reason believers call upon the name of the Lord Jesus for their salvation is because they believe Jesus is their Savior.  I call you “Bob” because your name is Bob, and the reason I say “Bob” is because I believe you are Bob. That is the manner in which the word “call” is being used.

We know that is the correct interpretation because of the context of Romans 10. Beginning in v. 6, Paul speaks of a righteousness that comes by faith.  In v. 8, we read about a “word of faith” that is preached or proclaimed. In v. 9, we read “That if thou shalt confess with thy mouth the Lord Jesus, and shalt believe in thine heart that God hath raised him from the dead, thou shalt be saved”. In v. 10, Paul states: “For with the heart man believeth unto righteousness; and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation”. Then in v. 11, Paul quotes from Isaiah 28:16, where the prophet promises that those who believe in God will not be put to shame.  Verse 12 then begins with the preposition “For”, establishing a link between the preceding sentence and Paul’s premise in which there is no distinction between Jews and Greeks (Gentiles). Jews and Gentiles are saved in the same way. The same Lord who saved the Jew is the same Lord who saves the Greek. There is no distinction. To make his point even stronger, Paul then quotes from Joel 2:32, where the prophet spoke of a coming day when anyone can call upon the name of the Lord and be saved. Anyone—that is Jew or Gentile. Beginning in Romans 1, Paul repeatedly emphasizes that people acquire Christ's righteousness by faith in the Gospel.  (Romans 1:17)

So then, is faith in the gospel the first step in a series of things that must be done? Is it believe, call, confess, and repent (a word that Paul doesn’t use a single time in Romans) or is it repent, believe, call, and confess? To gain a better understanding of how Paul is using his quotation from Joel 2:32, let’s look at Romans 10:14. Paul writes, “How then shall they call on him in whom they have not believed?”. Calling and confessing provide evidence of faith or belief in the gospel, but faith and faith alone in the gospel is what saves people. The reason you confess that Jesus is Lord is that you believe He is Lord, and the reason you call upon the name of Jesus to be your Savior is that you believe He died for your sins, was buried, and rose again on the third day. Calling and confessing are not prerequisites to salvation; they both occur after one believes.

By no means is Paul establishing a series of things that must be done to be saved. Calling and confessing are no more a part of how to get saved than baptism is a component to salvation. We know that from Acts 16:31 where Paul plainly tells the Philippian jailor “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved”. Nothing more is said. Nothing more is implied. Believing on the Lord Jesus is the complete reliance or dependency on Jesus as Savior in the same way that a person relies entirely or trusts completely in the ability of a ladder to support his weight.