What Does It Mean to Call Upon the Name of the Lord?

Recently, I was on an independent Fundamental Baptist dating ministry website (like eHarmony), by invitation of the sponsoring pastor, and I was reviewing their presentation of the gospel. After a solid presentation of numerous verses relating to salvation, the presentation closes like this:

7) Ask Jesus to forgive you of your sins and take you to Heaven someday when you die:
Romans 10:13 “For whosoever shall call upon the name of the Lord shall be saved.”
* The word call means, in this verse, to pray.

Here is a sample prayer:

“Dear Jesus, I know that I am a sinner and that I deserve hell for my sin. Please forgive me of my sin and I trust in Jesus alone as my only way to get to Heaven. Please come in my heart and save me and take me to Heaven someday when I die. Amen.”

I wonder if this is what Paul had in mind when he wrote Romans 10. Did Paul imagine that two millennia after he penned Romans 10, people all over the globe would be told that if they sincerely asked Jesus in their hearts they can be assured of being saved because of the promise in Romans 10:13?

Another website says: "We must pray to receive Christ" and then cites Romans 10:13 as the proof text. Is this adding to the gospel? Where does the Bible say we must pray to be saved?

A different Baptist church website looks like this:

Won't you call on Him in prayer today? It's a promise from God - the Bible says, "For whosoever shall call upon the name of the Lord shall be saved." Romans 10:13

Is it true that “call” means to pray in this verse? Can we say “Whosoever shall pray to the Lord shall be saved?” Would anyone dare say: “If you pray this prayer you are saved?” Who would be so bold as to assure someone of salvation based upon a prayer?

The truth is the word call is never translated “pray” in any of the numerous times it is used in the NT. (Notice the various ways the AV/KJV translates epikaleomai G1941 — call on 7, be (one's) surname 6, be surnamed 5, call upon 4, appeal unto 4, call 4, appeal to 1, appeal 1.) Did you notice it wasn't pray one time?

The verse is never translated “whosoever prays to God will be saved.”

In an effort to explain what it means to “call upon the name of the Lord,” the entire context of Romans 10 must be examined. Paul was writing a letter, and he never intended for isolated verses to be pulled out of his letter and used arbitrarily. Romans 10:12-14 reads like this:

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. For whosoever shall call upon 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?

Romans 10:14 should never be separated from verse 13. Romans 10:14 asks this question:

“How then shall they call on him in whom they have not believed?”

This is a critical point. Whatever it means to “call on” can’t be done without belief. Therefore, “call upon” can’t simply mean “say words in the form of a prayer.” In this follow-up question to verse 13, Paul explains that you can’t call upon the name of the Lord if you have not believed in Him whom you are calling upon. The context is very helpful. The context provides much clarification. Paul helps me understand that it is not the action of “calling upon” that saves me, but my faith in the One upon whom I am calling.

In Romans 4, Paul reminded his reader that Abraham believed God and it was counted to him for righteousness. Abraham was not declared righteous because he prayed to God. The book of Genesis does not record any prayers that Abraham offered up to God.

If “call upon” is the same as “pray to,” why didn’t Paul just say that? He could have. He uses the word “prayer” in 10:1 and the word “pray” in Romans 8:26 speaks of the Spirit of God making intercession for us when we pray.

No, “call upon” is not the same as “pray to.”

The emphasis upon verse 13 is not an explanation of how to be saved, but a promise from God and the promise is extended to “whosoever.”

Salvation, according to Paul, is no longer limited to just the descendents of Abraham. Verse 12 makes it clear that the context of the “whosoever” is Jews and Greeks. Now Greeks (Gentiles) can also be included in the promise that God will save those who “call upon the name of the Lord.”

The phrase “call upon the name of the Lord” is a way of expressing a dependency upon the Lord to be one's Savior. This person is invoking the “name of the Lord” as the name of the One who is their Savior. This person who is calling upon the name of the Lord has already believed in his heart that God raised Jesus from the dead (10:9). He would not be invoking the name of the Lord as the One who saves him if he thought Jesus was still dead. Dead people can’t save people. No, the very reason the name of the Lord Jesus Christ is being invoked as Savior is that the person has already believed upon Him. He has already recognized that he is helpless to save himself. This is why the name of the Lord Jesus Christ must be invoked. Who is the one saving you from sin? “The Lord Jesus is my Savior” is the testimony of anyone who is a believer. This person believes that God saves those who appeal to the gospel as their only hope for salvation in faith. This appeal is not the articulation of words, in the form of a man-made prayer, but it is an acknowledgement of a complete dependency upon God for salvation from the heart.

The testimony of the one who is a believer in Romans 10 is: “If I am going to be saved, it is God who will have to save me.” This is why saved people frequently and without hesitation confess or profess with their mouth “the Lord Jesus.” This profession or confession is not a prayer but a testimony (either orally or in writing or any other means of communicating) of their faith in Christ. Those who believe in their heart that God raised Jesus from the dead have as their testimony that “Jesus is Lord.” He is not just a man. He is God Incarnate—the Son of God. He is the Lord—which is precisely why God raised Him from the dead. Believers appeal to or invoke the name of the Lord Jesus as the One who saves them from sin and death because there is no other name under heaven given among men, by which a person can be saved (Acts 4:12). When asked, “How do you know you are going to heaven when you die?” believers will always invoke the name of the Lord Jesus as the reason they know they are saved (1 John 5:13). It is not the fact that they have prayed a prayer that saves them. God knows their heart.

Believers’ faith is not in their prayer, but in the promises of God found in the gospel. Like Abraham who believed God’s promise for a future son (the child of promise, Romans 9:9) to carry forward Abraham’s name, today’s believers in Christ invoke or appeal to the name of the resurrected Lord Jesus as the One they are depending upon for salvation. They would never appeal to their own righteousness. They would never appeal to their keeping of the law as sufficient to save them. Their appeal, instead, is found in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ whom God raised from the dead.

Genesis 4:26 speaks about a day when men began to call upon the name of the Lord. On what day did you “call upon the name of the Lord to be your Savior?” When did you believe in your heart that God raised Jesus from the tomb to be your Savior?

I can’t help but wonder how many people have been led to pray a prayer from Romans 10:13 who have subsequently never publically confessed Jesus before men. Jesus said (using the same Greek word Paul used) “Whosoever therefore shall confess me before men, him will I confess also before my Father which is in heaven” (Mt 10:32).

Obviously, it is imperative that we don’t attempt to make Romans 10:13 say something it is not saying. Jesus is not communicating that anyone who has ever said “Jesus is my Lord and Savior” can be assured that Jesus will confess their name before the Father in heaven. In the same way, anyone who calls out to God to save them cannot be assured that those words have obligated God to save them.

Someone would be foolish to think that the articulation of the words “God save me” is what saves a Christian from hell. People are saved from hell because of their faith in the gospel—not their faith in the words they have said as an expression of that faith.

A person who has previously prayed a prayer of salvation, like the one on the webpage, must be taught that his faith should never be in the fact that he prayed to God. Instead, his faith must be in the “name” of the Lord Jesus Christ who was crucified for the sins of the whole world and subsequently rose from the grave in demonstration of the power of the gospel to save all who believe.

If you have previously prayed for salvation and have yet to experience any peace in your salvation, let me encourage you to examine what your faith was truly in—was it faith in your prayer or faith in the promises of a God Who cannot lie?