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?

The Relationship Between God’s Election and God’s Foreknowledge

Sometimes Christians get confused or are genuinely ignorant of God’s election of believers unto salvation. Some think that God’s election is based on His foreknowledge. That is to say that God chose believers (in eternity past) because He saw that they chose Him. Therefore, His selection of me (a believer) was based on my selection of Him. This is often based on a misunderstanding of Romans 8.29.

“For those whom He foreknew He also predestined to be conformed to the image of His Son.”

The argument goes something like this: Notice—foreknew comes before predestinate; therefore, election is based on foreknowledge. Some articulate this perspective in this way: “God has every right to predestinate because He knows all things” (foreknowledge). While it is true God’s foreknowledge is perfect, there are numerous problems with this reasoning. Let me try to illuminate a few of the problems this perspective creates biblically.

1. The fact is that God may predestinate anything He pleases to predestinate because He is Sovereign, not because He knows something (Ps 135:3). If God can predestinate or elect because of His foreknowledge then He is not doing what He pleases—He is doing what I please. The President of the US is not sovereign in that He cannot do as He pleases. God is sovereign. He may elect and not elect whomever He chooses. Just like He may create and not create anything and anyone He chooses.

2. Let’s look at Paul’s conversion. Are we really going to say that the reason Christ appeared before Paul on that fateful day was because God knew Paul [Saul] wanted to be saved? Is there really anything about Saul’s pre-conversion life that would give us any indication that Saul was going to repent and put his faith in the Messiah? When Luke records that Paul was a “chosen vessel” what does that mean (Acts 9:15)? Concerning Paul’s salvation, Acts 22:14 states: “The God of our fathers has chosen you that you should know His will, and see the Just One, and hear the voice of His mouth.” The fact is that those words describe anyone who Christ refers to as “His sheep.” Jesus refers to “those who do not believe” as those who are not His sheep. John writes: “but you do not believe because you are not part of my flock. My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me” (John 10:27).

3. How should we interpret the numerous verses that speak of God choosing? How should “For many are called, but few are chosen” (Mt. 22:14) be interpreted? Should the text read, more appropriately, “few are chosen because few chose me?” God forbid. Look at John 15:16: “Ye have not chosen me, but I have chosen you, and ordained you, that ye should go and bring forth fruit, and that your fruit should remain: that whatsoever ye shall ask of the Father in my name, he may give it you.” Some conclude that “I have chosen you” refers only to God’s election of their service in the kingdom as Christ’s first 12 disciples. This reasoning subordinates God’s vocational election to man’s salvific choosing of God. Instead, it appears to be much more consistent with Scripture to say that God’s choosing of the apostles began before the foundation of the world (Eph 1:4) and included a plan to use these chosen regenerate men as apostles to build His church.

3. Is the word, “elect”, really just a code word for believers without any connotation of God choosing? No. Look at, “And except that the Lord had shortened those days, no flesh should be saved: but for the elect’s sake, whom he hath chosen, he hath shortened the days” (Mk 13:20). If God’s election of man is based on man’s selection of Him, then we may rightly ask what is the point of this text, “but for the elect’s sake, whom he hath chosen.” When the people have chosen their president, he is referred to as the President-elect until the day he is sworn into the office. Plain and simple the word “elect” means chosen.

4. How can dead men choose Christ (Eph 2:1)? If dead men can choose Christ outside of a work of regeneration, then we may rightly conclude “dead” doesn’t really mean dead. “Dead” cannot mean a bad person who is still capable of choosing God when presented with the choice. That is not dead. Can dead bones live? The answer is yes. When God breathes life into dead bones they live (Ezekiel 37). And it is with this new life that man repents and puts His faith in the gospel.

5. Subordinating God’s election of some unto salvation to man’s spiritual response robs God of the glory of redemption (Eph 1:6). If predestination is subordinate to foreknowledge (in the sense of God seeing my spiritual response to the message) then we may rightly conclude that it is a good thing that I chose God or He would not have chosen me. In this way, I am able to share in the glory of my redemption. However, if God’s election of me was not based upon anything He saw me doing, then I find myself concluding that my salvation is all grace (Eph 2:8-9) and God gets all the glory!


The fact is no one has any idea why God elected anyone (Adam—the disobedient one, Abram—the deceiver, David—the adulterer, or Saul—the murderer) to salvation (outside His great love). There is none righteous, no not one. No one desires to be part of the elect (outside of divine grace). All have sinned and all have missed the mark (Romans 3:10-23). All are dead and in their trespasses. Why did God elect Abram to be the father of a multitude of nations? It certainly was not because God saw Abram seeking to know God. Before His encounter with the God of creation, Abram was an idolater like his father. No one complains about God’s predestination of Satan unto eventual destruction. The reason we don’t complain about this is because we believe Satan deserves this destruction. But don’t human rebels and idolaters also deserve the same destruction. Furthermore, the Bible is clear that God’s election is not what keeps someone from repenting. John 6.37 is very clear, “the one who comes to Me [Jesus] I will by no means cast out.” There isn’t anyone on the planet who desires to repent and place their faith in Christ who is not doing it because he or she was not elected by God.

Moreover, nothing of this understanding of election eliminates the need for man’s response of repentance toward God and faith in the promises found in the gospel and the Person of Christ. Likewise, nothing of this understanding of unconditional election eliminates the need for man to preach the gospel to the unconverted soul—faith comes by hearing and hearing by the Word of God, and how shall they hear unless they that preach be sent to preach the gospel (Romans 10:14-17).
The reality is that there isn’t a single verse that indicates that God’s election of man unto salvation is based upon man choosing God first. Although man does chose to believe in Christ, this belief is always a response to God’s initiative. The Bible teaches that God has elected some to salvation and that there isn’t anyone who desires to be saved who God will not save. Finally, the Bible does not teach that God has elected the rest to damnation. In the Moody Handbook of Theology, Paul Enns explains it like this, “The corollary doctrine of reprobation (that God decreed the non-elect to suffer eternally in hell) is not sustained by Scripture, at least in the clear way that positive election is” (Enns, Moody Press, 1997, p.486).

God's Amazing Power Over the Evil Intentions of Others

In the last chapter of the book of Genesis (50:20), an amazing theological truth is illustrated in Joseph’s reply to his brothers concerning their fear of potential retribution after the passing of Jacob (Israel), the grandson of Abraham. After Jacob’s death, Joseph’s brothers feared that in Jacob’s absence, Joseph would seek revenge for the way they had betrayed him. Genesis records that the brothers threw themselves down before Joseph in an act of submission to his authority while announcing: “We are your servants” (Gen. 50:15). But Joseph said to them, “Do not fear, for am I in the place of God? As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good, to bring it about that many people should be kept alive, as they are today (Gen. 50:18-20). This historical record of Joseph’s perspective illustrates God’s amazing power to turn the evil intentions and actions of fallen men and the devil into that which is good. For we know that all things work to good to those who are in a covenant relationship with God and Joseph’s life provides an example of just how God does this (Rom. 8:28).

Beginning with the betrayal by his brothers, Joseph lived through two decades of experiencing evil. He was left for dead in a pit (37:24), sold into slavery (37:28), betrayed by a spiteful woman (39:14), unjustly sentenced to prison for something that he did not do (39:20) and forgotten in prison (40:23). Then God created just the right scenario to bring Joseph into a position of tremendous influence and power as Pharaoh’s Prime Minister (41). It was precisely because of Joseph’s great power that his brothers were fearful of his revenge. Pharaoh told Joseph, “You shall be over my house, and all my people shall order themselves as you command. Only as regards the throne will I be greater than you” (41:40). However, Joseph calmed their fears with a statement that they had nothing to fear because he was in the place God wanted him to be. Then he explained that “what” the brothers intended to be pure evil against him, God sovereignly orchestrated into a good thing for the purpose of saving many people from starvation from seven years of famine. Joseph understood that all that he had experienced was used by God to pre-position him in Egypt for the eventual day that his brothers would need to buy grain to live. If Joseph had not been in Egypt, one may speculate as to whether grain would have been stock piled and if an Egyptian would have been willing to sell the grain to a Hebrew—but Joseph understood that God had taken all that was intended to be evil against him and used it in a most amazing way for good to the point of saving both Egyptians and Hebrews from the effects of a famine.


According to John Walton, Genesis 50:20 should not be viewed just as a concluding verse in Joseph’s life, but more as the entire book of Genesis (Walton, loc. 16570). This truth helps answer the difficult question: “Why would God, who knew man was going to rebel, create him anyway?” The answer lies in what God did with Joseph’s situation. God permitted evil into the world in order to demonstrate the magnitude of his love, mercy, grace and Sovereign rule over the universe. Only the most powerful being in the Universe would be able to consistently take evil and turn it into good. Beginning with the fall of man and the proto-gospel promise in Genesis 3:15, God revealed His plan to demonstrate his glory through victory over evil. The truth that God often takes what man intends for evil and turns it to good should be of amazing comfort to the follower of God.

Moreover, the student of the Bible needs to see the great degree that verse 20 pictures and helps the reader understand the gospel. Certainly the crucifixion of the innocent Son of God is the most evil thing ever perpetrated upon another human being in the history of mankind. Jesus, like Joseph, was unjustly accused of that which he did not do. He was without sin. Claiming to be God was not sin—He was and is God. The crowd accused him of teaching that Jews should not pay taxes to Caesar, but this was another false accusation. Jesus told people to render to Caesar that which is Caesar’s (Matt 22:21). Pilate said, “I find no fault in this man” (Luke 23:4). The Roman Centurion said, “Certainly this man was innocent” (Luke 23:47, NAS). When the crowd was shouting crucify him, crucify him, you know they meant to harm him. When a man nails stakes into your hands and feet, you are experiencing the evil intentions of fallen men. When a crown of thorns is being pounded into your head, you are experiencing the evil intentions of fallen man. And when you are crucified as an innocent man, you have experienced the ultimate evil intentions fallen man can perpetrate upon another man. Yet this evil is precisely what God used to appease His own wrath toward sinners in order to “save much people alive” (Gen. 50:20; Rom. 3:25). Like Joseph’s situation, both Jews and Gentiles are being saved because of God’s amazing ability to take what the Jews and Romans intended for evil and turn it to good, such that the same Jews and Romans could be saved through repentance toward God and faith in the innocent Lord Jesus Christ.


Understanding this great truth can be exceptionally beneficial to the life of the believer. Christians do experience the evil intentions of their great adversary, the devil, and other sinners (1 Pet. 5:8). Moreover, the great commission does not permit Christians to live in communities of believers with the intent of isolating themselves from evil people. We are called to be salt and light in a fallen world. Living in a fallen world under the Lordship of Christ requires an understanding that Christians will experience the evil of persecution, cancer, Alzheimer’s disease, AIDs, stroke, theft, fires, rape, child molestation and all that fallen men can imagine. Genesis 6:5 records, “The LORD saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every intention of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually.” Wicked men will prematurely kill Christian girls and boys at places like Columbine and an Amish schoolhouse in Pennsylvania, and this will continue until Christ returns.

Joseph’s life teaches the believer that God is so powerful that He is always taking what is meant for evil and turning it into good. The significance of Genesis 50:20 to the Christian in the 21st century is the truth that God is still working each and every moment to take what he or she may believes is evil and turn it into good. The good may not always be as clear in Joseph’s case and certainly it will not have the magnitude of the good of the gospel, but nevertheless the promise still stands. Paul tells us, “We know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose” (Rom. 8:28). Only eternity will fully reveal the magnitude to which God, from the very beginning, has taken what Lucifer and fallen men have meant for evil and turned it to good over and over again to the glory of His great Name.

Is a Single Apple Really Sufficient

A preacher friend of mine once said: “An apple tree only has to produce one apple for you to know it is an apple tree.” What a true statement. An apple tree does only have to produce one apple to be known as an apple tree. However, certainly no one would consider a tree that only produces one apple a healthy apple tree, would they?

The above statement was made within the context of the difficult struggle in knowing whether someone is born-again or not—converted or not—truly saved or just a professing Christian. In the case of an apple and an apple tree, this preacher is right. Once I see an apple on an apple tree, I can declare this is an apple tree.

But what possible single fruit could a Christian produce that would allow someone to declare, like the apple tree, that he is a Christian?

According to the epistle of 1 John, the assurance of salvation is not gained by a single apple. Instead, John says in 1 John 5:13 “these things have I written unto you.” He says “things” because assurance of salvation is gained by a comprehensive examination of one’s life.

The believer can’t say, “I prayed; therefore, I know I am saved”. The believer can’t say, “I was confirmed” or “I was baptized; therefore, I know I am saved”. According to the first five chapters of 1 John there isn’t a single “apple” that will make my “calling and election sure.” Instead, John presents numerous things that can assure the Christian he is an apple tree. Peter agrees with John and also writes about “these things” twice in 2 Peter 2:5-10. (Check out this sermon http://www.sermonaudio.com/sermoninfo.asp?SID=121710105632973 for more about these assurances in 1 John.)

2 Peter 1:5–10
5 And beside this, giving all diligence, add to your faith virtue; and to virtue knowledge; 6 And to knowledge temperance; and to temperance patience; and to patience godliness; 7 And to godliness brotherly kindness; and to brotherly kindness charity. 8 For if these things be in you, and abound, they make you that ye shall neither be barren nor unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. 9 But he that lacketh these things is blind, and cannot see afar off, and hath forgotten that he was purged from his old sins. 10 Wherefore the rather, brethren, give diligence to make your calling and election sure: for if ye do these things, ye shall never fall:

The believer lives by faith. He doesn’t live by a blind faith; for he has received promises from the one true living God of the Universe who has made himself known to us by His Son Jesus, but nevertheless the believer lives by faith. Peter says “add to your faith.”

The believer examines himself in light of the Word of God and lives each day by faith in the gospel. He is not looking for a single apple but a tree full of apples, each representing different things (knowledge, temperance, patience, kindness, etc.) or assurances of salvation presented throughout the Word of God.

Paul said it like this:
2 Corinthians 13:5
5 Examine yourselves, whether ye be in the faith; prove your own selves. Know ye not your own selves, how that Jesus Christ is in you, except ye be reprobates?

When heaven and hell hang in the balance a single apple would not be sufficient for me. Would it be for you?

Click here to listen to or check out a pdf copy of these assurances of salvation http://www.sermonaudio.com/sermoninfo.asp?SID=121710105632973.