“Whoever…” “Whoever calls…” “Whoever calls upon the name of the LORD…” “Whoever calls upon the name of the LORD shall be saved” (Joel 2:32).
Many sincere people reference this Bible verse and then claim, “Calling upon the Lord’s name is ALL that is necessary in order to be saved…”
By appealing to this Old Testament passage, they allege at least two things: 1) Baptism isn’t necessary for salvation, and 2) only words (i.e., “calling”), contingent upon belief alone, are necessary for salvation.
But is this really what Scripture teaches? Is salvation simply a matter of verbally calling upon the Lord’s name? Let’s consider this question together:
The prophet Joel first employed this phrase back in Joel 2:32. “And it shall come to pass that whoever calls on the name of the LORD shall be saved.”
First, notice that Joel spoke of salvation in the future tense—“It SHALL come to pass…” Second, notice that the apostle Peter, centuries later in Acts 2, quoted this very passage in the very first gospel sermon on Pentecost and said, “THIS is THAT which was spoken by the prophet Joel…” (v. 16, KJV—vv. 17-21; Joel 2:28-32). “This is that…” told Peter’s audience that what Joel had prophesied centuries earlier was beginning to be fulfilled before their own eyes and ears (cf. Acts 10).
Joel actually designated WHEN those who called upon the Lord’s name would be saved. He said, “And it shall come to pass AFTERWARD…” (Joel 2:28).
Peter, as an inspired speaker and interpreter of Joel’s words said, “And it shall come to pass IN THE LAST DAYS…” (Acts 2:17). Therefore, the AFTERWARD in Joel refers to THE LAST DAYS mentioned by Peter (cf. Isa. 2:2; Mic. 4:1). The “last days” refer to the last age or dispensation of mankind (i.e., the Christian age).
Wayne Jackson offers:
“The expression ‘last days’ is a biblical idiom meaning the Messianic era (Isa. 2:2-4). Joseph Klausner, the eminent scholar of Hebrew University in Jerusalem, conceded that Joel’s prophecy had to do with the age of the Messiah. Paul uses the expression “last days” with a present tense form (‘be turning away’) in 2 Timothy 3:1, 5, thus demonstrating that the first century was in that general dispensation known as ‘the last days.’ It is a designation for the entire Christian age.”1
Gareth Reece adds:
“The ‘last days’ from Joel’s standpoint would be the whole time from Christ until the judgment day. To the Old Testament prophets, the ‘last days’ had reference to the entire Christian Age. We are living in the ‘last days” about which the Old Testament made predictions. Because the “last days” refer to the entire Christian Age, the fulfillment of Joel’s prophecy is not limited to one day—like to Pentecost itself… Yet Peter is affirming that what happened on Pentecost is included in what Joel predicted.”2
Joel identified the people WHO could and would be saved as “whoever.” Hundreds of years before the last days/Christian Age came into effect, Joel referred to the time when salvation would no longer be limited to the Jews alone, but instead, would be offered to everyone. Both Jews AND GENTILES alike would enjoy access to forgiveness of sins in Christ (Acts 10:34-35; Rev. 22:17). That message was given prophetically through Joel, initiated by Peter at Pentecost before the Jews, and then finally consummated by Peter with Cornelius and his Gentile relatives ten years later (cf. Acts 10; cf. 2:39).
Joel and Peter obviously didn’t mean that ALL a person had to do in order to be saved was to vocalize an audible call to or upon Jesus. Study the following:
First, consider the fact that when we compare Joel’s words with Jesus’ explicit words in Matthew 7, it is apparent that verbiage ALONE is insufficient to save. “Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ shall enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who DOES the will of My Father in heaven” (v. 21). “But why do you call Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ and DO NOT DO the things which I say” (Luke 6:46)? If a salesman were to call upon his clients, would simply uttering their names be sufficient, or would some sort of action be involved in “calling”? To ask the question is to answer it.
Second, if calling upon the name of the Lord involved nothing more than a verbal plea such as, “Lord Jesus, come into my heart,” or “Lord, save me,” as many of my religious friends maintain, THEN WHY DID MEMBERS OF THAT FIRST ASSEMBLY IN ACTS 2 ASK PETER AND THE REST OF THE APOSTLES, “MEN AND BRETHREN, WHAT SHALL WE DO…” (v. 37)? Remember that Peter had already quoted Joel 2:32 and said, “This is THAT…” Why did those present at Pentecost ask, “What shall we DO…?” at all if salvation was contingent upon simply saying a few words or making a heartfelt request? And why didn’t Peter say to those who had asked the question, “Why, my friends, there’s nothing that you can DO to be saved—you need only to ask Jesus into your heart…”?
After hearing Peter’s sermon (vv. 14-36; cf. Romans 10:17), the audience, as convicted believers, wanted to know HOW they might call on the name of the Lord (v. 32) and be saved. They feared that there was no hope for salvation since they had personally been involved in the murder of the promised Messiah (v. 36). Peter assured them of just the opposite. He urged them, “Repent, and let every one of you be baptized [WATCH IT—mb] IN THE NAME (i.e., by the authority—Col. 3:17) OF THE LORD.
Third, pay special attention to fact that when a person submits to the authority of Jesus and is baptized for the remission of his sins (Acts 2:38), he is actually “calling on the name of the Lord” (Romans 10:13). In a parallel account of conversion, Ananias told Saul (who was later named “Paul”), “And now why are you waiting? Arise AND BE BAPTIZED, AND WASH AWAY YOUR SINS [WATCH IT—mb] CALLING ON THE NAME OF THE LORD (Acts 22:16).
Exactly HOW was Saul to “call…?” By obeying the gospel (cf. 2 Thessalonians 1:7-9; 1 Corinthians 15:1-4; Romans 6:3-4; 1 Peter 4:17); by being baptized (cf. Mat. 28:19; Mark 16:15-16; Acts 8:12-13, 16; 36, 38; 10:47-48; 16:33; 18:8; 19:5; Romans 6:3-4; 1 Corinthians 1:13-15; 12:13; Galatians 3:27; Titus 3:5; Pet. 3:21).
Fourth, in order to further confirm this what we have said thus far, compare Joel 2:32 with other New Testament passages and note the striking parallels:
WATCH IT, Joel, Peter, Ananias and Paul promised SALVATION to the person who calls on the name of the Lord. Jesus promised SALVATION to the person who believes and is baptized. Peter, Paul and Ananias promised SALVATION to the person who calls on the name of the Lord AND to the person who is baptized. Since Joel, Jesus, Peter, Ananias and Paul all promised SALVATION, and since “shall be saved” equals “the forgiveness of sins,” “newness of life,” and “wash away sins,” and since Scripture is from God and never contradicts itself, it is obvious that “calling on the name of the Lord” is the same as obeying the gospel and being baptized.
Is a believer saved by “calling on the name of the Lord?” Yes–because Scripture affirms it. Is that same believer saved by simply confessing Jesus, accepting Him as his personal Savior, or asking Him into his heart? No, because “calling” involves much more than just sincere words uttered to God.