The Expository Files


What Is Involved in "Calling Upon the Lord" for Salvation?

Acts 2:21

"And it shall be that whoever calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved' (Acts 2:21). The Holy Spirit through the apostle Peter states the thesis of the first gospel sermon in Acts 2. It is a quote from Joel's prophecy of the availability of salvation in the Messianic era.

So what is involved in calling upon the Lord? Is it merely saying, as many claim, "the sinner's prayer" for salvation? Does it only require "faith only" (mental trust in Jesus) for salvation without any overt act of obedient faith? The Bible is its own best commentator, so we look to the context to detail what it means to call on the Lord.

In Psalm 18, the idea of calling on the Lord is totally trusting in the Lord to deliver the helplessly overwhelmed, who realizes his utter impotence to save himself (vv. 1-18). Yet, this entails the response of the believer to obediently follow the Lord's instructions (vv. 19-24). Why does man need to call upon the Lord? He's stuck in the hole of sin that he cannot extract himself from by his own meritorious bootstraps. He's trapped in the debtor's prison of sin, which he is bankrupt to buy his way out. He's enslaved to the cruel taskmaster of sin's addiction, and he needs a Redeemer to liberate him.

Peter in Acts 2 shows that Jesus is the Lord and that the Jews rejected and killed their Messiah.

1. Trust in the Lord Jesus. The theme of Acts 2:21 is fleshed out in showing who Jesus is, what He did, and how he fulfilled the Old Testament prophecies pointing to the coming Messiah. His miracles give public confirmation that He came from God (Acts 2:22; cf. ). His atoning death, burial and resurrection is the centerpiece of God's saving plan (Acts ). This all fulfilled God's prophecies pointing to the coming Christ, who is the Son of David.

This shows us that in true gospel preaching, the person and work of Jesus must be the focus of faith and commitment. The gospel has not been preached if His saving person is not known (1 Cor 15:1-4). To evangelize these Jews, note that Peter didn't initially preach on the nature of the church. This came later after they were converted to Christ and submitted to His authority (Acts 2:42-47). One does not become a member of the Lord's church in order to be saved; rather, one is a member of Christ's one true church because he has been saved (Acts 2:47). The church is the effect, not the means, of salvation. Christ is the Savior; the church is the saved.

2. Turn to the Lord Jesus. When the Jews believed that Jesus fulfilled these OT prophecies, and they realized they had killed their Messiah, they were horrified. "Cut to the heart" indicated they were sincerely convicted of their wrong-doing.

Peter, in telling them how to "call upon the Lord", tells them they must "repent" (Acts 2:38). To turn to the Lord in submissive trust, one must turn away from sin in repentance. Repentance is renouncing all the vain things we trust in before. It is renouncing the love and practice of sin, in order to turn to the Lord as our first love.

3. Confess Jesus as Lord. Not all of Peter's preaching on Pentecost is recorded in Acts 2. He must have preached a long sermon! "With many other words he solemnly testified and kept on exhorting them, saying, `Be saved from this perverse generation!' (Acts 2:40). Since the New Testament is harmonious on the steps of salvation in calling the Lord, Romans 10:9-17 informs us that "calling on the Lord" for salvation involves an essential step of a loyal confession of Jesus' deity: "if you confess with your mouth, `Jesus is Lord,' you shall be made...with the mouth confession is made unto salvation" (Rom 10:9,10; cf. Matt 16:16,18, 1 Tim 6:12).

4. Be Baptized into the Lord.
In the process of calling on the Lord, Peter preached "be the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of your sins" (Acts 2:38). Baptism (immersion in water) is an act of faith where we appeal to the Lord to cleanse us by his blood (1 Pet 3:21, Rom 6:3-4; Rev 1:5). Rabbi Saul was told: "Now why do you delay? Get up and be baptized, and wash away your sins, calling on His name" (Acts 22:16). This clearly shows that calling on the Lord isn't merely saying the man-made "sinner's prayer." It involves obedient faith to accept the Lord's saving action.

By W. Frank Walton
From Expository Files 14.1; January 2007