You might be surprised to know that “calling on the name of the Lord” doesn’t mean praying. Many people think that you can initially have your sins forgiven by praying. This misunderstanding is based on Paul’s words in Romans 10:13 “For whosoever shall call on the name of the Lord shall be saved.” But this passage has nothing to do with prayer.
So, what does “calling on the name of the Lord” mean if it doesn’t mean praying? To call on somebody’s name is to appeal to that person’s authority. An ambassador deals with foreign governments and speaks “in the name of the United States” by speaking with the authority of our government. If you get married in the state of Oklahoma you must have a blood test, obtain a marriage license, have a man who is authorized by the state to perform the ceremony, and have witnesses attest that the ceremony took place. By doing all those things, persons who are married in Oklahoma appeal to the state’s authority. They “call on the name of the state.”
To “call on the name of the Lord” is to appeal to the Lord’s authority. There are examples in the New Testament of appealing to the Lord’s authority for a variety of reasons. In Acts three, Peter and John healed a lame man outside the temple in Jerusalem. In Acts 3:6, Peter tells the lame man to arise and walk, “In the name of Jesus Christ.” Peter could as well have said, arise and walk, “by the authority of Jesus Christ.” Peter couldn’t have healed the lame man by himself. He appealed to Christ’s authority, or name, to perform the miracle.
In the next chapter—Acts 4—Peter told the Jewish leaders who had him arrested that not only was the lame man healed “by the name of Jesus,” but it is also through the name—or authority—of Jesus that we are saved from sin. In Acts 4:12, Peter said, “There is none other name under heaven, given among men, whereby we must be saved.” That means if we are saved, it is because we have appealed to Christ’s authority for forgiveness.
That’s the same thing Peter told the crowd on Pentecost in Acts 2. There, he used the same words that Paul used in Romans 10:13 when he told the audience that “whosoever shall call on the name of the Lord shall be saved” (Acts 2:21). When Peter’s hearers were convinced of their lost condition, they cried out and asked what to do. In Acts 2:38, Peter told them how to call on the name of the Lord for salvation. “Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins.” If “calling on the name of the Lord” meant praying, Peter would have said that. But he didn’t. He told his audience to “repent and be baptized.”
There is another example on the book of Acts of a man being told to “call on the name of the Lord” for forgiveness. When Paul was on his way to Damascus to round up Christians and imprison them, he was blinded by a light. Jesus appeared to Paul and accused him of persecuting the Lord. When Paul asked Jesus what to do, Jesus told him to go into the city and wait for instructions.
Jesus then sent a man named Ananias to preach to Paul and some of his words are recorded in Acts 9. But to get a fuller picture of what was said, we must look at Paul’s account of this event in Acts 22. Ananias asked Paul, “And now why tarriest thou? arise, and be baptized, and wash away thy sins, calling on the name of the Lord” (Acts 22:16). Paul had been praying for three days since he had seen Jesus. If any man could be saved by prayer, it would have been Paul. Yet, he had to be baptized to wash away his sins, indicating that he was still lost when Ananias came to him.
No person in the New Testament was ever told to pray for forgiveness in order to be saved. But Peter told the thousands on Pentecost in Acts 2 to repent and be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins, and Ananias told Paul to call on the name of the Lord by being baptized. That’s what it means to “call on the name of the Lord” for salvation.