Is Calling on the Lord's Name All It Takes to Be Saved?

Imagine living your whole life thinking you were saved from the penalty of your sins, only to discover that your assurance was false. It would be a tragic revelation with horrific eternal consequences. And I fear that many professing believers are in for that severe shock when they enter into eternity.

Self-deception is at epidemic levels in the church today. Countless men and women have gone through the motions of “accepting Christ” or “asking Jesus into their hearts”—they’ve walked the aisle, prayed the prayer, and written the date in their Bibles—but they remain lost in their sins. And their false assurance only serves to inoculate them to the gospel and blind them to their need for the Savior.

Weak pastors, church leaders, and evangelists don’t help the situation when they regularly over-simplify the call of the gospel and overlook the importance of true repentance and faith. Their dumbed-down gospel for a dumbed-down culture is only fanning the flames of spiritual ignorance, which is already sweeping through the church like a wildfire.

One of the verses that’s routinely overused—and under-exegeted—in gospel ministry is Romans 10:13, “For whoever will call on the name of the Lord will be saved.”

That verse has been a go-to text for evangelists like Billy Graham. But excerpted out of its context, it’s a recipe for shallow faith and false assurance. And the rampant, easy abuse of Romans 10:13 and similar verses is the reason for the widespread easy-believism and false assurance that plagues the church today.

To understand Paul’s true intent in Romans 10:13, we need to consider the surrounding verses. In Romans 10, Paul is explaining that the Jews have no spiritual advantage over the Gentiles—they both require salvation through faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. But his words in verse 13 aren’t an isolated statement about how to access that salvation. As he had previously explained, “If you confess with your mouth Jesus as Lord, and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved” (Romans 10:9). Paul’s point is clear—salvation is not a birth right, nor is it a momentary decision. True faith is active and ongoing.

That point is further emphasized when you consider that Paul is paraphrasing from Joel 2:32, and that this familiar phrase would have rich meaning for his Jewish readers. In his commentary on the passage, John MacArthur explains:

In the Old Testament, the phrase “call upon the name of the Lord” was especially associated with right worship of the true God. It carried the connotations of worship, adoration, and praise and extolled God’s majesty, power, and holiness. Emphasizing the negative side of that phrase, the imprecatory psalmist cried to God, “How long, O Lord? Wilt Thou be angry forever? Will Thy jealousy burn like fire? Pour out Thy wrath upon the nations which do not know Thee, and upon the kingdoms which do not call upon Thy name” (Psalm 79:5-6, emphasis added). Again the psalmist exulted, “Oh give thanks to the Lord, call upon His name; make known His deeds among the peoples” (Psalm 105:1, emphasis added). Still another time in the Psalms we read that he “called upon the name of the Lord,” praying, “‘O Lord, I beseech Thee, save my life!’ Gracious is the Lord, and righteous; yes, our God is compassionate” (Psalm 116:4-5, emphasis added).

In the four references just cited from Joel and the Psalms, the word Lord represents God’s covenant name, Yahweh, or Jehovah. . . . Therefore to “call upon the name of the Lord” was not a desperate cry to just any deity—whoever, whatever, and wherever he or she might be—but a cry to the one true God, the Creator-Lord of all men and all things. As Paul has just stated, it is by the confession of “Jesus as Lord” and belief in one’s “heart that God raised Him from the dead” that any person “shall be saved” (Romans 10:9). He is the one true Lord on whom faithful Jews had always called in penitence, adoration, and worship. To “call upon the name” of Jesus as Lord is to recognize and submit to His deity, His authority, His sovereignty, His power, His majesty, His Word, and His grace. [1]

True, saving faith is not merely a moment of verbal or mental assent to Christ’s deity—as James writes, “the demons also believe, and shudder” (James 2:19). Paul referenced calling on the name of the Lord to depict a lifestyle of faith, not a fleeting moment.

And yet, many in the church today put their faith in—and draw their assurance from—a single moment when they experienced deep conviction or made an emotional decision. Some return to their sinful lifestyles, counting on God’s grace to cover their rebellious indulgences. Others try to live pious lives, but their behavior is more legalism than legitimate righteousness—in fact, it’s of no more value than the hypocrisy of the Pharisees.

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Source: Is Calling on the Lord’s Name All It Takes to Be Saved?