Calling on the Name of the Lord

Written by  //  January 23, 2011  //  Uncategorized  //  No comments

In a sermon dealing with Acts 2:21 Charles Spurgeon said the following, “Is not the most obvious sense of this language, prayer? Are we not brought to the Lord by a prayer which trusts in God by a prayer which asks God to give the deliverance that is needed, and expects to have it from the Lord, as a gift of grace? It amounts to much the same thing as that other word, “Believe and live; But to “call on the name of the Lord,” is briefly to pray a believing prayer; to cry to God for his help, and to leave yourself in his hands. This is very simple, is it not? … A poor, broken heart pours its distress into the ear of God, and calls upon him to fulfill his promise of help in the time of need that is all. Thank God, nothing more is mentioned in our text. The promise is “Whosoever shall call on the name of the Lord shall be saved” (A Free Grace Promise, October 11th, 1888. http://www.biblebb.com/files/spurgeon/2082.htm).  Many in the religious world have followed after this common teaching expressing merely a need to “say the sinners prayer” or to simply believe that Jesus will save you and you will be saved.  Somehow these ideas have been impressed on Acts 2:21, Romans 10:13 and other passages that refer to the idea of calling on the name of the Lord.  The point that is made is that man does nothing in order to receive the grace of God; instead God simply saves them not only from their sins but, despite the lip service many give to the idea of repentance, while remaining in their sins.

The phrase “calling on the name of Lord” is first found in Genesis 4:26 regarding the descendants of Seth and seems to contrast Seth’s descendants and the descendants of Cain with their proud and sinful activities.  We see the phrase repeated throughout the Old Testament, especially concerning the life of Abraham.  Five times in the book of Genesis Abraham is said to have “called on the name of the Lord” (Genesis 12:8, 13:4,21:33, 26:25) four of those five times this is said directly following his building of an alter to offer sacrifices to God.  Psalm 116:17 follows this same pattern, “I will offer to thee the sacrifice of thanksgiving, and will call upon the name of the Lord.” Again in Zephaniah 3:9, “for then will I turn to the people a pure language, that they may all call upon the name of the Lord, to serve him with one consent.”  Clearly we can see from these passages that the phrase “calling on the name of the Lord” carries with it the idea of service and sacrifice, human activity, actions or work that people did in order to be pleasing in the sight of God and to serve Him faithfully, especially in the offering of sacrifices.  This is a far cry from simply trusting God and doing nothing is it not?

Perhaps the best illustration of this is found in 1Kings 18.  Here we find Elijah and the prophets of Baal, some 450 strong, gathered at the top of Mount Carmel involved in a contest to determine once and for all who served the real god.  In verse 24 Elijah lays down the rules for the contest, “call ye on the name of your gods, and I will call on the name of the Lord: and the God that answereth by fire, let him be God.” The false god Baal never answered despite the antics of his followers.  On the other hand, Jehovah sent the fire and consumed the sacrifice, the altar and the water with which Elijah had doused the altar.  Clearly the fire came from heaven, completely without human agency, and solely by the power of God.  Elijah could not have burned the offering, as he had doused it with water to the point that it would not have lit with normal human efforts.  However, this does not mean that Elijah did nothing.  It was Elijah that built the altar, laid the wood, placed the sacrifice, dug the trench, and poured the water.  All of these actions demonstrated his faith and his sincere desire for God to act.  To parallel Mr. Spurgeon’s concept of calling on the name of the Lord, Elijah would have stood on the mountain top, without an altar or any of the attendant materials, and simply trusted that God would light fire to a sacrifice that was not provided.  The building of the altar did not obligate God to do anything, however God in His grace responded to the demonstration of faith as only he could.

As we turn to the New Testament we see three passages in which use this phrase, Acts 2:21, Acts 22:16, and Romans 10:13.  Notice the context of each of these passages.  In Acts Peter quotes from Joel 2 to announce that the church age has begun, a time when salvation is available to all who will call on the name of the Lord.  He then goes on to tell the sinners gathered there what they must do to be forgiven of sins, repent and be baptized (vs. 38).  In Acts 22:16 Ananias tells Paul what he must do to be saved, “arise and be baptized calling on the name of the Lord.”  Romans 10:13 follows the commands of verses 9 and 10 in which we find that without both belief and confession there can be no salvation, again things we must do.  This seems to be very similar to Elijah on Mount Carmel; these obedient acts carried out by faith in the power of God prepare an offering, our life, which God then saves as only He can.

Mr. Spurgeon was right about the need to trust in God, and certainly this is part of calling on the name of the Lord.  Abraham trusted in God and so he obeyed (Hebrews 11:8), Elijah trusted in God and so he built an altar and challenged the false priest. The distinction we are making is not in trust, but in what this trust leads one to and whether or not those things are necessary on our parts or mere afterthoughts whose need is certainly in doubt.  I for one suggest we stand with Elijah preparing the altar and the sacrifice which is our life through trusting faithful obedience trusting which appeals to the Grace of God, or as scripture says “calling on the name of the Lord.”

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