What Does It Mean to Call on the Name of the Lord?

Originally posted on the Bibles for America Blog.

As Christians, we all know the importance of prayer. But have you ever noticed that the phrase call on the name of the Lord is mentioned numerous times throughout the Bible? In fact, God’s people have called on the Lord throughout the centuries. 

But what does it mean to call on the name of the Lord? Is it just a poetic way of referring to prayer or trusting in the Lord? 

Since this phrase is mentioned so frequently throughout the Bible, surely it deserves our attention. In this blog post, we’ll look into what calling on the name of the Lord means with the help of verses and notes from the New Testament Recovery Version. We’ll also see why it’s so important for our Christian life.

The meaning of call in Hebrew and Greek

In Hebrew, the original language of the Old Testament, the word translated as call in English means to call out to or to cry unto. And in Greek, the original language of the New Testament, the word means to invoke a person, to call a person by name. So by definition, calling on the Lord is audible. It’s to say His name aloud.

For example, when a little boy falls off a swing, he immediately calls out, “Mommy!” When his mother hears his cry, she runs to him, wipes away his tears, and soothes him. Children call out to their mothers when they’re hungry, tired, or scared; they call because they’re helpless and need to be cared for.

In the same way, we can cry out to the Lord when we’re spiritually hungry or thirsty, or when we need His care. We can call on Him in every kind of situation we find ourselves in.

A brief history of calling on the name of the Lord

In the Old Testament

The practice of calling on the Lord began long ago, with the third generation of mankind. Genesis 4:26 says:  

“And to Seth [Adam’s son] also a son was born, and he called his name Enosh. At that time men began to call upon the name of Jehovah.”

Why did men begin to call on Jehovah’s name at that time?

The meaning of the name Enosh gives us a clue. Enosh means frail, mortal man. Because of mankind’s fall away from God, man became frail and mortal. By the time Enosh was born, human beings realized they were vulnerable, even fragile, and their life was limited. They recognized that human life was transient, empty, and meaningless without God. They were keenly aware of their mortality. 

So they began to call upon the name of Jehovah. Jehovah is the Hebrew word for Lord and means I am that I am. This means Jehovah is ever-existing; He alone is the eternal One. Frail, mortal human beings called upon Him because they knew they needed the eternal God.

Many Old Testament verses show us that calling on the name of the Lord continued after Enosh with Abraham, Isaac, Moses, David, the psalmists, the prophets, and many others.

In the New Testament

Then in the New Testament, calling on the name of the Lord was mentioned for the first time in Acts 2:21, where the apostle Peter quoted the Old Testament prophet Joel:

“And it shall be that everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved.”

In the New Testament, the name of the Lord is Jesus. The early believers practiced audibly calling on the name of the Lord Jesus everywhere. In fact, Acts 9 tells us that Saul, before he was converted and became the apostle Paul, persecuted the believers and had the authority to imprison all who called upon the Lord’s name. Saul found believers to arrest by hearing them call on the name of Jesus. This shows how prevalent the practice of calling on the Lord was among believers in those days.

After he was saved, Paul called on the name of the Lord Jesus, and he highlighted this practice throughout his epistles. For example, in 1 Corinthians 1:2 Paul addressed the believers in Corinth in this way:

“To the church of God which is in Corinth, to those who have been sanctified in Christ Jesus, the called saints, with all those who call upon the name of our Lord Jesus Christ in every place, who is theirs and ours.”

This verse shows us the early believers even called on the Lord in every place!

The results of calling on the name of the Lord

The practice of calling on the name of the Lord holds immense benefits for us that we can experience every day. Now let’s look at two of those benefits Paul mentions in Romans 10.

Enjoying the riches of Christ

Romans 10:9 says:

“If you confess with your mouth Jesus as Lord and believe in your heart that God has raised Him from the dead, you will be saved.”

This verse speaks of both our heart and our mouth. The moment we first believed in Jesus with our heart and confessed His name with our mouth, we were saved eternally from God’s judgment. We were forgiven of our sins and born again with the divine life of God.

Paul then went on in verses 12 and 13: 

“For there is no distinction between Jew and Greek, for the same Lord is Lord of all and rich to all who call upon Him; for ‘whoever calls upon the name of the Lord shall be saved.’”

The Lord is certainly rich in who He is, but He also wants to be rich to us. Calling upon His name is the way we can experience His riches even in our daily life. This verse assures us that He will be rich to us when we call upon Him. 

In the New Testament Recovery Version, note 1 on calls in verse 13 is very helpful. It tells us that calling on the name of the Lord Jesus is important not just when we’re first saved, but also afterwards:

“Calling on the name of the Lord is the secret not only to our salvation but also to our enjoyment of the Lord’s riches. Beginning with Enosh, the third generation of mankind, and continuing all the way down to the New Testament believers, God’s chosen and redeemed ones enjoyed Christ’s redemption and salvation and all His riches by means of this secret.”

Simply calling on His name, “Oh, Lord Jesus!” is the secret to enjoying His riches every day of our Christian life.

Being saved daily

When we first confessed Jesus as Lord, we were saved eternally, once for all. But we also need to be saved daily from many negative things we struggle with, such as our anger, impatience, sadness, discouragement, and anxiety, just to name a few.

Again, Romans 10:13 assures us that “whoever calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved.” But how can calling on the Lord save us from these things? 

To call, “Oh, Lord Jesus!” isn’t the same as speaking inspiring words or positive affirmations to ourselves to improve our mood. Instead, when we call on the name of Jesus, we contact the living, resurrected Lord who is dwelling in our spirit. As we call on His name, we experience Him, and He meets our need. 

Actually, we’re saved from negative things by enjoying what the Lord is to us. Note 2 on saved in verse 13 explains:

To be saved here means to be brought into the enjoyment of the riches of the Lord. The Lord is rich to both Jews and Greeks. All who call on the Lord’s name enjoy this rich Lord; as a result, they are filled with Him and express Him.”

So when we call on the Lord Jesus, we’re saved by being brought into the enjoyment of His riches. He’s rich to us as comfort, peace, love, hope, patience, kindness, endurance, long-suffering, strength, faith, and every positive thing in the universe. We experience Him and are even filled with Him. Then, instead of expressing ourselves in our anger or impatience, we express Him to those around us. And the secret to experiencing Him is simply to call on His name, “Oh, Lord Jesus!”

A lifelong practice

Calling on the name of the Lord is an essential practice for our Christian life. Even though we’re eternally saved from God’s judgment, we’re still just as frail and mortal as those in Enosh’s time. Life is often confusing, overwhelming, and even full of turmoil. Time and time again we’re reminded that we’re limited, both physically and psychologically. We need the Lord and all His riches to fill us.

Even if we don’t have a particular need, we can contact the Lord in our spirit by calling, “Lord Jesus, I love You. Oh, Lord Jesus, You are so good to me. Lord Jesus.” And we can call on Him anywhere, anytime, in good situations and in difficult ones. We can call loudly or softly, by ourselves or with other believers. When we do this, we’ll be refreshed, satisfied, and strengthened to follow the Lord. He’s rich to all who call!

You can learn more about the enjoyable practice of calling on the name of the Lord in chapter 4 of Basic Elements of the Christian Life, vol. 1, a book that has helped thousands of believers. If you’re an Australian resident, you can order the three-volume set for free here. You can also download these volumes from anywhere in the world here.

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