The first mention in Scripture of people calling on the name of the Lord is Genesis 4:26: “Seth also had a son, and he named him Enosh. At that time people began to call on the name of the LORD.” Here, to call on the name of the Lord means that people began to gather for corporate worship and seeking the help of the Creator. Cain’s family line is contrasted with Seth’s: descendants of Cain began to practice herding (verse 20), music production (verse 21), and metallurgy (verse 22). At the same time, the world was becoming more and more wicked (verses 19 and 23). Seth’s descendants stood out from their corrupt society in that they began to call on the name of the Lord.
When Abram entered Canaan, he camped between Ai and Bethel. There, “he built an altar to the Lord and called on the name of the Lord” (Genesis 12:8). In other words, Abram publicly thanked God, praised His name, and sought His protection and guidance. Years later, Abraham’s son Isaac built an altar to the Lord in Beersheba and also “called on the name of the Lord” (Genesis 26:25).
To call on the name of the Lord is to invoke His proper name “in audible and social prayer and praise” (Albert Barnes). To call on the name of the Lord is to approach Him in thanksgiving, worship, and petition, and in so doing proclaim the name of God. To call on the name of the Lord is to pray “in a more public and solemn manner” (Matthew Poole). Those who are children of God will naturally call on the name of the Lord.
Calling on the name of the Lord is basic for salvation and presupposes faith in the Lord. God promises to save those who, in faith, call upon His name: “Everyone who calls on the name of the LORD will be saved” (Romans 10:13; cf. Joel 2:32). Everyone who invokes the name of God for mercy and salvation, by or in the name of Jesus, shall be saved (Acts 2:21). “There is salvation in no one else! God has given no other name under heaven by which we must be saved” (Acts 4:12, NLT).
Using a person’s name expresses familiarity and helps connect one person to another. The first thing we do upon meeting someone is to extend a hand and introduce ourselves. This builds familiarity for future interactions. To call upon the name of the Lord is a sign of knowing Him and a way of connecting to Him. There is a difference between knowing about God and knowing Him personally. Calling on the name of the Lord indicates personal interaction and relationship. When we call upon the name of the Lord, as a form of worship, we recognize our dependence upon Him.
What saves a person is not the action, per se, of “calling upon” the name of Jesus; what saves is God’s grace in response to one’s personal faith in the Savior being called upon. Calling on the name of the Lord is more than a verbal expression; it is also shown in the heart and in deed through repentance. “If you declare with your mouth, ‘Jesus is Lord,’ and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved” (Romans 10:9). “Repent, then, and turn to God, so that your sins may be wiped out” (Acts 3:19).
Calling on the name of the Lord is to be a lifelong pursuit (Psalm 116:2). God commands us to call on Him in times of trouble (Psalm 50:15). The one who “dwells in the shelter of the Most High will rest in the shadow of the Almighty” (Psalm 91:1) and has God’s promise of blessing: “‘Because he loves me,’ says the Lord, ‘I will rescue him; I will protect him, for he acknowledges my name. He will call on me, and I will answer him; I will be with him in trouble, I will deliver him and honor him’” (verses 14–15).
Those who refuse to call upon the name of the Lord are also described in Scripture, along with the results of their disobedience: “Will the workers of iniquity never learn? . . . They refuse to call upon the LORD. There they are, overwhelmed with dread, where there was nothing to fear” (Psalm 53:4–5).
Even as rebellious or ignorant people neglect to call upon the name of the Lord, He is willing to hear them and accept them. God wants to be found; He is ready to be known: “I was ready to be sought by those who did not ask for me; I was ready to be found by those who did not seek me. I said, ‘Here I am, here I am,’ to a nation that was not called by my name” (Isaiah 65:1, ESV; cf. Romans 10:20).
In 1 Corinthians 1:2, those who call upon the name of the Lord are identified as believers: “To the church of God in Corinth, to those sanctified in Christ Jesus and called to be his holy people, together with all those everywhere who call on the name of our Lord Jesus Christ—their Lord and ours.” Calling on the name of the Lord is one of the marks of a Christian.
In summary, those who call on the name of the Lord are those who recognize Him as Savior. Whether it is a first-time calling upon Jesus’ name for forgiveness of sins or a continuous calling as the relationship progresses and grows, giving Him lordship over our lives in surrender to His will, calling on the name of the Lord is vital to spiritual life. Ultimately, calling on the name of the Lord is a sign of humility and dependence on God our Creator and Redeemer.