Question: "What does it mean that "whoever calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved" (Joel 2:32; Romans 10:13)?"
Answer: The prophet Joel delivers a warning to the people of Judah, but his message transcends his time to speak to people of all time—past, current, and future. He tells of God’s looming judgment of sin and urges people everywhere to repent and return to God. Joel foresees the day when God’s Spirit becomes available to every believer: “I will pour out my Spirit on all people. Your sons and daughters will prophesy, your old men will dream dreams, your young men will see visions. Even on my servants, both men and women, I will pour out my Spirit in those days. . . . And everyone who calls on the name of the LORD will be saved” (Joel 2:28–32).
The apostle Peter quotes this entire passage from Joel in Acts 2:14–21 to illustrate the manifestation of the Holy Spirit on the Day of Pentecost: “Suddenly a sound like the blowing of a violent wind came from heaven and filled the whole house where they were sitting. They saw what seemed to be tongues of fire that separated and came to rest on each of them. All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit enabled them” (Acts 2:2–4).
Peter sees this post-resurrection outpouring of the Spirit as part of the fulfillment of Joel’s prophecy. With its breathtaking signs and wonders in the heavens and on earth, the complete prophecy will not be fulfilled until the last days. But God’s Spirit was poured out on Pentecost in a fresh way and remains available to all who call on the name of the Lord.
Calling on the name of the Lord expresses familiarity and connection, as in knowing God by name. The phrase signifies identification as a member of God’s family. Whoever calls on the name of the Lord claims Yahweh as one’s own God. This concept goes back to the beginning of time when “people began to call on the name of the Lord” (Genesis 4:26; see also Genesis 12:8). God has always sought a people, including representatives from all nations, to devote themselves to Him.
The apostle Paul cites Joel to back his claim that the message of salvation in Jesus Christ is for all people: “For there is no difference between Jew and Gentile—the same Lord is Lord of all and richly blesses all who call on him, for, ‘Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved’” (Romans 10:12–13). Jews and Gentiles and people from every nation receive God’s promise of salvation on the same basis—through faith in Jesus Christ. No one is excluded. Everyone has an opportunity to call on the name of the Lord and be delivered from sin, forgiven, and saved (Acts 10:43).
Paul emphasizes calling on the name of the Lord out loud but also in one’s heart: “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). Calling on the name of the Lord involves admitting our own powerlessness and need for God, believing in His power to save us, and desperately crying out to God from the heart for His salvation (Isaiah 43:11; Acts 4:12; Hebrews 12:14; Romans 3:10–18, 23). Those who call on the name of the Lord put their “hope in the living God, who is the Savior of all people, and especially of those who believe” (1 Timothy 4:10). God’s children cry out from a sense of inadequacy, dependence, and the genuine conviction that only He can be relied on to save.
Whoever trusts in Jesus Christ by believing in Him shall be saved (Acts 16:31). There’s nothing complicated about the plan of salvation: “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him” (John 3:16–17).
The Bible plainly teaches that we don’t have to do any work to be saved (Ephesians 2:8–9). Calling on the name of the Lord is not an act that saves us. God’s grace saves us through faith. We can’t earn salvation by any means. The grace of God is the source of our salvation, but it is our faith that makes this possible. We only have to call on God in faith to receive His salvation (Romans 5:1). From then on, we will call on the name of our Lord and Savior as long as we live (Psalm 116:2).