May 19, 2005

Calling on the Lord’s Name (Acts 2)

Category: Bible - NT - Acts :: Permalink

In Acts 2, Peter quotes from Joel’s prophecy (Joel 2:28-32): “Whoever calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.” The rest of Peter’s sermon explains to the crowd that Jesus, whom they have crucified, thereby incurring God’s judgment, is that Lord (2:36). His goal is to exhort the crowd, as he later does, to “be saved from this perverse generation” (2:40), that is from rebellious Israel facing God’s wrath. The crowd responds by asking, “Men, brothers, what shall we do?”

Peter’s reply may take us by surprise. Peter doesn’t say, “Call on the name of Yahweh,” which is what Joel says. He doesn’t even say, “Call on the name of Jesus the Messiah,” though he has identified Jesus as Yahweh and though that is implicit in the answer he does give.

What Peter says the crowd must do is this: “Repent, and let each of you be baptized into the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.” But if it is those who call on the name of the Lord who will be saved and if the crowd must repent and be baptized into the name of Jesus Christ in order to be forgiven and to receive the Spirit, then it appears that Peter sees repenting and being baptized as the concrete shape that calling on the Lord’s name takes in this situation.

This is not the only passage where Luke makes this connection. When Ananias comes to Saul (who will later be called Paul), he says to him, “Arise and be baptized and wash away your sins, calling on the name of the Lord.” It might sound as if Ananias is saying that, at some point before, during, or after the baptism Saul should call (in prayer) on the Lord’s name — and it’s possible that Saul did. But from Acts 2, it appears that the baptism itself should be seen as the call on the Lord’s name.

Furthermore, the same Peter who preached the sermon in Acts 2 also wrote later on that baptism is itself a request for a good conscience toward God (1 Pet. 3:21). He doesn’t say that one who is baptized must make such a request (orally or mentally) at the time of baptism; rather, he says that baptism itself is a plea for a good conscience.

All of this seems to me to have significance for our theology of baptism. To be baptized into the name of Jesus Christ is to call on the name of the Lord. That’s true, it seems to me, even in the case of those who are unable to speak or even consciously to call out to the Lord, even mentally. Perhaps that is one reason why Ursinus, among others of the early Reformers, spoke of baptism as itself being a profession of faith.

Of course, for clarification I hasten to add that those who are unable to be baptized and who cry out to the Lord for salvation will also be saved: baptism isn’t the only way one can call on the name of the Lord. I also want to stress that this baptismal call on the Lord’s name must lead to a life of calling on the Lord’s name, a life of faith in Jesus Christ: those who are call on the Lord’s name in their baptism and then turn away from Him will perish.

Posted by John Barach @ 7:54 pm | Discuss (0)

Leave a Reply