What does it mean that whoever calls on the name of the Lord will be saved (Romans 10:13)?
Quoting from Joel 2:32, Romans 10:13 says, "For 'everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved'" (cf. Acts 2:16–41). What does this mean? As with all Scripture, it is helpful to look at the surrounding context to better understand.
As we look at the paragraph, chapter, and even the entirety of the letter to the Romans, we can see that the main theme being addressed here is "righteousness." More specifically, the issue is how a person becomes "righteous" in God's eyes. Romans 1:16–17 is helpful here; it says, "For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek. For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith for faith, as it is written, 'The righteous shall live by faith.'"
In chapters 9—11, Paul is proving from the Old Testament that salvation and true righteousness have ever and only been granted on the basis of faith in who God is, what He is doing, and what He will do. Some had accused Paul of rejecting the nation of Israel when he began to proclaim the gospel of the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus Christ as the foundation of salvation for both Jew and Gentile. Some wrongly thought that salvation was on the basis of keeping the Mosaic law. Paul references Old Testament passages to demonstrate that salvation has never been by works, but always by God's work. As Paul explained elsewhere, "For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast" (Ephesians 2:8–9). This is equally applicable to Jew and Gentile; "For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. And if you are Christ's, then you are Abraham's offspring, heirs according to promise" (Galatians 3:27–29; cf. Romans 10:12). Indeed, as Joel wrote and Paul quotes in Romans 10:13, everyone—regardless of heritage—who trusts in Christ for salvation will be saved.
As to what it means to "call on the name of the Lord," note how Paul talks about salvation in Romans 10:9–10. The first thing he states in verse 9 is confessing with your mouth. Note also that at the end of verse 10 confessing with your mouth is stated again. In between these two pictures of outward speaking, Paul addresses the inward heart attitude and belief. In the second half of verse 9 and first half of verse 10, the issue of believing in the gospel is addressed. As one believes, in their heart, the resurrection of Christ, implying also the belief in His sacrificial death, one is saved. This person is born again (John 3:3–18). But what one truly believes in the heart will never stay in the heart. It will always be shown in words and deeds (Matthew 7:15–20). In these verses, Paul is stating that when one believes the gospel, the natural result will be declaring that belief. In Romans 10:11, he reiterates the issue of trust and faith in the inner man and then follows it up again with a statement that this faith will always be marked by calling on the Lord (Romans 10:12–13).
Romans 10:13 is stating that true, saving faith will be indicated by calling out to the Lord and declaring that faith. It is not that the calling, confessing, or declaring is a work that needs to be done in order to be saved. Rather, such calling, confessing, and declaring is revealing the salvation that has occurred in the heart or inner person. Hebrews 11:6 says, "And without faith it is impossible to please him, for whoever would draw near to God must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who seek him." Calling out to the Lord for salvation is a demonstration of trust in Him to grant salvation on the basis of Jesus' life, death, and resurrection.
Perhaps the clearest example in the Bible showing this reality is found in John 11. John 11:25–26, Jesus declares the gospel and asks a question of Martha; "I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die. Do you believe this?" Martha reveals the saving faith in her inner being with this confession, "Yes, Lord; I believe that you are the Christ, the Son of God, who is coming into the world" (John 11:27).
Paul's words to the Romans are just as true today. Everyone who calls on the Lord, trusting in Christ, will be saved (John 3:16–18; Ephesians 2:1–10). If you do not know Jesus as Savior, please read our articles "Who is Jesus Christ?" and "What does it mean to have faith in Jesus?"
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