In his Pentecost sermon in Acts 2, Peter concluded his quotation of Joel with this statement, “And it shall come to pass, that whoever calls upon the name of the Lord shall be saved” (Acts 2:21, cf Joel 2:32). Paul said the same in Romans 10:13, “For whoever calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved.”
Among those professing Christianity, there is near unanimity that to be saved one must “call on the name of the Lord.” But the point of contention is determining our title question, “What does it mean to call on the name of the Lord?”
The Bible is best interpreted when it is allowed to explain itself. In this case, the sacred text gives us specific details to answer to the question at hand.
When Paul here recounted his conversion, he gave specific details of Ananias’ instructions: “And now why are you waiting? Arise, and be baptized, and wash away your sins, calling on the name of the Lord.”
From a grammatic perspective, “calling on the name of the Lord” is a participle, meaning it describes or embodies the primary verb or verbs. In this case, the preceding verbs are “be baptized and wash away your sins.” Thus, being baptized to wash away one’s sins is here described and identified as “calling on the name of the Lord.”
This is consistent with Peter’s use of the phrase in Acts 2:21. It is inconceivable that Peter would tell his audience that they must call on the name of the Lord to be saved without indicating to them exactly what that meant.
In response to the preaching of the resurrected and exalted Christ, Peter’s audience asked the question, “Men and brethren, what shall we do?” They were asking how to be saved from the wrath of God that was surely upon them for the murder of God’s Son.
Peter answered and said, “Repent, and be baptized, every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of your sins.” This is how they would call on the name of the Lord and be saved.
From a practical perspective, the text is clear and easily understood. Don’t twist it to try to make it say something other than what is obvious to all.