The apostle Paul writes in Romans 10:13, “For whoever calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved.” Many people make a tragic mistake in taking that one verse out of context and believing all they have to do to be saved is to call on the name of the Lord. But Jesus said in Matthew 7:21, “Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ shall enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father in heaven.” How can a person obey the will of God without knowing what God’s will is?
Let’s go back to Romans 10 and see what else Paul writes in that context. In verses 14 and 15, he asks some important questions: “How then shall they call on Him in whom they have not believed? And how shall they believe in Him of whom they have not heard? And how shall they hear without a preacher? And how shall they preach unless they are sent?” We need to consider these questions carefully.
God desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth (I Timothy 2:4). So Jesus commands Christians to go into all the world and preach the gospel to every person (Mark 16:15). Jesus is the one who sends, and people thus hear the gospel from the Christians who preach it. Without the knowledge of the truth or the gospel, which is the word of God, no one can be saved. Romans 1:16 tells us that the gospel is the power of God to salvation for everyone who believes. No one else can be saved because Hebrews 11:6 tells us that without faith, it is impossible to please God.
A person who has not heard the gospel cannot believe, because faith comes by hearing the word of God (Romans 10:17). Only those who hear the gospel can truly believe in Jesus. And if a person doesn’t believe in Christ, how can he call on Him? To call on Christ means to obey what Christ commands, or to do what God’s word says.
James 1:22 says, “But be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves.” A person who believes he can be saved without obeying God is deceiving himself. The wise man Solomon tells us that the whole duty of man is to fear God and keep His commandments (Ecclesiastes 12:13).
In Hebrews 5:8-9, we are told that Jesus learned obedience by the things which He suffered. And having been perfected, He became the author of eternal salvation to all who obey Him. Now, notice Romans 10:16: “But they have not all obeyed the gospel. For Isaiah says, ‘Lord, who has believed our report?’” Paul is showing that failure to obey is proof of unbelief. Calling on the name of the Lord does not exclude obedience.
Sadly, many people today are told that all they have to do to be saved is to ask the Lord to come into their heart. Many times they are given a little “sinner’s prayer” to read or repeat and are told that when they do that, they are saved.
The Bible warns in Proverbs 28:9, “One who turns away his ear from hearing the law, even his prayer is an abomination.” Saul of Tarsus prayed, perhaps for three days (Acts 9:9-11), but he was not yet saved. The Lord told him to go into the city and he would be told what he must do (Acts 9:6). He, like all of us, had to hear and obey God’s word. He was told in Acts 22:16, “And now why are you waiting? Arise and be baptized, and wash away your sins, calling on the name of the Lord.”
Cornelius prayed to God always (Acts 10:2), but he was not yet saved. Peter had to tell him words by which he and his household will be saved (Acts 11:14). Every person who becomes a Christian must obey the gospel of Christ. Those who do not obey it will be punished with everlasting destruction (II Thessalonians 1:6-9).