Baptism and Calling upon His Name

Baptism and Calling upon His Name
by Jack Cottrell (Notes) on Friday, November 27, 2009 at 10:54am

QUESTION: Is it possible to correlate the Scripture that exhorts us to “call upon the name of the Lord” with 1 Peter 3:21, where Peter says that baptism is our “appeal” to God? In other words, is the exhortation to call upon the name of the Lord, in essence, baptism?

MY REPLY: The closest thing to an exhortation to call upon the name of the Lord is Acts 22:16, where Ananias addresses the repentant Saul of Tarsus, “Now why do you delay? Get up and be baptized, and wash away your sins, calling on His name.” There are four verb forms here. Two are imperatives: “get yourself baptized” and “wash away your sins.” Two are aorist participles, indicating action that PRECEDES that of the main verbs. Thus the meaning is something like this: “Having arisen, and having called upon His name, get yourself baptized and wash away your sins.”

The act of “calling on the name of the Lord” is mentioned in Joel 2:32, “And it will come about that whoever calls on the name of the LORD [Yahweh] will be delivered.” This is quoted in Acts 2:21, “And it shall be that everyone who calls on the name of the Lord [kurios] will be saved.” In this context the “Lord” is Jesus; see vv. 34-36. Joel is also quoted in Rom. 10:13, “Whoever will call on the name of the Lord [kurios] will be saved.” Again it is clear that Jesus is the “Lord” upon whose name we must call (Rom. 10:9). From all these texts it is more than clear that the purpose of calling on his name is a cry or prayer for salvation. This must be the meaning in Acts 22:16, too.

Thus we see in Acts 22:16 that Saul is instructed to do four things: (1) to arise, (2) to call upon the Lord Jesus for salvation, (3) to get himself baptized, and (4) to wash away his sins. The sequence is quite clear and logical, and it must not be tampered with. Saul is kneeling, reclining, or sitting, and thus must first arise in order to be immersed. Second, he must call upon the Lord’s name for salvation, which is the essence of the confession in Rom. 10:9, “If you confess with your mouth Jesus as Lord, and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved.” Third, he must be baptized, which in Acts 22:16 is middle voice, usually taken in the sense of “get yourself baptized” (not “baptize yourself”). Last, he is instructed to wash away his sins, which of course he himself does not and cannot do, except in the sense that following the previous three instructions will lead to this result.

Based on Acts 22:16, where “having called on His name” is an aorist participle, usually indicating action that precedes the action of the main verb (here, “get baptized” and “wash away”), I cannot say that the “calling on His name” and baptism are equivalent. Even if the participle were present tense, indicating action that is happening at the time of the main verb, this would not necessarily be the case. One could be calling on His name WHILE being baptized. The fact that Rom. 10:9 says that confessing Jesus as Lord is something done orally (“with your mouth”) shows, I think, that the calling on His name must be more than just the act of baptism as such.

But when we correlate Acts 22:16 with 1 Peter 3:21, I think it is fair to say that baptism is PART OF the sinner’s calling on the name of the Lord (as in Acts 22:16). In 1 Peter 3:21 the apostle says that baptism saves us because it is “an appeal to God for a good conscience.” The Greek word “eperotema” most certainly in this verse means “appeal, prayer” (NOT pledge or response). Thus we can think of baptism as a prayer to God for a good conscience. “The person who submits to baptism is by that very act calling upon God to do what he has promised to do in that moment. Baptism saves because it is the prayer of the human heart crying out to God for spiritual cleansing by His grace” (Cottrell, “Baptism: A Biblical Study,” 2 ed., 2006, p. 150).

These two verses (Acts 22:16 and 1 Peter 3:21) must always be considered together. They both show us the saving significance of baptism, and they show us that baptism and calling on the Lord’s name OVERLAP. I.e., baptism IS calling on the Lord’s name, but it is also more. And calling on the Lord’s name IS baptism, but it is also more.

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