God gave a law to the Jews. The law highlighted sin, making them more conscious of God’s will (Rom. 2:17-20). However, it did not cleanse them from sin; instead, the commands of the law showed how far short man falls from God’s mark (Rom. 7:11-13). The Gentile world without the law was filled with inexcusable wickedness (Romans 1:18-32). The Jews, though they had the law, did not perfectly keep the law, so they were no better than the Gentiles (Romans 2:23-25). Thus, all people, Jews and Gentiles, are guilty of sin before God (Rom. 3:10-12, 23).
Thankfully, God has provided a way through Jesus Christ for us to be saved from our sins and the death we deserve (Rom. 6:23). The Gospel of Jesus Christ is God’s power to salvation; those who respond in faith can be made righteous before God (Rom. 1:16-17; Gal. 2:16). The law could not do this, but the Gospel of Jesus Christ can. God does not owe us salvation. Our works do not merit salvation (Eph. 2:8-9). We cannot stand on our own merits, we must appeal to God’s good grace. God’s grace is extended to all, Jews and Gentiles: “For there is no difference between the Jew and the Greek: for the same Lord over all is rich unto all that call upon him. For whosoever shall call upon the name of the Lord shall be saved.” (Rom. 10:12-13). To appeal to God’s grace in faith is the only means by which we can be saved. Faith that saves is faith that puts the Lord on in baptism (Gal. 3:26-27).
Peter preached to Jews on Pentecost day who were guilty before God (Acts 2:36). He quoted Joel 2:32 in his description of what was happening that day in order to point the way to salvation, “that whosoever shall call on the name of the Lord shall be saved” (Acts 2:21). What did this mean? When the receptive crowd—convinced of their guilt—asked what they should do in Acts 2:37, Peter responded, “Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins” (Acts 2:38). Calling on the Lord was not saying a prayer, but rather was believing the Gospel message, turning from sins, and being baptized to receive remission of sins.
When Paul had seen Lord on the road to Damascus, Jesus told him to go into the city and he would be told what to do (Acts 22:10). Ananias, the preacher commissioned by the Lord (Acts 9:10-16), came to Paul and said, “And now why tarriest thou? arise, and be baptized, and wash away thy sins, calling on the name of the Lord” (Acts 22:16). Paul had been praying (Acts 9:11). Yet, he still needed to arise and be baptized to have his sins washed away (Acts 9:18; 22:16). This is what it means to call on the name of the Lord.
The Jews trusted in circumcision as their mark of being God’s people. But Christians today have been spiritually circumcised by the Lord. The Lord operates and cuts off the sins of the flesh at baptism (Col. 2:11). Those who respond in faith to this operation of God are united with Christ in burial and resurrection (Col. 2:12; Rom. 6:3-4). It is in this identifying with Christ’s death, burial, and resurrection in baptism that baptism saves us (Rom. 6:3-7; 17-18; 1 Pet. 3:21). Disciples of Jesus are those who have submitted to the Lordship of Jesus by believing and being baptized (Mt. 28:19; Mk. 16:16). Baptism is an essential part of God’s plan for justification.