“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?” (Romans 10:14).
Salvation from sin is best thought of as a slab of concrete steps which, when they have been climbed, will transport anyone desiring to be saved by God’s grace from being lost and outside of Christ to being saved and in Christ where all spiritual blessings are found.
Like a solid slab each successive step rests on the previous one(s). They are interdependent; none is optional or unnecessary.
The entire set of steps rests upon the firm, impregnable foundation of God’s inspired word and Jesus’ deity. It is the preaching and hearing of Jesus as He is presented in God’s word that is fundamental to salvation.
Having heard the good news of spiritual victory over sin and Satan in Jesus, the next step is faith, a joyful trust rooted in the conviction that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the living God. To save, faith must be active in its obedience (James 2:24), or it is useless and dead (James 2:17, 20).
For one to call upon the Lord for salvation, the steps of repentance and confession must arise from one’s faith. Prior to being told to “Arise and be baptized, and wash away your sins, calling on the name of the Lord” (Acts 22:16), Saul of Tarsus was a penitent believer (Acts 9:9). His confession with the mouth of his heartfelt faith in the Lord Jesus was an essential step in reaching a saved state (Romans 10:9).
Once these divinely-given and divinely-placed steps of hearing the gospel preached, faith in Jesus, repentance of sins, and confession of faith in Jesus have been taken, the final step—the one which transports you across the threshold into salvation—is calling on Him who is believed. This is done by obeying His command to be immersed (Acts 22:16).
With your death to sin, burial in water, and resurrection therefrom, you have newness of life (Romans 6:4). You are a new creature. Old things have passed away, and all things have become new (2 Corinthians 5:17).
By this washing of regeneration and renewing of the Holy Spirit, you are saved (Titus 3:5).
With this washing of water by the word, you are sanctified and cleansed (Ephesians 5:26), added to Christ’s glorious church (Acts 2:42; Ephesians 5:27).
By being buried with Christ in baptism, you are circumcised (i.e., cut off) from your old life with a circumcision made without hands and raised with Christ, made alive spiritually with Him, having had all your trespasses forgiven (Colossians 2:11-13).
As with any set of steps, when the last step has been taken you finally arrive at your desired destination. Therefore, it is correct to say that baptism saves you (1 Peter 3:21). Its power to save is not in the water; it is in the blood and in your joyful obedience to each step of Christ’s plan of salvation.