The laying on of hands speaks of identification with Christ. The doctrine of washings, or baptisms, speaks of assimilating the character of Christ into ourselves. This is the meaning of 1 Peter 3:21 which says that, “baptism now saves you.”
The idea of baptism represented by Peter is not at all what some churches teach, i. e., that getting immersed in or sprinkled with water while you proclaim faith in Jesus actually saves you from eternal hell. No, the doctrine of baptism primarily means that the constant, daily assimilation of, or washing by, the word of God will indeed save your soul. Baptism concerns working out your salvation with fear and trembling, not a once for all act that magically saves you from the fruit of your sins. Jesus’s death on the cross is that. Jesus’s death on the cross reconciles men to God. Reconciliation is not the work of baptism whether by sprinkling or by being immersed in a pool of water.
1 Peter 3:21 makes this clear for, it says, baptism is the answer of a clear conscience to God’s call. Before we can understand baptism we need to understand from where this clear conscience comes. Our clear conscience comes from faith in God and the reconciliation with mankind that was accomplished by his sacrifice and blood. Baptism then follows an individual’s faith in that work. This what people call “saving faith” although a person is really saved before he actually becomes aware of his salvation. A person’s knowledge of salvation comes by faith and this by the Word of God when that Word, Jesus, chooses to reveal it to a man. Baptism itself is a good work that one does in answer to this new faith, that is, in answer to the clear conscience he now has because of his faith.
For example, by faith Noah and his sons built the ark. By faith they preached the gospel while they were building the ark. By faith they entered the ark and shut the doors. By faith they persevered in the ark through the floods of water. All of these actions were responses to the faith they already possessed. Then, after all this preparation, for day after day for over a year these eight souls were baptized in the waters of the flood. That flood was their baptism and was a sign, a type, of the water of the word of God that baptizes and saves our souls today. But this salvation represented by baptism is of a different order than the salvation they knew prior to the flood. Remember, God had already found Noah righteous before He commissioned him to this great work. Noah and his family already walked in a clear conscience before God. They were already “saved” in a spiritual sense. This salvation that accomplished their (and our) clear conscience occurred once for all at the cross of Christ and affects all men. But, the salvation represented by Noah’s baptism is a lifelong work. It speaks of the salvation of our souls (not our spirits). It is the salvation referred to by Paul when he says, “Work out your own salvation with fear and trembling.” (Philippians 2:12)
Jesus came by water and blood and that water and blood eventually saves all men. First the blood accomplished spiritual salvation for the entire human race. Second, each man in his own appointed time begins to wash himself in the water of Christ’s word. First a man will lay hold of, lay hands on Christ, when he comes to believe in him. Having believed he will then begin to draw water, that is life, from Christ to himself. The first thing that he will do upon believing in Jesus is to repent of his sins. The sincere man will then begin to make repentance his way of life. In doing that he begins to assimilate Christ’s life and character. This is the essence of the washing of the water of the word spoken of in Ephesians 5:26. Paul says in Ephesians 5:32 that this mystery is profound. Indeed it is, which explains why so few people understand the doctrine of baptisms. This also helps explain why the gospel itself still remains a mystery to most and why almost no one has gone beyond Hebrews 6:1-2 into the “teaching about righteousness.” But, that time has now come.