It is indeed not the doctrine concerning the death of Christ but this death itself that atones for our sins and gives peace to our consciences. (Herman Bavinck, Reformed Dogmatics, vol. III, pg. 382)
I was privileged to grow up in a Grace Brethren church that spoke clearly and often about the need for confession of sins and belief in Jesus Christ. So I ended up doing those things. Often.
When I was 5 and alone in the basement, I prayed to Jesus that he would save me. When I was 12 and in the pastor’s office for baptism counseling I prayed that Jesus would save me: just as I had in numerous services and occasions in the intermittent 7 years. When I was 22 in Bible college I prayed that Jesus would save me.
When did Jesus save me? I do not know.
At some time in the past 15 years I came to realization that my prayers would never save me. I came to realize I could never prayer enough. I could never pray good enough or right enough. I could never repent enough. I could never say the magic words, because there were no magic words to say.
At some time in the past 15 years I embraced the fact that the Apostles never asked people what day they were saved. They always seem to ask in the present tense: “Are you saved?” “Do you believe?”
Yes, there was a day and time when I was saved. I just do not happen to know when that was. Thankfully, the New Testament nowhere seems to require that knowledge. Jesus Christ is my only hope. I do not trust my prayers. I do not trust my repentance. I do not trust my knowledge. I trust in Jesus. I have come to Jesus. The coming has not saved me, Jesus has. I am nothing. He is all.
We are not saved by believing about Christ.
We are saved by believing in Christ.