Is baptism essential for heaven?
The answer is no. There are people who are baptized, but not saved. They will not be in heaven. There are people who are saved but not baptized. They will be in heaven. It is important that we distinguish things that differ: salvation and baptism.
Salvation is for heaven. Baptism is for earth. We are saved by faith alone. “Therefore being justified by faith we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ” (Rom 5:1). Weeping, waiting, working, or getting wet does not save. Faith in Christ alone saves. But we do know that the faith that saves cannot be alone. Faith without works is dead (James 2:20). The Hebrew writer reminds us of things that accompany salvation. One of the things which accompany salvation is baptism. Saul, in Acts 9, is a good model to follow. We see him saved; we see him baptized; and then we see him joining himself to the disciples, and going in and out with them at Jerusalem. The eunuch in Acts 8 was saved, baptized, and went on his way rejoicing. Mark 16:16 says “He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved.” Notice it does not say: “He that believeth and is not baptized shall be damned.”
Paul adds, “Christ sent me not to baptize, but to preach the gospel” (1Cor 1:17). It would be strange if the greatest missionary evangelist in history failed to baptize if it were essential for salvation.
Baptism is not an act of a moment. Baptism is a fact of a lifetime. I am told in New York there is a Dye Works. The notice outside the building says: “We dye to live. We live to dye. The more we live, the more we dye.” Let me change a letter. “We die to live; We live to die. The more we die; the more we live.” That is the truth of baptism. I am dead to the things I once lived for and alive to the things I was dead to. I am dead to self, sin and Satan, but I am alive to God.