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You offer a false choice as if this an either/or situation. Baptism is indeed essential for salvation but for baptism to be valid it must be based upon faith in the Lordship of Jesus Christ and in the salvation offered to all by his Father through him.

I find it odd that many who claim that Jesus is their Lord will not obey the simplest of his commandments. Jesus said "You are my friends if you do whatever I command you." John 15:14. He commanded his disciples to be baptized upon acceptance of him. I defy you to find in the book of Acts one occasion in which the newly converted are not baptized into Christ.  Indeed, when Peter preached the gospel to Cornelius in Acts 10, and AFTER Cornelius and his household had received the Holy Spirit, Peter COMMANDED them all to be baptized. I suspect that you would have said that was an unnecessary act. 

Here is a link to information which will assist you with this question: Why Baptism Really Matters

I hope you have found this helpful.

God bless,