Is faith in Jesus of Nazareth saving faith?
What I find difficult in the arbitrary distinctions of what would be trivial and what would be fatal in discussing the ontology of Christ in relation to saving faith is that the answers we hear are purely speculative. There is not one really scripturally sound objective answer coming from people. If someone has to believe that Jesus is God in order to be saved, exactly what would be the minimum information necessary to assent to in order to fulfill this condition? If you were to give me an answer, I could show you how slippery a slope such a consideration could become.
It would be no hard task to make a strong case that the disciples themselves, even after years of being with Jesus of Nazareth, did not grasp his divinity, and understood Him to be a man, though with exceptional power from God, who was ordained by God and appointed to be the Christ.
Let me ask a couple of questions and set them up.
Let us say that someone has these beliefs:
1) The Bible is the Word of God, with verbal and plenary inspiration.
2) The Bible is true.
3) Believes everything he reads in the Bible, convinced that it is true. These beliefs of his are based upon his interpretations of the Bible (everyone interprets the Bible as they read it!)
4) After reading the whole New Testament, this man does not believe (was not persuaded or convinced) that Jesus of Nazareth, whom the New Testament refers to over and over again, is God, but that Jesus was the most important prophet of God, was the Messiah, of the line of David and Tribe of Judah, King of Israel.
Then this man reads in the gospel of John where Jesus says that the believer in Him will never perish but have life and guaranteed resurrection and believes Jesus of Nazareth's words. This man reads John 6:47 and believes that by simple faith in Jesus that he has everlasting life. This man entrusts his eternal destiny into the hands of the one he finds authorized of God to guarantee his eternal destiny, namely, Jesus of Nazareth.
This man is not convinced that Jesus of Nazareth is God. He believes that Jesus has been authorized by God, annointed of God, to be the Messiah and the Guarantor of eternal life to all who simply trust in Him for it.
Why has he not placed his faith in Jesus of Nazareth? And if he has, why isn't he saved?
Philip believed that Jesus was the Christ, and as we know from 1 John 5:1, everyone who believes that Jesus is the Christ is born of God. This is how he described Jesus to Nathanael:
"We have found Him of whom Moses in the law, and also the prophets, wrote -- Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Joseph."
Did Philip not understand Jesus to be the fruit of Joseph's loins? Jesus was introduced as a mere man who had a biological father! But Philip understood Jesus to be the Messiah, the Christ, the Savior of the World (c.f. Jn 4:42 M.T.), and remember: "whoever believes that Jesus is the Christ is born of God" (1 Jn 5:1)!
The person who we were just talking about has a great misconception about Jesus, that Jesus was merely a man who was the greatest of prophets, yet nevertheless, the annointed of God, who has been given authority and is authorized to give eternal life to all who believe in Him. In other words, God endued Jesus with power and authority and acts on behalf of God.
How can you say that this man is believing in a different Jesus or a different god when he simply has a misunderstanding and misconception about Him?
It is manifestly illogical to claim such.
The only genuine positions one may have of this scenario are:
1) The man is saved, having fully entrusted his eternal destiny to God's Christ.
2) The man is unsaved because, although he believed in Jesus of Nazareth for eternal life, he did not fulfill another co-condition of receiving everlasting life, namely assent to the orthodox doctrine that Jesus is God, therefore misses heaven by a doctrinal stipulation.
It cannot be that he has believed in anyone else but Jesus of Nazareth! You have to grapple with this. The only logical and genuine position you could have is that one MUST believe that Jesus is God in addition to trust in Him. But then it wouldn't be simple faith alone in Jesus alone but faith in Jesus plus faith in doctrine (as true and important as it is!). You cannot state that this man has believed into anyone else other than the true bona-fide Jesus of Nazareth spoken of in the Bible!
When I read through the Acts of the Apostles, I am struck by the fact that those who have some of their sermons contained therein do not emphasize the deity of Christ when they preached. For instance, Peter could say, "Therefore let all the house of Israel know assuredly that God has made this Jesus both Lord and Christ" (Acts 3:36). This is the Lordship of Jesus that was granted unto Him by God, not the Lordship of Jesus by virtue of His divinity. God appointed Jesus to be Lord and the annointed King.
"Jesus of Nazareth" is emphasized 7 times in the book of Acts.
Here is another example:
Acts 10:38, 42-43
... how God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and with power, who went about doing good and healing all who were oppressed by the devil, for God was with Him... And He commanded us to preach to the people, and to testify that it is He who was ordained by God to be Judge of the living and the dead. To Him all the prophets witness that, through His name, whoever believes in Him will receive remission of sins."
If someone believes that Jesus of Nazareth is sufficiently authorized by God to guarantee eternal life to the believer, why is it that it is said that one must also understand that Jesus is God in order to identify Him?
Does Peter fail in sufficiently identifying and referring to Jesus of Nazareth to his audience?