What does it mean to grow and change as a Christian? How do we "grow after Jesus?" Is it that we become saved by what Jesus did for us and then grow and change solely by following His example, or is there more to it?
For Jesus to be our example for conduct means this:
I see how Jesus treated people; therefore, I should treat them as He did.
There is truth to that. Jesus is to be our example. The ways He walked were righteous and true. He shows us what it is like to be truly human, without the stains and chains and self-centeredness of sin. But before He is our example, He is our Savior. Furthermore, the way we "grow" in Jesus is not, I believe, primarily through strudying Jesus as a moral example but rather through experiencing Jesus as a personal reality. In other words, we grow and change through our personal relationship with Jesus, like this:
I see and experience how Jesus treated me; therefore, I want to treat others the same.
This is Gospel-transformation.
I'll give a short, personal example. I've struggled with anger over the years. Praise God, I'm not going around punching walls and stuff like I have done in the past. But I still get angry, and I noticed that one of the things I have done is trample over people's boundaries when I've been really angry. Something inside me flips and says, "Ok, I am justified and this person is bad or in the wrong. They don't deserve to have any rights -they deserve to be punished."
Think about the responses you might get from people if this is your problem:
-"Oh, but everybody does that sometimes..." (minimization)
-"You learned it from your parents..." (blame-shifting, minimization)
-"You have a real problem, you psycho, and you are teaching it to your children" (condemnation, even though true)
But the Gospel responds to me in a different way. It asks me, "How did God treat you when you were His enemy? How does God still treat you when you offend Him, such as when you treat people with bitterness when angry at them? Does He, the only One who truly has the right, kick dirt in your face and punish and oppress you?" No. He doesn't. He sends His Son to die for me. He loves me. He enters into personal sacrifice in order to bring me close and love me, in spite of what I deserve. He treats me with grace and mercy even though, from His point of view, He would be perfectly right to not treat me that way at all.
Take an example the Bible gives us. Look up the second chapter of Paul's letter to the Philippians. In it, Paul urges the Philippians toward humility. He does this by reminding them of the humiliation, incarnation, suffering, and death of Jesus. But it is not merely, "Look at how humble Jesus was. Go be like Jesus." It was, "Look at how Jesus left behind His glory, His interests, in order to die for you." Paul does not portray Jesus primarily as an exemplar but as someone who personally treated them with humility and love. That is what changes us and moves us.