We were made to be like Jesus—but how is that different than trying to be like Buddha or Confucius? How is Christianity different from other religions that tell people to imitate a highly respected role model? It is different in several ways.
First, most religions teach some form of works as the path of salvation—saying the right prayers, doing the right things, hoping it will be enough. They imply that people can be good enough if they try hard enough.
But Christianity teaches that we all need grace because we cannot be good enough no matter how hard we try. The point of grace, and of Jesus’ sacrifice, is that no amount of good works or religious deeds can ever save anyone. If such a path could have been designed, then God would have done it (Galatians 3:21). The Christian gospel teaches that no one can earn salvation, and yet it is available to all, because Jesus gives it to us.
Second, most religions tell us to change our behavior, and they expect us to supply all the effort. Christianity says that God himself will supply the power we need to change our lives. We humans have gotten ourselves into this mess, and we can’t rescue ourselves. The power of salvation must come from God.
We are not trying to transform ourselves into the image of Christ—we want to let God do it in us. The Bible describes this as the Holy Spirit living in us, God living in us, or Jesus Christ living in us. The power to change our behavior comes from him, not from within ourselves. It is his work, not anything we can take credit for.
Third, most religions motivate people through threats and desire for reward. Christianity motivates us through grace and love. We obey God not out of fear, but out of love and thankfulness for what he has done. And we are confident that he has given us the best instructions possible on how to live.
Christianity says that we were created for a purpose, and that purpose is eternal happiness living with a supremely loving God (Psalm 16:11). Jesus is not just an example of how we ought to live—he is also an example of what salvation means. He lives in eternal glory, and says that we can join him in that glory, if we trust him.