Normally in judging a man, we say actions speak louder than words, meaning that a man's behavior is the best measure of his character, not what he says and claims to believe. We seem to understand that words are easy; acting in accordance with those words is not.
In that regard we consider the words and deeds of Jesus. What was the interplay between what Jesus taught and what He did. In terms of what Jesus accomplished in bringing salvation to mankind, what was the role of His teaching versus what He experienced and endured? Since salvation is supposedly about transformation, in some sense, how did Jesus unleash that power? What was transformative- His spiritual message or what He experienced physically? All these questions are vital to our understanding of Jesus and His divine mission for the benefit of mankind.
Traditionally, we have been taught that Jesus effected salvation for all by His sacrifice, which was a physical, historical activity. Of course, in the literal sense, what was accomplished under this scenario resulted from the actions of the Jews and Romans as much or more so than the actions of Jesus. Those who killed Jesus acted, and Jesus merely submitted. His enemies were active, and He was passive. If transformative power resulted from Jesus' death and resurrection, then men other than Jesus acted first and then God completed the process with the resurrection. Jesus was an essential element but not the only human actor necessary. Considering the OT example, which Jesus supposedly mirrored, the one offering the sacrifice was the focus of God's attention, not the sacrifice itself. Additionally, it was apparently not the actual act of OT sacrifice which pleased God but the attitude it was intended to encourage in the supplicants (Hosea 6:6; Micah 6:7-8).
Salvation according to Christian Orthodoxy is dependent on historical events. Specific experiences of Jesus and the associated actions of other men who contributed to those experiences are essential to mankind being redeemed. Because of this insistence on the vital nature of physical actions and events, the emphasis of the church has been long diverted away from what Jesus taught as the eternal principles guiding mankind's mode of living. This de-emphasis of what Jesus taught and the unrelenting focus on the similarity between OT practice and current salvation (supposed reconciliation by obedience in both cases) has reduced Jesus to just another form of Moses, one with perhaps broader appeal and reach.
No one likely denies that Jesus' actions mirrored what he taught. His actions and lifestyle reinforced His words. However, to see redemptive power in the actions, apart from His message, is to miss what salvation actually means. Honoring the actions without knowing what those actions illustrated is to miss what Jesus was really about. First and foremost, He was a messenger, sent by God to illuminate the true essence of God, and eliminate man's misconceptions about his own identity.
When the definition of a Christian becomes that of a practitioner of church rituals and faithful adherent to church theology, rather than one who actually knows and at least attempts to embrace the life lessons taught by Jesus, then so called Christianity becomes the proverbial anti-Christ, that which actually denies Father and Son (I John 2:22). There is no possible way to actually accept Jesus without also accepting all of His ethical teachings. To claim otherwise is at best a partial, half-hearted acceptance, limited by our ability to deal with the paradoxical nature and the counter intuitiveness of Jesus.
An interetsing question for church is this: If Jesus had lived sinlessly, died, and arose all without saying a word during His earthly ministry, would that have accomplished salvation in God's plan? If the answer to that is yes, then we are left to ponder why the New Testament expends so much verbiage on what Jesus taught ethically, as well as Paul and others. It does no good to contend that the ethics of Jesus blossom after salvation is achieved as evidence of an effective process because the absence of the ethics is a denial of salvation in any case.
If, on the other hand, salvation could not have been accomplished by Jesus separate and apart from His teachings, then we must ask why the ethical instruction of the NT (The Golden Rule, love your enemy, overcome evil with good) is not preached as part of the plan of salvation. Of course, an understanding of salvation which includes the ethics of Jesus, also eliminates the concept of instantaneous transformation as taught by Orthodoxy. Embracing Jesus in this way would have to be a life long effort. No one, under this paradigm would ever be able to claim to be a Christian absolutely. Instead we would all be just a spiritual work in progress.