In this series I will be exploring what differentiates a "christian" in the cultural sense from a genuine Follower of Jesus. I've already given away most of the answer: A "christian" (from here on designated by the abbreviation "Xn") bases his understanding of what it means to be a Christian and live like a Christian from the Xn sub-culture in which he finds himself. I will be primarily referring to the Evangelical sub-culture, although most of what I say would apply to Catholic or Mormon sub-cultures as well. In the end, the main differences between Evangelical Xns and committed Catholics or Mormons revolve around doctrinal beliefs, their lifestyles and practices are generally very similar.
A Follower of Jesus bases his understanding of what it means to be a Christian and live like a Christian from the Bible. He will analyze his dominant sub-culture to determine where it does and where it does not line up. If it doesn't line up, he will follow Jesus (the Bible) even if it creates tensions between himself and his sub-culture.
If your only desire and interest are to fit in with the Xn sub-culture you belong to, nothing I will be saying will be of any real interest to you. Conform to the moral standards, wear the right kind of clothes, get involved in some way with a church, learn the lingo, listen to the right kinds of music, adhere to the correct set of beliefs, buy into the herd's take concerning things like alcohol, entertainment, etc, and, by all means, vote Republican - and you're good to go.
Most of these standards are very good and will help you live a happier life and be a nicer person with a better than average chance of avoiding the traps that destroy the lives of many (addictions, financial loss, marital and relational disasters, etc). Others serve primarily as cultural markers to show that you think and act in culturally acceptable ways and are thus a safe, and possibly even exemplary, person. But this isn't what being a Jesus-Follower is really all about. Still, it is all many Xns know.
Jesus came to make disciples and commissioned us to do the same. A disciple is a follower. To follow Jesus is to learn what He is all about, what He expects of us and how He wants us to live, and then bring our lives into conformity. We learn these things from the Bible: primarily from the Gospels, as they record the very words of Jesus and describe how He lived, secondly from the rest of the New Testament, where we learn how the first generation of followers applied Jesus' teachings to their lives, and also from the Old Testament which Jesus came to fulfill.
We ask questions like: What is the main theme of the Bible as a whole? What did Jesus see as His main purpose/ His mission in life? (Some of His Work was unique: dying for our sins, etc; but much of it was meant to be an example for us to follow, in the power of the Holy Spirit). What did He say about what it meant to truly follow Him? What did He do that differentiated Him from other religious people of His day- members of the dominant Jewish Religious Sub-Culture? And so on.
We will look at these questions in subsequent posts. I will give these hints for now: If you think that following Jesus is primarily about getting involved in a church and generally be more "religious", or trying to be a good moral person, or focusing on keeping your sin nature under control, or being nice to others, then you have missed the boat. This is the religion of the Pharisees and other nice religious people throughout history and today.
Following Jesus is, from first to last, about learning to Love. And the love He taught is so different from common understandings of love that He and His first followers had to invent a new word, agape, to distinguish it from what most people thought of when they thought of love.
So that is where we will begin next time.