Loving God is not possible without Jesus. For some of you that may be a blatantly obvious truth, but even if so I want you to consider that statement for a second.

Loving God is not possible without Jesus.

Honestly, I could end this blog right here and I’m confident that the Holy Spirit would use that one statement to change the way you think about loving God, but I’ve got a page I need to fill up so hang tight.

Everything starts with the truth Paul presents in Romans 5:8 which says “God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” You might ask, “What in the world is a sinner?” Let me start by saying that it’s a term that you most likely have a poor definition of. So if you want to understand it, read the rest of Romans and ask a lot of hard questions and relentlessly search for the answers to them. But my aim is not to explain what a sinner is. Instead, I want you to receive Paul’s main point which is this: God loved you before you ever thought about loving Him.

That’s your foundation. No matter who you are, no matter what you’ve done, no matter how afraid you are, God chose to love you before you ever knew He existed. You can only love God because He loved you first. Christ crushing our sin on the Cross and being resurrected to defeat death were the prerequisites for us having a loving relationship with God. And those prerequisites have been met. So let me ask you this: If the possibility of a relationship with your Creator is now wide open, how are you going to love Him back? The answer is simple. Intimacy and Obedience.

I spent my entire sophomore year of college in a state of depression. Crippling anxiety, constant fear of other people, deprived of energy and motivation, it was rough. I couldn’t walk into a room full of people without immediately hearing voices in my head telling me, “You’re not wanted here,” or “Why would anyone want to talk to you?” It seems ridiculous, but those voices were so real and loud to me in those moments. So I did the only thing I knew to do. I ran back to my house, locked myself in my room and cried out to God. You see, I knew that He was the only one who genuinely knew me. Every thought, every dream, every desire, every fear. He knew it all. So I felt like He was the only one that I could be myself around. For an entire year, I went to God in secret and poured out my heart to Him.

It felt like a cop-out. Like I was running away from everything. And, honestly, that’s exactly what I was doing. But at the same time this crazy, unexpected by-product occurred: I began developing intimacy with God. Intimacy is simply knowing a person and being known by a person. And every time I locked myself in my room, intimacy was being built between me and God. I made sure that He knew what was going on inside of me as I poured out my heart to Him, and He made sure I began to understand His heart as I read the Bible and learned about who He is and what He’s done. I now know that when we lock ourselves away in a secret place to be with God it lights up His heart. Loving God in return starts in the secret place.

What’s wild is that as I devoted myself to God in the secret place, He faithfully delivered me from my fear and depression. It was during that period of deliverance where God revealed to me the other key to loving Him back is radical obedience. At the end of my sophomore year, I was trying to make summer plans and began to stress when a lot of my plans began to fall through. Out of nowhere, a friend told me to think about working at a camp in Maine. Immediately I believed the lie that I wasn’t camp counselor material. And I kept telling myself that I wasn’t bold enough to move to Maine for an entire summer. But even in hearing all of those lies, I knew deep in my soul that I needed to go. I knew that if I didn’t go, then I would be living like a slave to fear and I didn’t want to live like that.

So I went, and God used the people at the camp to show me that I’m worth loving and have inherent value. He brought me into a place of freedom within my soul and gave me boldness to take what I’d been given back home. And I’ve never been the same person since. God showed me that obedience lights up His heart in the same way being alone with Him does.

So, if you’re asking yourself how do you love a good, perfect God then the answer is both. Intimacy and obedience. It takes both. One cannot exist without the other. If you have amazing alone times with God but never let His love flow out of you to the world, then you haven’t loved anyone but yourself. If all you’ve done is do good deeds but never consulted God on it, then you haven’t loved anyone but yourself. If you love God, then you’ll love the world. The crazy thing is, and I hope you noticed this in my story, is that being intimate with and obedient to God often looks like healing for ourselves. That’s the beauty of our God. He’s a life-saving, life-giving God. He’s not a slave master looking to extract work from us. Every time we get alone with Him and say yes to Him, He gives us life. And it’s all because He loved us first.

Author | Adam Salway