Editor’s Note: Today’s blog entry is the second of four posts that dig into the concept of “knowing God.” Each post explores a theme from the biblical text that helps to explain what it means to know God and how that theme impacts the journey of following Jesus today. Here is part 1. (Here is part 3. Here is part 4.)

Last week’s theme “encounter” reminds us that the Christian faith is not merely an intellectual journey nor an emotional or spiritual high. It’s the day-in, day-out experience of God meeting us where we are and making Himself known to us in both mundane and miraculous ways. The Christian faith is about experiencing God’s love and presence not as an abstract idea but in real life.

How do we relate to God in a way that fosters that experience more deeply? Is there some spiritual practice that will unlock the heavens? Not really.

When I started studying the idea of “knowing God,” I was surprised by one of the themes I found. I honestly wasn’t expecting this. I should have. It’s crystal clear in the Apostle John’s first letter: “We know that we have come to know him if we keep his commands. Whoever says, ‘I know him,’ but does not do what he commands is a liar, and the truth is not in that person” (1 John 2:3-4, emphasis added; cf. Jeremiah 22:15-16 which equates knowing God with caring for people in poverty!).

You cannot know God without obeying Him.

This is a hard statement. If we’re tempted by emotionalism on the one hand or intellectualism on the other, few things will take the fun out of the spiritual life more than this. Obedience can be hard and takes humble dependence on God’s work to change us. But make no mistake: God expects obedience, which means he expects us to 1) know His commands (i.e., we do need to know Scripture), and 2) follow His commands (i.e., our lives need to change).

Does something about this feel strange to you? I think it should.

Imagine if a wife said to her husband, “You can only really know me, if you do what I say.” Imagine a friend saying to you, “You know what? I thought we were friends, but I don’t think you even know me. You don’t obey me!” Those statements would ruin the relationship. What gives someone the right to expect obedience in order to have a relationship with them? We don’t have any relationships where this is okay.

I wonder if that’s actually part of the point. God is unlike every other person we will ever know. He does have the right to expect obedience. He is our Creator and the Lord of the universe. He quite literally owns our lives and sustains us each and every moment. We’re only here because He wants us here. No other relationship is like this because no other person is like Jesus Christ. Because of who He is, the only right response is complete submission and obedience. Any other response is inappropriate.

One human relationship, though, can help us understand why knowing and obeying God go together.

Think of a parent with a child.

I have three children, who are 7-11 years old. My wife and I love them deeply, and our love doesn’t change based on their behavior. They can act up and be stubborn, but we love them the same. However, when they disobey, something does change. If they lie to us or ignore what we’re asking of them, it puts tension between us. My kids and I both know something is not right. They hide things and feel shame, and I feel disrespected as a father.

The same is true in our walk with God. Disobedience puts distance between us and God. His love doesn’t change, but our experience of Him does. That’s why knowing God changes our lives. Knowing God means we not only encounter Him but we also acknowledge who He is and give proper honor to Him in our lives. When we don’t, we put a wedge in the relationship.

However, the opposite is also true: obedience brings us closer to God. Jesus said, “Whoever has my commands and keeps them is the one who loves me. The one who loves me will be loved by my Father, and I too will love him and manifest myself to him” (John 14:21, emphasis added).

Think of that promise: When we obey Jesus’ commands, He will “manifest” or reveal Himself to us. We’re not earning His love; we’re growing and maturing in it—taking the relationship deeper. We come to know God’s heart in real time as He shows Himself to us, and that should fuel even greater obedience. I believe that is why we always feel closer to God as we surrender our lives more fully to Him.

Do you want to know and experience Christ more deeply in your life? Obey Him. Know that He is faithful to respond and draw close to you.

Remember, too, that obedience is not the same as perfection. When we fail, the next step of obedience is to come to Christ with humility, confession, and repentance. When my kids admit their wrong and apologize, my heart swells with love, and I’m eager draw close to them. Our God does this same (and more) as our perfect Father. Today, may you be drawn into a deeply transforming relationship with God as you take even just small steps of obedience, one day at a time.