Jack, our two-year-old grandson, was over the moon. His “Gogo”—my wife—was coming to the house that morning after having been away with me for a week. Jack was standing watch at the window. He loves his Gogo. When she finally arrived, his pent-up love could no longer be restrained. He took his mother by the hand, ran over to be picked up by his grandmother, and gave them both a maximum embrace.

Now came the more challenging part. He had expressed his effusive love in a physical way, but that wasn’t enough. He wanted to speak his love. For Jack, when something important is on his mind, it typically comes out haltingly. But there was no halting when he said, “I will never go out into the street without an adult ever again.”

These words, he determined, were the perfect compliment to his physical affection. And indeed, they were.

This is love for God: to obey his commands. And his commands are not burdensome. (1 John 5:3)

Love and obedience, for Jack, were coterminous. “I love you so much” and “I will never go out into the street without an adult” were different words for the same desire; his delight in obedience was the most profound expression of love that he could imagine. He was not trying to avoid punishment—that kind of obedience cannot be found within love. He was not trying to garner privileges—that too would have been selfishness, not love. Both are versions of legalism.

If only we grown-ups could rehabilitate our understanding of obedience so it squares with God’s intent. For example, a married man could say to his wife, “I love you.” Better, he could say, “Today, I will run from pornography or flirtatious imaginations, and I will remember how important this relationship is to me.” This is an adult version of not going unaccompanied into the street.