And everyone who thus hopes in him purifies himself as he is pure. — 1 John 3:3
Moralists believe that perfect living makes people worthy. Those overreacting to moralism abdicate their imagination for personal holiness. Words like “should” and “ought” screech across our theological chalkboard as we flee the distortions of moralism. Yet, N.T. Wright remarks, “the abuse of God’s gifts does not invalidate the real use.”
Personal holiness is demanding—requiring all of our heart, soul, mind, and strength—but unlike moralism, it is not dependent solely on our efforts. We are purified when we meet God at the top of the mountain—even so we cannot underestimate the commitment, strength, and focus it takes to climb to these moments of transfiguration. Wright explains:
The way up the mountain stands for us today as a reminder, a rebuke, and an invitation. A reminder that there are levels and depths of spirituality that are open to all of us, but from which we hide ourselves, perhaps in our heart of hearts quite deliberately, from fear of what the transforming presence of the burning God might do if he were truly given free rein in our hearts and lives. A reminder, thus, of the fact that all of life is, so to speak, ‘sacramental.’
Thus, too, a rebuke: that we so often content ourselves with going through the motions of a pattern of Christian discipleship that stays on the surface, that doesn’t get too excited or exciting, when not far away there are levels of reality, of God’s reality, waiting to be discovered, if we will take time and care, if we will seek silence and grace, if we will invoke the Holy Spirit to transform us.
It is the invitation, Wright concludes, that we miss in our overreaction to moralism:
If your vocation, your God-given path, should lead you in the way of pain, your own or someone else’s, that may itself be a sign that you are called to make another journey up the mountain, to glimpse the vision of glory once more and to gather fresh strength for the journey.
Take time out from your busy traveling, then, come up the mountain, and wait patiently for God. Perhaps it’s time to expose yourself again to the possibility that you too might hear a voice, might glimpse glory, might fall on your face in terror and awe, might be grasped afresh by the majesty of Jesus.