“I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.” (Romans 12:1–2, ESV)
One of the keys to growing in freedom involves rightly understanding what my part is and what God’s part is in the process of transformation. Most aspects of spiritual growth include a part that only God can do along with a part that God won’t do for me. God’s part is causative and my part is a necessary condition.
To use a sailboat analogy, God’s part is to provide the wind and my part is to lift the sail.
One aspect of study that can sometimes clarify my part from God’s part is to look at a verb’s voice, whether it is active or passive. When a verb for which I am the subject is in the active voice, then I am expected to perform the described action myself. When a verb for which I am the subject is in the passive (or sometimes middle) voice, then the described action is happening to me. With the active voice I am the one doing the action.With the passive voice, I am the receiver of the action. I am the one acted upon.
In these verses I note three key verbs where looking at the verbs’ voice gives helpful insight.
- Present your bodies as a living sacrifice…
- Do not be conformed to this world…
- Be transformed by the renewal of your mind…
In this case, “present” is the only verb in the active voice. Presenting my body as a living sacrifice is an action I am to perform actively. I am the agent of action. My choice to surrender or not will determine the outcome. This is the part that God will not do for me.
The other two verbs are not in the active voice. “Not be conformed” is in the middle or passive voice. “Be transformed” is in the passive voice. In both cases, these are actions that happen to me. These are things done by some other agent (in this case God) for which I am the recipient.
All of these actions are expected of me. I am expected to present my body as a living sacrifice. I am expected to not be conformed to this world (age). I am expected to be transformed by the renewal of my mind. But only one of these things is what I’m expected to do. The other two I am expected to receive. It is my job, in light of his great mercy, to present myself to God as a living sacrifice. It is God’s job to free me from conformity to this age. It is God’s job to renew my mind.
I come to him, worship him, lay my life down before him. I offer him all that I am. I draw near. And what is the effect of his presence? Freedom and transformation. There is a part that God won’t do for me: surrender. There is a part that only God can do: transformation.
Let’s make sure we are investing our effort in learning to surrender ever more deeply.