Writing in the Passive Voice

“For by grace you have been saved through faith.
And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God,”
(Ephesians 2:8 (ESV)

 My spell-check hates me.

It isn’t my spelling, nor is it my typing.  While I am by no means a professional typist, I have become quite proficient on the computer keyboard; about 70 words per minute (Mrs. Maish from Augusta High would be so proud).

No, the spell-check has issues with the way I write.  It’s not that my grammar is poor; the biggest complaint from my spell-check is my use of the passive voice.  I can understand the dilemma.  Usually one should not write in the passive voice, but should rather state in a clear and concise manner who is acting and what is being done.  As one grammar site reminds us, “at the heart of every good sentence is a strong, precise verb; the converse is true as well — at the core of most confusing, awkward, or wordy sentences lies a weak verb. Try to use the active voice whenever possible.”

That’s all well and good, except when the passive voice most clearly communicates the action, and more importantly, the actor.

When communicated the gospel, the passive voice best demonstrates what Christ has done.  Let me send my “grammar-checker” into a fury just to demonstrate:

Though lost in sin, we have been set free by the cross of Christ.
Though stained by sin, we have been washed by the blood of Christ.
Though we are rebels at war with God, we have been forgiven by the Prince of Peace.

I choose the passive voice because it takes the action away from me, and places it precisely where it belongs, in the hands of my Savior.  Salvation is the act of God on behalf of those unable to act for themselves.  We need salvation, and there is nothing we can do to bring it about.  We can’t even bring ourselves to admit we are in need of help unless the Helper first comes to us.  We are that dead in our sins.  The activity in our salvation always, always, belongs to God – and our salvation is His gift of grace that we receive through faith.

One of the best ways we could demonstrate this is in the way we celebrate the Sacrament of the Lord’s Supper in our congregation.  We must remember that God prepares the Table.  Yes, the Elders set the table and provide the bread and wine – but God is the One who has set the Table before us as a means of grace.  God gave the altar as a table for the sacrifice of atonement in the Old Covenant.  Jesus established the Table as the memorial of His life broken for ours, and preview of the heavenly wedding feast that awaits us.  The Table nourishes us in faith when we receive the gift of the table in faith.  The very presence of Christ comes to us in His Word, to give life and strength and faith to a broken and feeble people.

In our church this is beautifully demonstrated in the fact that we do not come forward to receive the bread and the cup, but rather it is carried to each member and they are served in the pews.  What this action says is this, “We don’t even have the strength to come to God on our own.  His preemptive grace comes to us, brings us to live, feeds us and strengthens us, so that we may walk with Him.”  Even when we receive this gift, we are celebrating the strength of God that is made perfect in our weakness.

So I will revel in the passive voice when I describe how I have been Christ, the one who is active and mighty in power.

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About reveds

Occupation: Pastor, Ebenezer Presbyterian Church, Lennox, SD Education: BS - Christian Education, Sterling College; MDiv. - Princeton Theological Seminary Family: Married, with Four children. Hobbies: Running (will someday run a marathon), Sci-Fi (especially Doctor Who and Sherlock), Theater, and anything else my kids will let me do.
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