Active Voice

I am often guilty of something when I write. The passive voice is often used in my writing (See what I did there?). In the active voice, the sentence’s subject performs the action on the action’s target. In the passive voice, the target of the action is the focus, and the verb acts upon the subject.

Active: “I parked the car in the garage.”

Passive: “The car was parked in the garage.”

While the passive voice is sometimes appropriate, most writers consider the active voice more powerful and effective. Someone is acting.

I was reminded of the passive and active voice recently while watching a video sermon by John Piper. He pointed out that the Apostle John used the word “believe” nearly a hundred times in his gospel, but never used the word “belief.” I did some research and I found that others have made this observation as well. Belief is a noun, believe is a verb. Belief is passive, while believe is active. I can hold a belief without ever acting on it. But if we believe, there should be an action that makes our belief visible, because you can’t have a verb without action.

A powerful episode reported by John illustrates the difference clearly. The Apostle Thomas was not present the first time the risen Jesus appeared to the other 10 apostles. Thomas famously (or infamously) became known as “Doubting Thomas” because he refused to believe that his colleagues saw Jesus:

A week later his disciples were in the house again, and Thomas was with them. Though the doors were locked, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you!” Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here; see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it into my side. Stop doubting and believe.” Thomas said to him, “My Lord and my God!” Then Jesus told him, “Because you have seen me, you have believed; blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.”  John 20: 26-29 (NIV).

Jesus doesn’t say “stop doubting and have belief,” or “have not seen and yet have belief.” What does this mean for us? I can hold a belief without acting upon it. When I believe, there will be action. Unlike Thomas, we don’t have the benefit of touching the risen Jesus. So, John included seven “signs” in His gospel that help us to actively believe:

  1. Turning Water Into Wine (John 2:1-12) (John calls this “the first of miraculous signs”)
  2. Healing the Nobleman’s Son (John 4:46-54)
  3. Healing the Man at the Pool (John 5:1-11)
  4. Feeding of the 5,000 (John 6:1-15)
  5. Walking on Water (John 6:16-21)
  6. Healing a Man Born Blind (John 9:1-12)
  7. Resurrecting Lazarus (John 11)

These signs all have two things in common. First, they are actions. Second, they are all actions in the service of someone else. Many of those who were on the receiving end of these signs saw them only as acts of service and didn’t understand that they were designed to actively point us to the Giver. So, they followed Him only with the belief that they would get more stuff from Him. They did not actively believe who He was because of what He did. What about us?

Do we passively receive His blessings without experiencing a resulting increase in actively believing in Him? Do the “signs” we receive from Him lead to an active faith that includes:

  • Service to others?
  • Boldly worshipping Him?
  • Boldly sharing Him with others?
  • An increased display in the Fruit of the Spirit that indicates Christ lives in us?

If our physical muscles aren’t used, they atrophy; our bodies get soft (Yes, I’m speaking from personal experience here). Our spiritual muscles are no different. Do you have passive belief, or are you actively believing? Are you passively accepting stuff, or actively following signs back to the Giver?  When we strive to actively know the Living God rather than passively receive His blessings, we experience an indescribable joy, peace and confidence that we cannot miss! If you’re a spiritual couch potato, I pray that you leap into action today!

— Pastor Jerry Bader

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