If transformation is a key biblical concept, then grace is what makes it happen. Grace – a metaphor for the transforming work of the Holy Spirit – is one of the most powerful forces known to humanity. When God’s grace changes a person, it spills over to touch members of the entire family, even whole communities.
Yet the book of Acts doesn’t stop there. The power of the Holy Spirit – like sound waves from a sonic boom – travels outward, transforming everything in its path. The day of Pentecost in Acts 2 is the divine sonic boom, and the rest of Acts records the echoes.
No one culture or nation can trap God in a bottle, cork it, and taunt: “We have God in a bottle and we’re not sharing!” The good news of Jesus Christ is good news for all, or it is not good news at all.
Into the nations: from centripetal to centrifugal
In Matthew 28, our risen Lord appeared to his disciples on a hill outside Jerusalem. These were his parting words before he returned to his Father. What would he say to the men with whom he had spent 3 amazing years? Verses 18-20 (CEB) capture the moment:
I’ve received all authority in heaven and on earth. Therefore, go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to obey everything that I’ve commanded you. Look, I myself will be with you until the end of this present age.
This is the moment when disciples (followers) became sent ones (apostles). In physics, a centripetal force draws an object and keeps it in a fixed orbit, preventing it from flying outward. In the Old Testament, the people of God were to be centripetal. This is Isaiah’s vision: “In the last days the mountain of the Lord’s temple will be established as the highest of the mountains; it will be exalted above the hills, and all nations will stream to it” (Isaiah 2:2).
But something radical transpires in Matthew 28. Standing outside of Jerusalem – the very city alluded to in Isaiah’s vision – Jesus does not call the disciples to a centripetal mission. Instead, their mission is to be centrifugal. Think of the mud that cakes on a tire. The faster the tire spins, the more mud that flies off in all directions. Now, God doesn’t call us to fly off and make the world dirty! But the point remains: Jesus calls us not to stay but to go and transform. In the New Testament, the people of God are centrifugal; in the new order, God sends us on a cross-cultural mission.
Timothy Tennent describes the church’s task and the centrifugal force that enables it:
The central way the Holy Spirit brings the New Creation into the present is through empowering the church to proclaim the gospel in word and deed in the midst of all contextual challenges that the present evil order presents.
–An Invitation to World Missions: A Trinitarian Missiology for the 21st Century (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Kregel Publications, 2010), 96.