It is not often that I encounter a book utilizing sound exegesis to explain an easily-misunderstood subject in a clear, concise manner. The Filling: Answers from Ephesians on How to Be Filled with the Holy Spirit is a welcome exception. The author, Dr. Robert Hefner, is a long-time friend and graciously consented to discuss his new book.
My name is Robert Hefner. I am 35 years old. I have been married since June 21, 2003, to Diana, and we have one child, Joseph, who is 5. I have been in full-time ministry as an assistant pastor at Mud Creek Baptist Church since the summer of 2003 as well. My primary ministry responsibilities include adult education and pastoral research, but like any pastor, I have a number of other regular and irregular ministry duties. I have been teaching theology at Fruitland Baptist Bible College since 2009, and I graduated with a Doctorate in Education from Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary in 2013.
Can you share a little bit about your personal faith? Did you become a follower of Christ as a child, or an adult?
I became a Christian when I was a young child. I have been in and around church my whole life. My dad just retired from full-time pastoral ministry this summer. I was in Christian school (to 7th grade) and homeschooled (8-12th grades). I have joked that I have been Baptist my whole life. Every school I have attended and place I have been employed by has been Baptist. But, it’s not where you go to church, who your parents are, or who employs you. God in His graciousness showed me at a young age my need for him and saved me.
What is The Filling about, and why should we read it?
The Filling specifically answers the question, “How does a Christian become filled with the Holy Spirit?” Answering that question is at the heart of what it means to pursue spiritual growth as a Christian. When we enter into relationship with Jesus, God changes us instantly and starts changing us progressively. As salvation, we don’t lose all of our sinful desires or ability to sin. But, we do gain God’s every moment presence—the Holy Spirit—to help us resist sin and choose righteousness. In the Holy Spirit, God gives us himself and empowers our actions to be sanctified, to grow spiritually. As I pursue the Holy Spirit’s life-changing presence in my life, he fills me and empowers me to speak and act like I should. God commands us to be holy. He gives us himself to make us holy. The Holy Spirit lives in us, pushes us to change, and empowers that change to make us holy. In short, if you want to know how the Holy Spirit has been given to you to help you grow spiritually, read The Filling.
In your introduction you emphasize the rule of context for interpreting Scripture. How does the context of the Epistle to the Ephesians shape our understanding of the command to be filled with the Spirit?
When I started writing this book, it hit me: Paul’s audience at Ephesus and the surrounding churches who likely read the letter may not have had all of the rest of the New Testament to read alongside of it. Even if they did have other epistles or Luke or Acts, Paul wrote Ephesians as completed set of instructions. In other words, he told the Ephesians everything they needed to know in the letter about being filled with the Holy Spirit (Ephesians 5:18). Every time Paul mentions the “Spirit” or “Holy Spirit” in Ephesians, he is telling his audience important principles about the Spirit’s character, nature, and work. Every time he uses the word “filled” or talks of the Holy Spirit’s work in believers or the church in Ephesus, he is weaving a plotline together explaining the Holy Spirit’s filling. Perhaps the most noticeable context connection is Paul’s prayer in 3:14-21. In those verses (dealt with in chapter 2 of the book), Paul prays for the Ephesians to become a holy dwelling place for Christ (3:17) and be filled with all the fullness of God (3:19). In these verses, he essentially prays for them to be filled with the Holy Spirit which he then commands two chapters later in 5:18.
Each of your chapters answers a question regarding the filling of the Spirit. In your ministry, which of these questions would you say you have encountered most frequently?
I wrote these chapters out of lectures in my class on the Holy Spirit at Fruitland Baptist Bible College and sermons I have developed over the last two years. Chapter 5, “What Comes Against the Spirit-Filled Christian?,” has been the chapter that has most instantly resonated with my students. We can all relate to the reality of spiritual warfare. In a way, this question draws all the others together showing why living Spirit-filled is so critical for the Christian. Simply put, if I am not regularly pursuing the Holy Spirit’s filling, I will be unprepared for the enemy’s attacks.
The Bible does speak of special empowerments of the Holy Spirit (see in particular Acts 2:4, 4:8, 4:31, 6:5, 9:17, 11:24, and 13:9), but to think of the Holy Spirit’s filling in terms only of “select times” is incomplete. The most crucial truth I have been confronted with through writing The Filling is that I am to pursue the Spirit-filled life moment-by-moment. I am to be filled in process as I pursue holiness. Grasping this truth helps to reshape our view of the Christian life from event-to-event to day-to-day. The Holy Spirit fills me to shape my holiness, not simply to add excitement to my experience.
As you were writing The Filling, what truth impressed you most in your study?
The filling of the Holy Spirit is a pursuit rather than a state. When that truth clicked with me, I knew I needed to get it out to others. I stepped all over my own toes in this book. I have cried and confessed more than I have rejoiced over this truth too. God wants us to live filled with his Spirit. But it’s not magic; it’s the hard work of pursuing holiness. I do this by working every single moment to put myself under his authority. I do this by dying to myself daily. I do this by obeying his every command. Then I am rewarded for my efforts to be holy with his holiness: the Spirit’s filling.
In addition to being engaged in full-time ministry, you are a husband, father. Do you find it challenging to balance these roles with your writing work?
In one sense, anytime something else gets added to the plate, it makes for a challenge to strike a balance. Having been in full-time ministry since 2003, I have learned that ministry responsibilities rarely let you figure out a balance, and God expects me to make my family a priority. That must be a choice. If I do not make my wife and son a priority, something else will fill in the time. I am blessed to have a wife who senses a call to ministry like me. She understands the demands of ministry, serves with me at our church, and helps keep me grounded in my time commitments. Additionally, I rarely finished a chapter without bouncing ideas off of her or having her proof chapters. Also, much of The Filling started in sermon form for messages I preached at Fruitland Baptist Bible College where I teach or Mud Creek Baptist Church when I would get to fill in preaching. Some of the content flowed from lectures at Fruitland as well. Writing this book in many ways expressed my ministry. I also found that I work best in “writing bursts.” When I completed my doctoral dissertation, I would write at night for about a month at a time then take a couple weeks off and pick back up for another month. I wrote The Filling in much the same way. I finished about half the book during the spring and summer of 2014, and wrote the rest in the spring of 2015. I then spent the summer of 2015 polishing and editing. During the entire process, I used a good note app (Microsoft OneNote that cross-syncs with my phone and computer). If I had a thought, illustration, or idea, I would simply type it into my phone and polish it later. I kept the current chapter or the basic ideas of the book in my mind ruminating all the time. Driving time to work, walking down the hallway at a hospital visit, running on the treadmill, and mowing the grass turned out to shape some of my most fruitful thoughts. In this way, I learned to make good use of those sometimes neglected or unused moments throughout the day or night without taking away from my family or church responsibilities.
Do you have any current or future writing projects that might be of interest to the readers?
I hope to rewrite my doctoral dissertation into a more practical resource tackling the Holy Spirit and how we learn. In my research, I explored the Holy Spirit’s work in how we think, how we feel, and what we do through the lens of Paul’s letters. Some of my dissertation research snuck into The Filling. In fact, I started writing that book first, but hit a major wall and set it to the side. Not long after, my Pastor started preaching through Ephesians, and I started studying it alongside of him sparking the preliminary thoughts which led to The Filling. I have toyed with another idea or two that may shape themselves into a book in the future, but at this point, they are just in the idea stage. I do know this: I do not want The Filling to be my last book or my best book. Writing has sharpened and helped my ministry discipline, preaching and teaching, and personal application of the Bible. I hope to make writing—in whatever form—an ongoing part of preaching the Word to myself and others.
I appreciate Dr. Hefner taking the time to respond to these questions. The Filling is an excellent discipleship resource for personal or group study, and I highly recommend it. You can purchase it at the Mud Creek Baptist Church Online Bookstore.