4 Spheres of Personal Development

Jesus increased in wisdom and stature, and in favor with God and with people
[Luke 2:52]

Jesus’ teenage years are essentially summed up in the above verse. He grew in wisdom, physically, relationally with people, and in favor with God. Christian educators have referenced the verse to show how we grow and develop across multiple spheres: cognitive (in wisdom), physical (stature), spiritual (in favor with God), and social (in favor with people).

We are unified because our God, who exists as a community of three Persons in One, created us in His image. In other words, we can’t slice and dichotomize our lives into disparate parts. And because we are whole and unified people, struggles in one sphere of life impact all the other areas.

For example, if I am not stewarding my body well, my energy is low for my relationship with my wife and the mental challenges embedded in my job. If my relationships are not healthy, I have a difficult time focusing and mentally engaging. If I am not surrendered to the Lord, everything suffers. The opposite is also true. If my relationship with God is healthy and growing, my relationships are also healthier. If I am taking care of my body with exercise and wise eating, I have more energy to bring to the table in my profession.

Because God loves us, He cares for the whole person—for every part of us. He gave us our minds, our bodies, our relationship with Him, and our relationships with others. As we think about personal development, we can think about the following four spheres:

Mental Development (in wisdom)

The mind receives a lot of attention in Scripture because what one thinks, he does. We are transformed by the renewing of our minds (Romans 12:2) and commanded to set our minds on things above, not on earthly things (Colossians 3:2).

Physical Development (in stature)

For believers, the body is a temple of the Holy Spirit (1 Corinthians 6:19-20). The apostle Paul, when challenging believers to discipline themselves for godliness, pointed out that physical training has some value—though far less and much more limited than training in godliness (1 Timothy 4:7-8).

Spiritual Development (in favor with God)

Ultimately the Lord is the One who matures us and develops us. Growth occurs through the Spirit. At the same time, we are commanded to work out our salvation with fear and trembling (Philippians 2:12) and to train ourselves to be godly (1 Timothy 4:7). Spiritual disciplines put us in a posture to receive His grace.

Relational Development (in favor with people)

We are encouraged to serve one another (Galatians 5:13), accept one another (Romans 15:7), submit to one another (Ephesians 5:21), and forgive one another (Colossians 3:13). God’s emphasis on relationships reveals that much of an individual’s spiritual development occurs in the context of relationships.

Dallas Willard famously stated, “Grace isn’t opposed to effort, but to earning.” Because God has graciously given us Himself and His righteousness, there is nothing to earn. Thus our motivation must not be to develop ourselves to justify ourselves before ourselves or before Him. Instead, because of what He has done, and because He has graciously given us what we are blessed to steward – we can and should freely strive to grow, to develop, and to mature.

Thursday I will offer some thoughts on planning your development in each sphere.