In the process of breathing, our lungs expel carbon dioxide (dangerous to our health) and take in oxygen (needed for proper tissue function). Similarly, spiritual breathing is “exhaling” guilt through confession and “inhaling” grace through filling by the Holy Spirit.
Whenever we have sinned, we can “breathe” in this way.
The main difference between the two kinds of breathing is this: physical breathing is automatic, while spiritual breathing is voluntary. We choose to breathe spiritually. (See: “Spiritual Breathing.”)
The key to spiritual breathing is stopping a sin as soon as we are convicted of it. Otherwise, we will just reinforce a sin habit. Rather than letting the sin go on, we bring it before God and ask His forgiveness. Assuming our repentance is real, we can be confident that He will forgive. “If we confess our sins to Him, He is faithful and just to forgive us and to cleanse us from every wrong” (1 John 1:9).
But we do not stop there. We seek God further for grace to obey Him in the future. As the apostle John said, “I am writing this to you so that you will not sin. But if you do sin …” (1 John 2:1). In other words, while we may be freed from habitual sins, we will never be free from temptation and human weakness as long as we live in this world. Sin always remains a possibility, and so we never outgrow the need for grace.
God is faithful. He is like a kind father who gives his children what they need.² Our God gladly gives us what we ask for, as long as it is in line with His will, and so of course He gives the resources we need to escape temptation. His mercy is what makes it possible for us to be filled with virtues where formerly we were full of sin.
Spiritual breathing does something wonderful for us. It helps us achieve and maintain holiness. And holiness is another name for Christ-likeness.
Quest for Christ-likeness
Hebrews 1:3 states that “the Son reflects God’s own glory, and everything about Him represents God exactly.” While we sinners have had the image of God in us marred by sin, Jesus Christ perfectly reflects the image of God. This is not surprising—since He is God!
Meanwhile, it is God’s will that we conform ourselves to Christ. He chose us “to become like His Son” (Romans 8:29). How does that happen? “As the Spirit of the Lord works within us, we become more and more like Him and reflect His glory even more” (2 Corinthians 3:18).
So we are back to the role of the Holy Spirit. We become holy through with the help of the Holy Spirit. And as we become more holy, we become more like our Savior, Jesus Christ. Thus the process of replacing virtues for vices is a part of our God-ordained goal of Christ-likeness.
Preeminent among the Christ-like virtues is love.