The phrase “cannot sin” means he does not continue to sin, or he does not habitually sin. This does not mean that the Christian is incapable of committing a wrong act. If he were unable to sin, there would be no reason to seek to develop the Christian character. John has indicated that the Christian will make occasional mistakes “My little children, these things I write to you, so that you may not sin. And if anyone sins, we have an Advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous” (1 John 2:1).
This passage teaches that the Christian, having been born of God, and having God’s life-giving power dwelling in him, he cannot continue in his old pattern of habitual sin. He now follows the Lord’s example of a pure life that fights against the old life.
Paul is showing here that when Christians have experienced the new birth, their nature change, and they now reflect the character of Jesus Christ (John 3:3–5; 1 John 3:1). They hate the sin they used to love, and love righteousness that they used to hate (Rom. 6:2, 6; 7:14, 15). Christians no longer continue in slavery to their old life, they do not habitually commit their old mistakes. The Holy Spirit is giving them power to overcome those weaknesses, and is ready to aide them in the development of their character to reach the high standard of Christ’s life.
The apostle Paul never claimed that he himself reached perfection, “Brethren, I count not myself to have apprehended: but this one thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind, and reaching forth unto those things which are before” (Philippians 3:13). Christians are called by God to reach the goal of perfecting their character through God’s enabling grace “Therefore you shall be perfect, just as your Father in heaven is perfect” (Matt. 5:48). “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me” (Philippians 4:13). This is the ultimate goal of all Christians.
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In His service,
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