Using APTAT to Do All Things through Christ
In Philippians 4:13, Paul says, "I can do all things through him who strengthens me.” Paul knows how to live all of life—highs and lows, triumphs and tragedies—by the strength that Christ supplies. He says, “I have learned … I know how … I have learned the secret … I can do all things” (Phil. 4:11-13). What did Paul know? How did he access the empowering grace of Jesus Christ? What was the secret? And how can we, too, be strengthened by Christ in our actual lives in order to face all things by the power of God?
By examining other passages from Paul, it’s possible to observe and imitate the very practical ways that he actively relied on the empowering grace of Christ in the midst of very real circumstances, “in toil and hardship, through many a sleepless night, in hunger and thirst, often without food, in cold and exposure” (2 Cor. 11:27). The secret to invincible joy in Christ is not for an elite few, it is God’s gracious gift to all who trust in him, and he makes it known through his word.
John Piper developed the acronym APTAT as a practical outline for seeking to live all of life by faith so that he could say, like Paul, “It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me” (Gal. 2:20). Piper said, “I begin my day with it, and I follow it when I must exert some effort to do right. The goal is for this way of thinking and feeling to become so much a part of me that I approach all of life this way.”
Later, Piper said, “The kind of situation I have in mind for using these five steps is virtually any situation in which you aim to obey God … [But] practically what I have in mind are those situations that feel especially challenging or threatening — acts of obedience and service that could be dangerous, or embarrassing, or situations where temptation will be great, or where great potential good could come.”
This is an acronym that Greg and I both consciously and routinely use in our own lives. Personally, I use it in a wide range of situations: I use it when I am preparing to preach and I feel stuck, when I’m facing a relational challenge, when I feel anxious or fearful about a situation, or when I lack the motivation to tackle some responsibility. Again and again, I have found that God is “a very present help” (Psalm 46:1).
We commend APTAT to you, not as a formula, but as a memory aid rooted in biblical wisdom to help you do all things through Christ who strengthens you.
ADMIT your weakness
In 2 Corinthians 12:8-9, Paul writes, “Three times I pleaded with the Lord about this [thorn in the flesh], that it should leave me.  But [the Lord] said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.’ Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me” (emphasis added).
So one thing that Paul does in order to experience the power of Christ is he gladly admits his weaknesses. Since “God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble” (Jas. 4:6; cf. 1 Pet. 5:5), then we must begin by humbly admitting our need for his help.
PRAY for help
Paul told the Philippians, “In everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God” (Phil. 4:6). And Hebrews 4:16 encourages us, “Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.”
TRUST a specific promise
In Galatians 2:20, Paul writes, “I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.” So does Paul live, or does he not live? He tells us that Christ lives through him as he lives by faith. That is, Paul is trusting Christ, relying on Christ, clinging to Christ as he goes about his daily life. As he consciously trusts Christ to be and do all that he promises, Paul can say, “It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me.”
Paul finds strength from God by consciously relying on God. We see this in 2 Corinthians 1:8-10, where Paul wrote, “We were so utterly burdened beyond our strength that we despaired of life itself. Indeed, we felt that we had received the sentence of death. But that was to make us rely not on ourselves but on God who raises the dead. He delivered us from such a deadly peril, and he will deliver us. On him we have set our hope that he will deliver us again” (2 Cor. 1:9-10; emphasis added).
You can set your hope on God by finding a specific promise in Scripture, meditating on it, memorizing it, and praying it back to God.
We work out our salvation as God works in us (Phil. 2:12). We no longer live, but Christ lives in us; yet we go on living in the flesh by faith in Christ (Gal. 2:20). We can do all things through Christ who strengthens us (Phil. 4:13). We “act the miracle.” This means facing the dreaded situation, faithfully fulfilling your responsibility, boldly opening your mouth in witness, clocking in at work, or doing whatever it is that God has put before you to do.
THANK God for his help
The ultimate aim of living by faith is to magnify the glory of God. When God displays his power in our weakness, he gets the glory (2 Cor. 12:8-9). “And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him” (Col. 3:17; emphasis added). (See also 2 Cor. 1:11; 9:15).
- John Piper, “Can You Begin by the Spirit and Be Completed by the Flesh?,” https://www.desiringgod.org/messages/can-you-begin-by-the-spirit-and-be-completed-by-the-flesh, accessed 5/22/18.
- John Piper, “Practical Help for Praying for Help,” https://www.desiringgod.org/messages/practical-help-for-praying-for-help, accessed 5/22/18.