How to Build the Church

This post is one of a series on the Four Pillars—Truth, Life, the Church, the Gospel. This post was prepared by Phil Watson (thank you, Phil). I am posting it here because, even though it is not directly about New Jerusalem, the building of the church is for New Jerusalem. Furthermore, I am in the midst of a series of posts on seeing New Jerusalem (Rev. 21:10) and the three keys that Phil presents are essential for seeing (or seeing more of) New Jerusalem.

“I Will Build My Church”

In two posts elsewhere on the church as one of the four pillars in the Lord’s recovery, we see that the church is the kingdom of God, and more specifically, the living of the church is the kingdom of God. This entry builds upon what is revealed before; please read these first.

Within the declaration by the Lord Jesus in Matthew 16:18-19, where he equates the church with the kingdom, He declares, “I will build My church, and the gates of Hades shall not prevail against it. I will give to you the keys of the kingdom of the heavens.”

This is a great promise and prophecy, that the Lord would build the church. In fact, it’s the first mention of the church in the New Testament. But what interests us here is the text that immediately follows, in verses 21-27. First the Lord revealed that he must go to the cross, pass through death, and be resurrected on the third day. These steps were absolutely necessary for God’s plan, for the building of the church, the growth of the kingdom of God.

At this point, Peter speaks out of his natural thought, begging God that this would not happen to Jesus. The Lord’s response is most telling: “But He turned and said to Peter, Get behind Me, Satan!”

So Peter opened his mouth and Satan came out. Here we should pause and ask ourselves, how many times have we done the same thing? Have we hindered, or even damaged, the building of the church by our speaking? O Lord! Clearly, the subjective gates of Hades, Satan’s realm, are within our very being. How can we prevent him from escaping? The Lord gives us the answer in the verses immediately following:

24  Then Jesus said to His disciples, If anyone wants to come after Me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow Me.
25  For whoever wants to save his soul-life shall lose it; but whoever loses his soul-life for My sake shall find it.
26  For what shall a man be profited if he gains the whole world, but forfeits his soul-life? Or what shall a man give in exchange for his soul-life?
27  For the Son of Man is to come in the glory of His Father with His angels, and then He will repay each man according to his doings.

The Keys to Lock the Subjective Gates of Hades

In this response to Peter’s release of Satan out of his mouth, the Lord gives us three keys: denying the self, taking up our cross, and losing the soul-life. Unless we exercise these keys, we may prevent the building of the church. By exercising these keys, we will lock up God’s enemy and God will have a free way to bring in His kingdom in full.

  • Denying the Self

The self in the Bible is a particular term, referring to man’s soul declaring and practicing independence from God. God created man to be dependent upon Him, placing him in the garden with the tree of life. Yet man turned from that tree to another, to become self-sufficient, self-supplying, self-relying. This is the characteristic of world culture today, to please one’s self, to “find one’s self”, to be proud to say “I made it by myself.” Even within Christian circles, the self is elevated, displayed, and honored, while it should be covered and only Christ Himself should be displayed and seen.

This independent self is the greatest frustration and opposition to the building of the Body of Christ. Since the Lord and the Body are one (1 Cor 12:12), to be dependent upon the Lord is to be dependent upon the Body, the church. The most practical way to experience the denial of the self is by depending on the members of the Body and not acting independently. This is the greatest test for the Lord’s workers. When coordinating with other members of our local church, the best way to deny the self is not by repressing our natural opinions and pride, but simply to exercise our spirit to know the indwelling Christ (Phil 3:10) as the one who Himself was dependent upon God.

  • Taking up the Cross

This phrase, take up your cross, can be easily misunderstood to be some form of asceticism, or simply to suffer. Some Christians may believe that when they are forced to undergo some suffering, this is the taking up of the cross. But according to the Lord’s prayer in Matthew 26:39, to take up his cross was to take up the Father’s will. And the words are “let him…take up his cross”, indicating a willful choice. So to take up our cross is to choose the Father’s will for us over our own will.

So what is the Father’s will for us? The building of His church, that we would be one (John 17:21-23). We should consider every member in the church as God’s will for us, not that they are there to cause us suffering, but that we should bear them in love (Eph 4:2-3). As He told Peter in resurrection, “Feed my sheep.”

  • Losing the Soul-Life

This is actually the most enjoyable point. Stick with me here.

Firstly the word for soul-life here in Greek is psyche, the psyche, the soul, not bios, the physical life. Many translations of the Bible do not insert the word soul here, causing many readers to incorrectly understand that the Lord is asking us to literally die for Him. On a rare occasion today the Master may require that of His lovers, but this verse does not refer to that ultimate demand. To ensure you are not misled, I encourage you to use the Recovery Version of the Bible, which is translated faithfully to the original language.

The Lord is indicating here that we need to set aside the enjoyment of the world by our soul, as indicated by the opposing phrase, “gains the whole world” in verse 27, and do it “for His sake.” Does this mean that God does not want us to have any enjoyment, to have no joy, in this age? On the contrary– read these verses:

Nehemiah 8:10 – “the joy of Jehovah is your strength”

Romans 14:17 – “For the kingdom of God is not eating and drinking, but righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit”

As we saw in the previous message, the church is the kingdom, so today God wants to be your joy, your enjoyment, your amusement. Our amusement must be God Himself! God created us with a soul that we could enjoy Him. Put aside the worldly, soulish amusements which fade away, and enjoy God as the highest and everlasting enjoyment!

The apparent contradiction in verse 25, to lose the soul-life to find it, is explained in verse 27 and also by the parable of the slaves in Matthew 25. Verse 27 says, “For the Son of Man is to come… then He will repay each man according to His doings.” This refers to Christ’s second coming, where at His judgement seat He will judge all his believers (for this word was spoken to the apostles) according to their living in this age, whether they have set aside the enjoyment of their soul-life or not. If so, we will gain it in that day, the full enjoyment within our soul—“Enter into the joy of your Master” (Matthew 25:21-23).

If we are willing to lose all our present soulish enjoyment for the Lord’s sake, for the sake of the church, and for the sake of all its members, they will be nourished by us and will be built up through us. Yes, there is some loss to your self when you go to a meeting of the church, rather than doing that thing (you know what yours is!) that you like to do for your self, by your self. Yet, when you get to the meeting, there is a joy of being with the saints. The Lord Himself saw the cross not as a suffering, but a joy (Heb 12:2), for through His death the church was born. Don’t be a double-loser, pursuing the empty soulish enjoyment today and then losing the reward in the next age. Be a double-winner, losing the soul life today to enjoy God now, and enjoy a greater reward in the next age.

By the exercise of these three keys, denying the soul, taking up the cross, and losing our soul-life for the building of the church, we lock up the subjective gates of Hades within us, and open the window of heaven (John 1:51 and note 2) that we can receive the ministering of the Son of Man, that Christ could build His church.

Leave a comment


  1. Thanks, Don, for hosting and editing my post on this subject. It was refreshing even to me to re-read what I had written.
    “Oh Lord, may I know You as the only selfless one. Daily remind me to do Your will, to build the church. And thank You for making me with a soul to enjoy You!”


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