“I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect” (Romans 12:1-2).
In writing to the Roman church, Paul addresses a divided congregation – a division (mostly along ethnic lines) which has led to a misunderstanding of faith. You see the division in the last chapter of the book where Paul mentions several “house churches.” It’s usually assumed the Roman Church was composed of a number of congregations – which it was, but the real question is why? Perhaps there was no one venue big enough to hold them all, but that’s just an assumption. Deep seated division, I think, is the better answer. Sixteen times in that chapter Paul commands them to “greet” one another. Why do that unless he is wanting to draw them all closer together?
But to our text passage:
Paul urges them to present themselves as a living sacrifice. We usually read that to mean “you each present your life as a living sacrifice to God,” but that’s not what Paul says. If he’d meant that, he would have written “present your bodies as living sacrifices” (plural). But he doesn’t. They all, together, as a united body, were to present themselves as one living sacrifice (singular) to God. The point is driven home in the next sentence where Paul urges them to transform their “mind” (not “minds”). The thinking (and action) of the church was to be united in its singular devotion to God and one another, and only this united body could possibly be a holy and acceptable offering to God.
In verses three and following Paul goes on to write about what this unity looks like, and when he does, he addresses the members individually (note “I say to every one of you”). Why? Because a united church can only exist when individuals behave in a united way.