God’s plan is to unite all things, things in heaven and earth, under the banner of Christ (Eph 1:11). If this is the case, then it must be that one of the Devil’s greatest objectives is to produce division.
That is why so many of Paul’s writings have the aim of unity. Galatians, Corinthians, Ephesians, Philippians, and Romans all revolve around themes of unity, specifically in regards to the Jew-Gentile issue.
Readers should rightly wonder how Paul can pair “living” with “sacrifices.” It is because his theology (orthodoxy) instructs him that life only comes not by avoiding death, but by pressing into it.
But what are Christians to die to? They are to die to their worldly ways of strife, malice, and deceit. They are to put to death what is earthly in them, what is in conformity with this world. Gentiles were not to have arrogance over the Jews (Rom 11:18), the strong were not to despise the weak, and neither were they to pass judgment on one another. They were to pursue what makes for peace and mutual growth (Rom 14:19).
They are to put to death high thoughts of themselves (Rom 12:3), and practice unity amongst themselves (Rom 12:4–8). They are to most fundamentally love one another (Rom 12:9), bless those who persecute them (Rom 12:14), live in harmony with one another (Rom 12:16), repay no one evil for evil, live peaceably with all (Rom 12:18), and not take vengeance (Rom 12:19). Paul closes the letter to the Romans by warning them against people who cause divisions among them (Rom 16:17).
Readers should notice that this list is the flip side of the jealousy, strife, malice, and deceit that characterized those who were outside of Christ in Romans 1–3.
Paul instructs both Jews and Gentiles that the way to life is by looking to the Savior and imitating him in his death. There is little talk of rights and of what is owed to people. Rather, Paul instructs Jews and Gentiles that the only way to peace is by faith in the crucified Messiah and a life that embodies his actions.
When Paul thought of the division that existed in Rome between Jews and Gentiles, his mind ran to the cross of Christ and the new life that it provides. In Romans, he argues that the solution to strife and malice is a double-death: the death of Christ and our own death. In the same way, Jesus followers of today are to embody this message to the world. They are to be the aroma of death to the world so that people can find true life through looking to the death of the Savior of the world.