The Picture of Sin
The saying goes that life imitates art, though it can rather be debated that art is more created as an imitation of life. It is not difficult to see that what is created as art often mirrors or shadows what happens in reality, for good or ill. Human beings try to create their own forms of beauty through art, and sometimes they capture a reality that is worth deeper thought. Perhaps a controversial figure like Oscar Wilde serves as an example in which is found the irony of someone trying to create beauty, yet really shows just how ugly sin can get. Stay with me here because there is an important point we want to make.
Wilde wrote a story called The Picture of Dorian Gray. This story is about a portrait of Gray, a man who was conceited and proud of his own beauty. His desire to do whatever he wanted was so strong that he sold his soul to live a hedonistic lifestyle while being able to keep his outward beauty by transferring his wickedness to the portrait. When Gray would act out in terribly evil ways, instead of his personal beauty becoming damaged, the damage would be done to the painting. The portrait essentially became a visual catalog of the sins committed by Gray, and it grew horrifically ugly and disfigured while Gray personally remained unscathed. That could not last, of course, so by the end, Gray and his portrait are reversed so that Gray himself becomes terribly ugly and disfigured because of the evil life he lived. He could not keep up the evil indefinitely.
And neither can we. I have often thought about this story when thinking of the problem of sin and what sin does to us deep in our souls. It’s not an exact parallel, of course, but it should give us pause. What is the point of comparison?
We are made in God’s image (Gen 1:26-27). Sadly, we have all sinned and fall short of God’s glory (Rom 3:23), which results in our death (Rom 6:23). Our sins create in us an ugly mess, a picture, if you will, of evil that has stained us deep in our souls. Though in God’s image, we are marred and disfigured within. What would we look like if the damage done to us inwardly due to our sins were manifested outwardly? This is not a pretty thought. Yet, for now, outwardly, we continue on as though we are unscathed instead of reflecting the situation deep down. As Paul put it, without Christ people are walking “in the futility of their minds. They are darkened in their understanding, alienated from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in them, due to their hardness of heart. They have become callous and have given themselves up to sensuality, greedy to practice every kind of impurity” (Eph 4:17-19). If we really understood the damage we do to ourselves, would we continue on so arrogantly?
Now reflect upon what Jesus did. Jesus Christ, the exact imprint of the nature and image of God (Heb 1:3), came in the flesh and died because of the sins of humanity. “He himself bore our sins in his body…” (1 Pet 2:25). His perfection in the flesh was destroyed. As Isaiah says, “his appearance was so marred, beyond human semblance, and his form beyond that of the children of mankind” (Isa 52:14). To see Jesus on the cross is to see what sin does to the marvelous image of God. Jesus’ body was marred and cut, his visage shattered to become essentially unrecognizable. This is the perfection of God’s image marred deeply by the sins of the world—by my sin and yours. Jesus is the human portrait of what sins do to all of us.
Yet in his death and resurrection, Jesus defeated death and paved the pathway for remaking and reshaping the image of God in us. Now, in being reconciled to God through Christ, we may “be conformed to the image” of the Son of God (Rom 8:29). By taking the damage done by sin upon himself, we do not have to be like Dorian Gray at the end of that tragic story. Not at all. Instead, we rise up as new creatures, putting on Christ and being recreated in his image with all the beauty that this entails. “In these you too once walked, when you were living in them. But now you must put them all away: anger, wrath, malice, slander, and obscene talk from your mouth. Do not lie to one another, seeing that you have put off the old self with its practices 10 and have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge after the image of its creator” (Col 3:7-10).
By God’s grace we do not have to face the eternal consequences of what our sins have done, for “By his wounds you have been healed.”