In a mansion in London, the infamous artist Basil Hallward meets Dorian Gray. Dorian is wealthy, and by society’s standards is immeasurably beautiful. Basil’s fascination with Dorian leads him to paint his Magnus opus of Dorian’s exact likeness.
However, Basil’s hedonistic friend, Lord Henry, takes Dorian under his wing and teaches him to value pleasure and good looks above all else. In a speech, Henry cruelly shares with Dorian that his most valuable asset, his beauty, would eventually fade, and lessen Dorian’s appeal to society.
In a fit of agony, Dorian curses his image for someday reminding him of his lost asset. He then pledges his soul to it and asks the picture to take on the aging process allowing him to remain handsome forever.
As a result, Lord Henry’s pleasure-seeking lifestyle draws Dorian deeper into self-indulgent pursuits. In the London slums, Dorian meets an attractive actress whose stage presence leads him to fall in love with her. Having experienced real love with Dorian, she leaves the stage to marry him. However, Dorian only loves her because of her acting and calls off the engagement. Sickened by the rejection, Sibyl Vane commits suicide.
Meanwhile, Dorian visits his painting and finds that the portrait of him now has a bizarre sneer on its face. Wanting to correct the masterpiece, Dorian attempts to reconcile with Sibyl but discovers that it is too late.
Throughout the months, Dorian realizes that the artwork of him continues to display the ugly fruition of his ill and immoral behaviors and he hides the canvas for no one to see.
After eighteen years, the artist, Basil confronts his friend about his appalling reputation. The two men argue, and Dorian finally shows him the once beautiful picture that has turned into a hideous monster.
Horrified, Basil begs Dorian to repent, but Dorian’s guilt and pride throw him into a fit of rage, and he kills Basil.
Dorian resolves to change, but he cannot bring himself to confess his sins, and his repentance is sheer hypocrisy. He then retrieves the same knife he used to kill Basil and aims to slash his disfigured painting. In a bizarre twist of fate, he plunges the knife into his own heart.
After hearing the commotion, the servants enter the room and find the artwork in its original state, and the dead Dorian, aged and disfigured.
Proverbs 27:19 says, “As in water face reflects face, so the heart of man reflects the man.” (ESV)
The Picture of Dorian Gray, by Oscar Wilde, is an excellent example of those who choose not to face their sin and is quick to absolve themselves of wrongdoing.
Today, most people don’t believe in the idea of sin or feel its concept is antiquated and used only by religious zealots who want to stop people from living their lives without restraint or consequences.
That is why most individuals walk away from the Bible, never own one, or quickly surmise that the book contains platitudes – based on no actual reading of the book’s content.
Romans 1:18-19 says, “But God shows his anger from heaven against all sinful, wicked people who suppress the truth by their wickedness. They know the truth about God because he has made it obvious to them.” (NLT)
Just like Dorian Gray, we know when we’ve done wrong. God has given all men the knowledge of sin, and righteousness. If not, we would not feel elated when we’ve done something right. Nonetheless, we choose to suppress that feeling of guilt so that we do not have to admit our culpability.
The original Greek describes the word “suppress” as holding down. Imagine a giant coil springing up whenever you sin, and instead of dealing with the consequences, you push it down or throw something substantial on it to keep it from bouncing back up. In so doing, you have suppressed the truth. And that’s what Dorian Gray did when he hid the portrait so no one would see his repulsive transformation.
However, like looking into a mirror, reading the Bible is to challenge who we are. It is a type of “manning up,” and bravely coming to terms with our wrongdoing. It is a “put on your big girl/boy pants” moment and humbly confronting our faults before a Holy God. Thus, most of us bypass reading the Bible because it becomes too painful to remind us of our errors.
Nonetheless, in so doing, we forget what we look like before God. He sees our soul, and it displays either beauty or a hideous figure. In James 1:23-24, it says, “For if anyone is a hearer of the word and not a doer, he is like a man who looks at his natural face in a mirror; for once he has looked at himself and gone away, he has immediately forgotten what kind of person he was.” (NASB)
In his commentary, James, Dr. John MacArthur says, “A person who looks at God’s Word, even if it is carefully and accurately done, and yet does not apply the truths he has discovered to his own life, is like someone who immediately forgets what he has just seen in a mirror – except that the consequences are immeasurably worse. He sees his sin portrayed for the horrible evil that it is and he also sees God’s gracious provision in Christ for a remedy, yet he goes on his way as if he were never exposed to those realities.”
Be brave, move your Bible into the light, and see your face in its reflection.