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Light for our path: What is karma?

What is karma? How is it different than “reaping what you sow”? Is it okay to use the term in conversation?

James F. Pope

We do hear that word karma frequently today, don’t we? From commercials to conversations, people speak of karma.Understanding the word better will guide our thoughts in using it.

Karma examined

Karma is the belief in Hinduism and Buddhism that people’s actions in this life determine what transpires in their next life, and the life after that, and every succeeding life. But the Bible does not teach reincarnation. The Bible, God’s only written revelation to the world, states that “people are destined to die once, and after that to face judgment” (Hebrews 9:27). Scripture teaches that once people have died and received judgment from God, that judgment is permanent (Luke 16:19-31).

Additionally, the Bible teaches that people cannot improve their standing with God by their works (Psalm 49:7,8; Ephesians 2:8,9; Titus 3:5-7). As Christians, we reject the concept of karma because it is intertwined with reincarnation and work-righteousness. Still, that concept might enter our conversations.

Karma compared

Imagine you and a friend are driving down the interstate. Suddenly, a car whizzes by you and almost cuts you off. “What’s with that driver?” your friend fumes. Five miles down the road you disengage your cruise control because of the flashing lights of a state trooper on the shoulder of the road. And the car directly ahead of the trooper’s is the one that swerved around you just a few minutes earlier. “Karma!” your friend exclaims excitedly. “What?” you say. Your friend explains, “You reap what you sow. The Bible says that. You drive crazy; you get a ticket.”

Did you and your friend just witness a Christian version of karma? Not at all. The Bible does warn: “Do not be deceived: God cannot be mocked. A man reaps what he sows. Whoever sows to please their flesh, from the flesh will reap destruction; whoever sows to please the Spirit, from the Spirit will reap eternal life” (Galatians 6:7,8). But those verses do not describe an instant “gotcha” approach on God’s part toward sinners. Those verses speak of the harvest people will reap on the Last Day. If people sowed “to please their flesh” by living only according to their sinful nature, they will reap destruction; they have ignored the one thing needful. If they sowed “to please the Spirit” as a follower of Jesus Christ, they will reap eternal life.

Jesus instructs us not to make connections between people’s misfortunes in life and their relationship with God (Luke 13:1-5). Rather than trying to make such connections, Jesus directs us to look at our own lives: “Unless you repent, you too will all perish” (Luke 13:5). With repentant hearts, we confess our sins to God. As Christians, we thank God that he “does not treat us as our sins deserve or repay us according to our iniquities” (Psalm 103:10).

Karma avoided

Personally, I avoid the word karma because I do not want to be confused with people who believe in reincarnation and work-righteousness. I also avoid the term because I do not want to mislead people on what the Bible teaches about sin, repentance, faith, God’s justice, and God’s forgiveness. Your concern for these matters will show itself by the words you use in everyday conversation. “Let your conversation be always full of grace” (Colossians 4:6).

Author: James F. Pope
Volume 106, Number 6
Issue: June 2019

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This entry is part 49 of 64 in the series question-answer

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