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 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.
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).
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
- Q&A: Do parts of the Bible teach works righteousness?
- Q&A: How can I overcome my struggle with lust and pornography?
- Q&A: How should I help my child struggling with same-sex attraction?
- Q&A: Should Christians pray to saints?
- Q&A: Is anger sinful?
- Q&A: How can parents encourage adult children who wander from the faith?
- Q&A: Does the doxology belong in the Lord’s Prayer?
- Q&A: Is God fair?
- Q&A: When we pray, “Your kingdom come,” what are we praying for?
- Q&A: How can I better manage what God has given me this year so that I glorify him?
- Q&A: What are ways to glorify God besides singing in church?
- Q&A: I have no special gifts, and I mess up all the time. Does God really need me?
- Q&A: How do I overcome the feeling that my life has no purpose and I don’t make a difference?
- Q&A: My friend died and was not a professing Christian. What do I say to the family?
- Q&A: How can my mother and I forgive my father for being unfaithful and causing my parents to divorce?
- Q&A: Why were demon possession, gifts of healing, and gifts of tongues more prevalent in biblical times?
- Q&A: Is Christianity the only religion that gives the certainty of heaven?
- Q&A: If people go to hell, isn’t it their fault because God gave them free will and they rejected him?
- Q&A: Why are the 40 days between Jesus’ resurrection and his ascension important for the disciples and for us?
- Q&A: Can you explain Jesus’ words to the wailing women he met on his way to be crucified?
- Q&A: What if spouses don’t “love” each other anymore?
- Q&A: Is it wrong to have a cross with Jesus’ body on it?
- Q&A: Is our time of grace really unchangeable?
- Q&A: I know that we are saved by grace apart from works, but how can it be that easy?
- Q&A: Are there degrees of glory in heaven as a reward for good works?
- Q&A: Do Lutherans take the Bible literally and teach millennialism?
- Q&A: Are there different interpretations of the Bible?
- Q&A: How can we be sure the Bible includes what God originally gave us?
- Q&A: Why does it seem like Christianity is so negative?
- Q&A: How can I explain how Jesus’ resurrection is possible and if the Bible is reliable?
- Q&A: Is it okay to live together if we are planning to get married?
- Q&A: How is the Bible God’s Word?
- Q&A: Were we “created to make a difference”?
- Q&A: Am I being judgmental if I point out someone’s sin?
- Q&A: Do I need to read the Bible to have a relationship with God?
- Q&A: Can a Christian vote for a political candidate who supports abortion?
- Q&A: Does God really care?
- Q&A: Does it really matter how God made the world?
- Q&A: Does God send people to hell?
- Q&A: Is death natural?
- Q&A: How can I forgive and forget?
- Q&A: Does God help those who help themselves?
- Q&A: How can we say that the Old Testament God is the same as the New Testament God?
- Q&A: Is Jesus the only way to get to heaven?
- Q&A: Doesn’t God want me to be happy?
- Light for our path: Does God hate us?
- Light for our path: What kind of comfort can you give someone when a loved one commits suicide?
- Light for our path: What does a submissive wife in a Christian marriage look like?
- Light for our path: Is it a sin to want to die from a terminal illness?
- Light for our path: What advice can you give about applauding in church?
- Light for our path: Can you please explain Matthew 5:20?
- Light for our path: What is karma?
- Light for our path: Can the devil personally be tempting me and a lot of other people at exactly the same time?
- Light for our path: Does the word Easter refer to Ishtar, the Babylonian fertility goddess?
- Light for our path: What role does emotion play in contrition?
- Light for our path: What does the white stone in Revelation 2:17 mean?
- Light for our path: Is the cross symbol now anti-Christian?
- Light for our path: Were Joseph and Mary engaged or married when Joseph learned of Mary’s pregnancy?