Karma is a word that is thrown around casually in conversation these days. And, it finds its way into Facebook Theology. You know, those “cute” sayings posted by people on Facebook. At first, they seem “true enough” to sound okay but are really not true. And not okay. And can lead to some really bad conclusions.
Last year, I saw two colorful, eye-catching graphics telling me to pursue positive karma. One said, “Tips for improving good karma.” The other said, “Create positive karma now!” These were shared by Christians.
I thought to myself: do they really know what karma means? Do I? Does karma have any place in a Christian’s life? Or, is it an infection?
Does karma have any place in a Christian’s life?
To answer that question, I needed to know more about “karma.” I discovered that “karma comes from the Buddhist and Hindu religions. It is the idea that how you live this life will determine the quality of life you will have after reincarnation. Reincarnation means after death your soul is reborn into a new body—whether it is human or animal is based upon what kind of life you lived. Basically, karma teaches you get what you deserve.
Now, I know that the concept of reincarnation is opposite of what the Bible teaches. In Hebrews 9:27, we learn that everyone dies once then comes the judgment. For believers, we receive salvation and then get a new body but remain the same person. No reincarnation. Everyone gets one shot at life and living it according to God’s plan. That’s it.
Although karma is an eastern religious concept, the idea of karma has seeped into our western Judeo-Christian society like it’s something cool. The western understanding of karma is the idea of cause and effect where whatever you do is returned to you. Karma teaches that you get what you deserve. So, Westerners hold onto this when it comes to wanting revenge on someone who has wronged us. When embraced by Christians, even casually, karma is an infection in our thinking about our life in Christ.
So, let’s look at this idea of getting what you deserve. What does the Bible say about that?
What does the Bible teach about getting what you deserve?
In Galatians chapter 6, there is a general principle about sowing and reaping. The context is your moral and spiritual life. In general, when you choose to live apart from Christ, your life will get messed up. Not hard to figure that out.
However, there is not a one-to-one correlation between doing something good or bad and getting the exact good or bad reward for it. You can be as nice as possible to all your family members and yet have everyone still dislike you or be mean to you. None of us can judge what happens to us by whether we deserve it or not. In God’s eyes, we all are sinners from our first breath to the last and deserve judgment and nothing good from God. Thankfully, God chooses to give us His mercy. Mercy is not getting what you deserve. Instead of judgment and punishment, God offers us His grace instead.
The Bible teaches grace, not karma.
The New Testament clearly teaches that you cannot earn your salvation through any good works. The Bible teaches that you can’t lose it through bad works once you are saved. There are no scales. God took them away. Our lives are based on God’s grace toward us and whether or not we accept it.
Ephesians chapter 2 verses 8 and 9 state it very plainly,
“For by grace you are saved through faith, and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God; it is not from works, so that no one can boast.”
Grace is undeserved favor. It is a gift from God that you don't deserve. You can never deserve it. God extends His mercy to you because of His great love for you. That’s the grace. The gift. He desires you to have it. As you can see, it is very different from karma. More like polar opposites.
We deserve judgment — every one of us — but we get the very life of God instead by just our faith in Christ. And, zillions of wonderful blessings come to us by that one act alone! We just might have to wait to receive some of them until later.
Karma dethrones Christ and our life in Him.
Looking at Colossians chapter 3, we see many reasons why karma is an infection.
Verse 1 says that you’ve been raised with Christ. In God’s eyes, you are seated with Christ at God’s right hand.
Verse 2 says that you’ve already died and your life is now hidden with Christ in God. Nothing is better than that. It is a guarantee.
And, verse 4 reminds you that Christ is your life. Not luck. Not karma. Not what others do to you. Not even your own behavior can change that.
Verse 10 says that you have a new self that is being renewed to look just like Jesus. God’s doing that in you. Not karma.
I recommend that you delete that word “karma” from your vocabulary. Please choose to never use it regarding yourself again. Or, regarding anyone else. There is one and only one act in this life that guarantees anyone’s destiny after death. Either placing your faith in Jesus Christ or rejecting Him. It’s all about Christ. That’s plainly stated in John 3:16-18 and John 5:24. You can go and read those and see that there’s no doubt about it. Done deal. And, even this is pure grace.
Grace leads to justice, not the revenge of karma
Remember I said that the western understanding of karma is the idea of cause and effect where you get what you deserve. Westerners especially hold onto this when it comes to wanting revenge on someone who has wronged us. Revenge and justice get confused here.
Revenge has no place in the gospel or in a Christian’s life. God will take care of justly punishing those who have rejected Him. Romans 12:17-20 tell us not to repay anyone evil for evil. Do not take revenge, but leave from for God to repay evil. And, He will do it. Justice will be done. Whether in this life through the legal system or after death.
But, for now, Jesus calls us as individual believers to respond differently. Instead of meeting evil with equal or greater force, he urges us to meet evil with a completely different force: with good. Instead of paying back in kind, we are called to pay back with kindness. That’s in Romans chapter 12 verse 21. You can go check it out.
What is the kindest thing you can do for someone who has wronged you? Pray for their salvation, right? Pray for them to experience God’s amazing grace, right? Not look to “karma” to make things right.
Recognize that a belief in karma can certainly cause fear in someone's life or lead to a hard heart towards others. So, when you know someone is caught up in the belief in karma, you need to have a graceful response ready to point her to the truth. You can simply say, “I am so glad that God doesn’t give me what I deserve. I deserve severe judgment for my sin and nothing good at all in light of His goodness. I am so grateful for His grace to me that expresses His kindness to me because of His love for me. It’s a much better way to live than to live in fear that I am not good enough or to live in bitterness against those who have mistreated me.” That is recognizing Jesus Christ as Lord.
Grace = YES! Karma = NO!
As Paul writes in Colossians,
"See to it that no one takes you captive through hollow and deceptive philosophy, which depends on human tradition and the elemental spiritual forces of this world rather than on Christ."
Does karma have anything to do with a Christian’s life? Absolutely not! Grace and karma are like oil and water. They don’t mix. By spreading the karma infection, you actually draw people away from Jesus and His amazing grace and toward something that poorly substitutes for Him. Remember, grace Yes! Karma No! Delete the karma infection from your words and thinking.
For additional study and reading: