It seems like everybody’s talking about Karma these days.
Our words matter. Our beliefs matter. God wants us to think before we speak.
If you are a Christian, before you casually use this term again, please consider the following:
- Karma is a Hindu concept. There’s no such thing as karma in the Christian Scriptures (the Bible). There’s nothing equivalent to karma in Christianity.
In Hinduism, karma is the law of moral action which controls reincarnation, which is itself, a distinctly non-Christian concept. Your sin is going to get you, either in this life or in your next reincarnation. Whether you are reincarnated as a billionaire or a bug is all about your karma. The only thing you can do about your bad karma is to try to overwhelm it with good karma, earned through good deeds.
It’s actually very similar to the scale analogy in which your good deeds need to outweigh your bad deeds, a prospect which seems attainable to many nice people.
If you agree with these teachings, your theology is not Christian. If you don’t profess to be a Christian, you should feel free to talk about your (or your mother-in-law’s) karma.
- In pop culture – you could call it “social media theology” or “the gospel according to Facebook” – karma retains its “works” emphasis, but has no connection to reincarnation. You’ll get what you deserve in this life, sooner or later. If I love people, people (not necessarily the same ones) will love me. If I’m generous, others will be generous with me.
There are a couple of big problems with this idea: First of all, there’s no authority for it. God hasn’t promised this, even though there are Bible verses which can be ripped out of their context to support such an idea. But the Bible is such a big book (mine is 1,700 pages) that its words – interpreted without integrity – can be used to support anything.
Besides that, this just doesn’t play out in the real world. There are people who live immoral lives in wealth and ease and “die easy” (see Psalm 73). There are also good people who endure tough lives and difficult departures from this world (see Luke 16:19-31).
- While karma is mythical, the law of sin and death is not (Romans 8:2). The (Biblical) law of sin and death says that because God is holy and God’s standard is His own holiness, all sinners are in big trouble – and that would include all of us (Romans 3:19-23). To understand the Christian gospel (good news) we must begin with the bad news that “all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23).
In the Bible, no reservoir full of good works can compensate for bad works because God’s standard is His own perfection. Besides that, even our best works are done with unclean hands and unclean hearts (Jeremiah 17:9; Isaiah 64:6).
- Grace delivers believers in Jesus from the law of sin and death (Romans 8:4). Without the substitutionary death of Christ (HE died and suffered hell on the cross in MY place), there would be no hope for any of us. It’s not an endless round of reincarnation that we need to fear, but judgment (Hebrews 9:27) by a God whose standard is the sinless life of Christ.
Returning to the point at which we began, here are some ways that this matters every day. (1) There is nothing I can do to earn “good karma.” (2) There is nothing I have to do to earn “good karma.” I have been given – I repeat, given – the favor which Christ, not I, deserves. I have no reason to pat myself on the back in human pride and I have no need to either. Christians who understand these things live every day in gratitude, never in self-righteous pride. (3) The “bad people” we see earning “bad karma” are no more worthy of God’s wrath than we are and no less deserving of God’s grace than we are. Jesus saw the crowds as sheep without a shepherd (Matthew 9:26), not scumbags earning bad karma.
- For forgiven Christians, none of this means that our lives don’t matter. RC Sproul loved to say that “Right now counts forever.” He was right. Every day we have on this earth after receiving the grace of God, is an opportunity to do something the Bible calls “ministry,” work that works for eternity. Doing ministry is the incredible privilege of every Christian to impact eternity. Not time: eternity!
If you are a forgiven person, God didn’t extend His grace to you so that you could build a beautiful retirement home in which to hide from those who are busy creating “bad karma.” This life – every day we are granted – is an opportunity to glorify God (Ephesians 1:1-6), be thankful and joyful (I Thessalonians 5:16-18), bear fruit (John 15:1-17), be ambassadors for Christ (II Corinthians 5:14-21), make disciples of Jesus (Matthew 28:18-20) and build churches (I Corinthians 3:9-15).
All of this is made joyful by the Spirit of God who empowers it (Galatians 5:22,23) and makes our efforts eternally useful (II Corinthians 3). Ironically, our work will be rewarded – by sheer, amazing grace – at a place of evaluation called the Judgment Seat of Christ (I Corinthians 3:1-4:5, II Corinthians 5:10, Romans 14:9-12).