In Hindu and Buddhist teachings, karma is the cumulative effect of all of an individual’s actions and choices not just in their lifetime, but across many lifetimes. A person’s karma, they teach, impacts the station into which they are born in the next life. And karma can only be broken by achieving enlightenment, usually by meriting (earning) enough good karma.
Is Karma in Christianity?
The teachings of karmic theory are not compatible with Christian teachings. Let’s examine two key components, reincarnation and enlightenment, more closely:
Christianity and Reincarnation
Scripture teaches that each of us is given only one life to live, and one judgment when our life is over. Jesus described this judgment as a time when “All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate the people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats.” (Matthew 25:32). And after pronouncing His verdict on each one, “they [the unrighteous] will go away to eternal punishment, but the righteous to eternal life” (v 46).
There is no return for a subsequent try after life ends. Consider also what the Bible says about the beginning of life:
The Psalmist further expounds on God’s intentionality in our formation:
- For you created my inmost being
- You knit me together in my mother’s womb
- I am fearfully and wonderfully made
- I was made in the secret place
- I was woven together in the depths of the earth
- Your eyes saw my unformed body
And while Jesus famously spoke of becoming ‘born again’, a plain reading of the context of his statement shows that he was speaking of a spiritual rebirth, and not a second physical rebirth. When Nicodemus asked him how he could be (physically) born a second time, Jesus answered him saying “Very truly I tell you, no one can enter the kingdom of God unless they are born of water and the Spirit. Flesh gives birth to flesh, but the Spirit gives birth to spirit.” (John 3:5-6).
Christianity and Enlightenment
Karmic philosophies teach that individuals accumulate good karma through good acts, and remove bad karma by suffering penance for previous bad acts until an individual accumulates enough good karma to achieve enlightenment.
But the Bible does not teach that we overcome bad karma with penance, and it also does not provide a means by which we may achieve enlightenment (salvation) by our own merits.
Even the best of human righteousness leaves us utterly filthy before God. Paul underscores this point by adding that ‘there is none righteous, no not one’ (Romans 3:10).
It is precisely because we are unable to redeem ourselves that Christ suffered and died. And this, He did for us, while we were still stuck in the filth of sin:
Under karmic theory, Jesus’ sacrifice would not only have been unnecessary, but it would have been pointless. But as Christians, we understand that the blood of Jesus is the only way to be saved.
Does the Bible Describe Karmic Relationships?
While the Bible teaches that all of us are born with a sin nature, it does not teach that we are born into suffering because of past sins.
Jesus made this clear in John chapter 9 when he and his disciples encountered a man who had been born blind. The disciples asked if it was his sin (even though he had been blind since birth) or his parents’ sin that caused his blindness (v 2).
Jesus answered saying that the man’s blindness was not caused by anyone’s sin, but that it ‘happened so that the work of God might be displayed in his life’ (v 3). That work, subsequently, was Jesus’ miraculous gift of sight.
So does the idea of ‘karma’ have any value at all to Christians? Karma speaks of cause and effect on a grand, cosmic scale that spans multiple lifetimes. The Bible also addresses cause and effect, but in much more proximate terms, related either to near-term natural consequences or to the impact our actions and choices have on our capacity to live in God’s grace:
- The evil deeds of the wicked ensnare them; the cords of their sins hold them fast. Proverbs 5:22
- For with the measure you use, it will be measured to you. Luke 6:38
- 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
Is Karma a Sin?
To embrace the teaching of karma, reincarnation, and enlightenment is to reject the grace of God freely given to us through Jesus. Scripture cautions us to avoid teachings that contradict the truth of the Gospel:
Such teachings turn us away from God, which is the very definition of sin. And we overcome sin not by our own merits, but by trusting in the One who raised us to new life in Him, not by our works, but by His grace.