Karma and Sin Contrasted


03/04/11
edited by Luke Wayne

Karma

The Sanskrit word “karma” basically means “to do or act.”  The law of karma is more than merely the idea that one reaps what one sows.  It teaches that every thought or deed, whether they are good or bad, will have consequences that will determine how an individual will be reborn in another life and what will happen in their next incarnation on earth.  So a person who acts violently, for example, could be born many different times into lower castes of humans or even into lower forms of animals and may fall victim to violence himself during those lives as a result of his previous violent life.  In many forms of Hinduism, the person cannot escape the cycle of rebirths until they are reborn into the Brahmin or priestly caste.  In this way, karma and reincarnation are deeply intertwined.  With the appropriate effort, individuals can attain their own salvation (or liberation), which is their release from the cycle of birth and rebirth,1 though that liberation may take many lifetimes to attain.

Biblical Response

Some might say that karma is part of Christianity because of Galatians 6:7:

“Do not be deceived, God is not mocked; for whatever a man sows, this he will also reap.” 

Even though the scriptures teach us that we will reap what we will sow, karma and Christianity are not compatible.  We must remember that Galatians 6:7 is talking about this lifetime, not the afterlife.  Karma and the biblical idea of reaping what you sow are not the same.  The Bible teaches that after this one life we will come to the judgment.  Hebrews 9:27 says:

“And inasmuch as it is appointed for men to die once and after this comes judgment.” 

We need to understand what sin is.  I John 3:4 says:

“Everyone who practices sin also practices lawlessness; and sin is lawlessness.” 

Sin is the breaking of the law of God.   How do you know if you have sinned?  Let's take a few simple examples. Have you ever told a lie?  Have you ever stolen anything?  Have you ever hated anyone? Have you ever sexually lusted after a person to whom you are not married? If you answered yes to any of these questions, then you are a sinner.  God's law forbids such things, so you are guilty of breaking the law of God.  Isaiah 59:2 teaches us that sin separates us from God. It states:

“But your iniquities have made a separation between you and your God.  And your sins have hidden His face from you so that He does not hear.” 

Sin also brings death to all people.  Romans 5:12 says:

“Therefore, just as through one man sin entered into the world, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men, because all sinned.” 

Romans 6:23 says:

“For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

Similarities and Differences between Karma and Sin

  1. Similarities:
    1. Both involve moral choices.
    2. Both affirm a relationship between our actions and the results they produce in our present lives.
       
  2. Differences
    1. Karma (Hindu Concept): Karma does not affect one’s relationship with Brahman, which is the essence of existence within all things.  Whether one’s karma is good or bad makes no difference to the fact that we are extensions of the very Being of Brahman. Sin (Christian Concept): Sin profoundly affects our relationship with God in that we become alienated from Him.  One of the attributes of God is absolute moral holiness, and our sin reveals an attitude of rebellion against His authority.
    2. The law of karma, which makes morality like a law of nature, does not allow for the possibility of forgiveness.  Its consequences are inevitable and inescapable. Because God is personal, and because persons can forgive, God can forgive us of our sins.  Moreover, He has done so through Jesus Christ.2
  • 1. Kenneth Shouler, Ph.D. and Susai Anthony, The Everything Hinduism Book, F&W Media, Inc.; Avon, MA; 2009; page 58.
  • 2. Dean C. Halverson, The Illustrated Guide to World Religions, Hinduism, Lion Hudson plc., 2003, page 90.  These similarities and differences are taken from this book.