Timeless – Wisdom in Karma

At Gateway Church in Austin, we continued our series called “Timeless.”

Things aren’t always as simple as black and white. So how do we navigate the gray? In our series Timeless, we explore wisdom in a nuanced world. Drawing inspiration from popular sayings and proverbs worldwide, each message aligns them with Biblical wisdom. Maneuvering life’s complexities, we want to bridge the gap between human insight and the guidance that God’s Word and His Spirit offers us.

Digging Deeper:

Work through the following questions and scriptures on your own, and get together with your running partner, life group, or friends and family to talk through what you are learning.

Discussion Questions

Message Video:

Message Audio:

Message Notes:

We’ve all felt the reality of the proverb: “What goes around comes around.”  Or you reap what you sow. 

But our prevailing Cultural Proverb is the opposite and much louder, “Do what feels right for you, today—live for today—do it your own way.”  But is this wise? Or in fact foolish? Is it wise to not consider “What are the long-term effects of my decisions?”  Maybe you’ve felt this in school when you cheated, then got caught, and you paid the consequences. Or maybe you stole something because others were too, and you wanted that thing so badly, but you got caught. Or maybe started getting high, because “Everyone’s doing it” only you couldn’t stop—the alcohol, the drugs, were addictive, and you felt the consequences of enslavement to them. Or maybe you were promiscuous and got pregnant, or you got someone pregnant—you couldn’t believe it—why would God do this to you?  You never thought your actions would have consequences like they did.  Or you “shaved the truth” at work, and you got fired.  Everyone was doing it, why did God punish you? Maybe you ‘suddenly’ found yourself with more monthly debt payments than you had income to cover, but you never thought about the long-term consequences when that living room set was on “sale.” You can probably think of your own scenario of reaping and sowing, we all can, and my gasoline mistake was not my only or my worst.

When we feel the consequences of our actions, we sometimes blame God.  Or we assume God is punishing us, but the truth is God has put laws in motion—physical laws like the law of Gravity, cannot be ignored without consequences. And Spiritual laws like the law of Karma, or sowing and reaping cannot be ignored without consequences. But God has given us wisdom to guide us because He loves us.  And you see God’s moral laws in every culture.  Romans 2 says this: 

“Even when Gentiles, who do not have God’s written law, instinctively follow what the law says, they show that in their hearts they know right from wrong. They demonstrate that God’s law is written within them.”  Romans 2:14-15 

In all of the major World Religions, we see evidence of this similar Moral Law that God has written in our hearts and that comes out in our Religions. 

C.S. Lewis, Oxford literary scholar, gives a summary of what they all say Morally:  The Moral Law: 

  1. Don’t do harm to another human by what you do or say (the Golden Rule)
  2. Honor your father and mother
  3. Be kind toward brothers and sisters, children, and the elderly
  4. Do not have sex with someone other than your spouse
  5. Be honest in all your dealings (don’t steal)
  6. Do not lie
  7. Care for those weaker or less fortunate
  8. Dying to self is the path to life

–adapted from C.S. Lewis, The Abolition of Man

There’s some variation, the Buddhist 8-fold path is even more morally rigorous—The 10 commandments add the first command—to put God first and not let anything else become an idol around which you order your life. But all Religions pretty much agree on these moral laws.  And in most, you find the law of Karma, or sowing and reaping, or “What goes around comes around.”

Since people throw around the word Karma, I want to take a minute to explain what it is and isn’t, and how that relates to the Bible and God’s moral law. Like Taylor Swift came out with a song this year, called Karma, pretty confusing–she sings, ‘Cause Karma is my boyfriend, Karma is a god, Karma is the breeze in my hair on the weekend, Karma’s a relaxing thought, Aren’t you envious that for you it’s not? Karma is your checks ’bout to bounce, Karma is the fire in your house.” No mercy—wow! Somebody feels good about herself. I guess Kelce is her well-deserved karma. But Karma is not a god, Karma is just the consequences of your actions—like “If you date Taylor Swift, your consequence is to get more camera time in the Superbowl than the MVP quarterback, Patrick Mahomes.” Did you notice that? You’d think the MVP was Travis Kelce or Taylor herself from all the air time the couple got.

So let’s clear up some confusion, what is Karma? Karma is a Hindu idea originally. Karma is a Sanskrit word which literally means “action.” Generally speaking, karma is considered to be a force that promotes cycles of positivity or negativity. In other words, positive thoughts, words, and actions are rewarded by positive consequences, and negative thoughts, words, and actions are followed by negative consequences. In this most basic form, it is an example of God’s Moral Law written in our hearts, coming out in our Relgious/Moral codes. But there are many variations and distortions of this basic Law.

In it’s basic form, it’s what the Bible teaches:  The Wisdom of Proverbs says:

“If you set a trap for others, you will get caught in it yourself. If you roll a boulder down on others, it will crush you instead.” Proverbs 26:27

Now, as we’ve been saying, with wisdom of proverbs is generally true. Is it always true that if do something terrible to someone, you’ll feel the consequences—not immediately—some people get away with murder—literally.  But not forever. In the New Testament:

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

This is called the The Law of Sowing and Reaping. 

It’s God telling us of his moral law that if we ignore God’s will and ways, his moral laws, we should not be surprised if we feel the negative consequences. And as we’ve been saying, this wisdom is generally true. If you plant goodness and kindness toward others, generally you’ll reap goodness and kindness back.  If you plant honesty in your relationships, you’ll reap trust and loyalty back.  It’s generally true, not always. In our lost, broken world, sometimes evil people plant extortion and corruption and get rich off it—it appears like they’ll get away with it.  But not forever.  Jesus said, we will all give a personal account to God. And we will be rewarded, he said, for the good done to please God.

And on the positive side, Jesus reiterated the Law of Love as a positive command: 

So in everything, do to others what you would have them do to you, for this sums up the Law and the Prophets. Matthew 7:12.  

If you do this—you are fulfilling the point of all other moral laws—this is what love does.  So this basic idea in Eastern Culture of Karma is an example of the general moral law of Sowing and Reaping that the Bible talks about.

But Karma is not a god, even if Taylor says so, and Karma can be a brutal doctrine to live out if you’re honest with yourself.  And here is where the Eastern idea of Karma gets tied to another doctrine that is not aligned with the Bible:

The Sanskrit term Samsara – cycle of death and rebirth. It’s the idea of the transmigration of the soul, or reincarnation, from one life to the next. 

And tied to Karma, it means you’ll either pay for the bad or be rewarded for the good in this life by what you experience in the next life.  If you think about it, Samsara is a brutal god to live under. We all make mistakes, sin, have issues, suffer—yet if this is true, you deserve it all—it’s a consequence of your past lives that you can’t remember.  So if you can’t remember, how can you improve?  And if we’ve been cycling through 1000s of lives, I don’t see many people evolving toward no bad Karma very quickly.  Plus, if you really believe this, then the impoverished, the diseased, the starving—they deserve what they’re suffering, so don’t help them—they have to work off their bad Karma. 

You may think that’s a harsh overstatement, but my good friend Jaya who we helped build a hospital with, adopted two girls who survived a car crash in which both their parents were killed. No one would take in these two baby girls because they obviously had bad Karma that would follow them.  Jaya and Lakshmi adopted and raised them because they came to faith in Jesus, and he taught to love and serve the least, the lost, the marginalized and forgotten. Interestingly, Jaya came to faith after reading the Vedas—the oldest Hindu scriptures—which did not talk about Samsara or reincarnation, that came much later in Hinduism, near the time of Jesus birth. But Jaya was seeking, and read about the God of Light who would come as the Purush Prajapati, a man who would die to take away the affects of Karma. Jaya kept seeking this God of Light, and in a vision, he saw a brilliant God of Light who revealed himself as Jesus.  Jaya passed away earlier this year—He didn’t have to pay for his Karma, Jesus paid for him—and all his good works, Jesus will reward.

And that’s the big difference with what the Bible teaches about what Jesus did for all humanity.  Most moral and religious law says “If your good works outweigh your bad deeds, you’ll go to Heaven, or reach Nirvana, or Enlightenment.”  But there’s a problem with that. IMAGINE if my I gave you a giant bowl, And for every good deed you crack a good egg and put it in the bowl.  You showed compassion to a Jr. High outcast, good job, one good egg.  You showed kindness to your sister rather than smacking her in the face, another good egg.  You gave at money to help people, crack one more.  And over your short life, you probably have quite a few good eggs in that bowl.  

But, now let’s say you’re handed a box of stinking, rotten eggs to put in for every wrong done so far (some of us might need a whole truckload?).  So when you told that first lie, one smelly egg goes in the bowl.  You berated a kid in Jr. High, crack a brown one.  You cheated on your income tax, put one in.  If every time you lied, cheated, stole, hurt another person, or generally fell short of God’s moral standard, you had to put in a stinking, rotten egg.  How would your bowl smell?  I can tell you what mine would smell like – not pretty.

Now, we all know this is the state of things – we all do good, and we all do wrong. And our solution to the rotten egg problem is to add more good eggs to the bowl – right?  But how many good eggs do you have to add to get rid of the smell?  You can’t.  And here’s the point.  God says, relationship with Me is not based on Sowing and Reaping—it’s a gift.

God saved you by his grace when you believed. And you can’t take credit for this; it is a gift from God. Salvation is not a reward for the good things we have done, so none of us can boast about it. 10 For we are God’s masterpiece. He has created us anew in Christ Jesus, so we can do the good things he planned for us long ago. – Ephesians 2:8-10

Saved means “set right with God.” It comes from trusting what God says he did through Jesus to pay for your wrongs. Notice—it’s not based on your good deeds at all, it’s a gift from God. You either receive it, or reject it.

  God loves you.  And he wants intimacy with you.  And he wants to help you become all he made you to be. So he says, “If you’ll let me, I’ll remove all the rotten eggs – I’ll pay the price to have them removed from your life, past, present even future ones.  And then you and I can be together from now until forever – and as you follow my Spirit, I’ll help you grow to do the many good deeds I created you to do. 

There’s a reality to Karma (not reincarnation), but the Law of Sowing and Reaping, you can’t mock God saying “I can do what I want, and there won’t be consequences”—even when we are forgiven by God, right related to God forever, there’s still the Law of Sowing and Reaping.  But it is not God doing it to you, it’s you doing it to yourself. God warns us not to ignore the law of Sowing and Reaping. You may be saved, but sleep around, get pregnant—God didn’t do that, you did. Cut ethical corners, or blow up at someone, get fired—don’t blame God. Sowing and Reaping is real. But God is merciful, and that’s not the end of the story. Here’s how it goes on in the NLT version:  

Don’t be misled—you cannot mock the justice of God. You will always harvest what you plant. Those who live only to satisfy their own sinful nature will harvest decay and death from that sinful nature. But those who live to please the Spirit will harvest everlasting life from the Spirit. So let’s not get tired of doing what is good. At just the right time we will reap a harvest of blessing if we don’t give up. 10 Therefore, whenever we have the opportunity, we should do good to everyone—especially to those in the family of faith.  Galatians 6:7-10

Have you accepted God’s gift of salvation from your bad Karma, your sins, your “doing things your way” and all the rotten eggs of your life?  If not, just tell him today “I want this gift of relationship with You—I want what Jesus did to count for me, forgive me and lead me.”  You can be confident that God will never leave you or forsake you, even when you fail at Sowing and Reaping.

WE:  And for those of us who have a relationship with God through Jesus, don’t ignore the law of Sowing and Reaping. That’s not wise. God won’t just pluck you from the fire if you keep playing with matches. But He will help you to survive it, stronger on the other side. If you’ve struggled with addictions, don’t keep sowing partying and hanging with the wrong crowd, reaping slavery and destroying your life—sow habits like joining our Heal Recovery group, learn to depend on God, and start to reap freedom.  If you are watching online, I want you to join me today for a Q&A online. Just register for Online Starting Gate. This is a way to help you connect to our community. If you’ve sown habits of credit card consumerism, don’t keep charging and reaping bankruptcy…sow by getting in our Financial Peace class, and with God’s strength, walk out a plan to get out of debt.  God’s Spirit wants to guide you, and we as a church can support each other, to sow good things, and reap a better life in due time.  What action can you sow today—to reap good in your future?

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