Sowing & Reaping & Karma

“Karma’s gonna getcha.” Long before it became popular to joke about karma, the apostle Paul introduced us to the idea of “reaping what we sow.”

“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 (Galatians 6:7-9 NLT).”

It’s worth pointing out, right from the outset, that theres a subtle but crucial difference between “karma” and “reaping what you sow.”

In popular usage (as opposed to how studied Buddhists would understand it), “karma” sounds like an impersonal, outside force seeking to balance a scale of justice somewhere. Some people shake their heads and mutter something to the effect of: “Karma’s gonna getcha,” as if karma is a vengeful entity looking to slap people down if they don’t play nice. (But it’s okay if they get slapped down, because they deserved it.)

Ironically, those who invoke “karma’s gonna getcha” often take gleeful delight in seeing others get slapped down. Let’s hope karma doesn’t boomerang on them for getting a kick out of the suffering of others.

Reaping What You Sow (RWYS) isn’t the same thing. God’s not a vengeful entity on the lookout for reasons to slap people down and say, “See? You deserved that.” And if Christians gloat when someone gets “what they deserved,” karma may not apply, but conviction and repentance might.

RWYS is far more sobering than karma. The sin nature that we sow to is … their own. It’s not an outside force, exerting its nefarious will on the unsuspecting. Read Galatians again: “Those who sow to please their own sinful nature will harvest decay and death ...” RWYS isn’t retributive justice from outside or above — it’s more akin to the law of cause-and-effect.

For example, if we’re consistently dishonest in our dealings with others, we shouldn't be shocked when no one trusts us. If we treat people like garbage, it should come as no surprise to wake up one day and find ourselves friendless.

The other option is noticeably different: If we “sow to the Spirit,” we reap a harvest of good from the Spirit. In other words, contrary to the negative results of sowing to our sin nature, we can choose instead to sow — or “live to please the Spirit” — and reap a harvest of life from the Spirit.

There’s a subtle, profound, and earth-shattering difference between the two:

  • Live to please yourself, and youll reap decay and death (because our sin nature corrupts everything).
  • Live to please the Spirit, and youll reap life (because God is holy and incorruptible).

Therefore, Paul concludes, don’t get tired of doing the right thing (living to please the Spirit). There will be a harvest of everlasting life if we don’t give up (and retreat to the old ways of pleasing ourselves).

“Those who belong to Christ Jesus have nailed the passions and desires of their sinful nature to His cross and crucified them there. Since we are living by the Spirit, let us follow the Spirit’s leading in every part of our lives (Galatians 5:24-25 NLT).”

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