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Salvation and Reincarnation
I was recently asked the question “Why don’t I believe in reincarnation?” Quite simply, the biblical doctrine of salvation is incompatible with the teachings of reincarnation, they are mutually exclusive.
There are a variety of teachings of reincarnation, the idea of the spirit of the individual being physically reborn in another body, human or otherwise. Most of these teachings include some idea of a salvation or transcendence from the physical plain of existence. All of these teachings are a salvation by works, that is, we must have the proper conduct in our lives, the proper works, in order to escape reincarnation.
The New Testament of the Bible teaches that salvation is by God’s grace, through faith, apart from works. Salvation is once for all time. There is no evidence of reincarnation being considered in any of the teachings in the Bible, Old Testament or New.
One of the most well known parts of the Bible is John 3:16, “For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten son, that whosoever believeth in Him should not perish, but have everlasting life.” This is only part of conversation with the Pharisee Nicodemus. Nicodemus has come to Jesus for a further explanation of Jesus’ teachings. In reply to his inquiry Jesus says, “Except a man be born again he cannot see the kingdom of God.” John 3:3. Nicodemus responds with the question, “How can a man be born when he is old? Can he enter the second time into his mother’s womb and be born?” John 3:4. From this portion of the conversation some have suggested that Jesus believed in reincarnation, but they have ignored his reply in doing so.
Jesus replies “Except a man be born of water and of the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God.” Basically Jesus is saying no, a man cannot enter the womb a second time, something which is essential in all teachings of reincarnation. Jesus is saying that being born again is a spiritual rather than physical effort. The chapter ends with the statement, “He that believeth on the Son hath everlasting life: and he that believeth not the Son shall not see life; but the wrath of God abideth on him.” John 3:36
The passage provides a clear either or statement about salvation and condemnation, you are in either one or the other. There is no indication that there is a perpetual round of existences in which to get it right.
It is in this idea of the difference between works and grace that the great distinction between reincarnation and Biblical salvation is to be found. That we should find in Romans 3:23 the statement “For all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God;” does not distinguish between the teachings of reincarnation and Biblical salvation. According to reincarnation we are here in mortal bodies because we have not yet attained a level of purity or perfection sufficient to free us from mortality, therefore under the doctrine of reincarnation we are still sinners of some sort and must work to achieve the level of purity or perfection that will free us from the next round of reincarnation.
The Bible teaches that salvation is only to be found in belief in the Lord Jesus Christ. When we examine more carefully the passages of Romans 3 we find that the purpose of telling us we are sinners and guilty is not to make us feel bad but to make clear that God has provided the means of salvation.
Now we know that what things soever the law saith, it saith to them who are under the law: that every mouth may be stopped, and all the world may become guilty before God. Therefore by the deeds of the law there shall no flesh be justified in his sight: for by the law is the knowledge of sin. But now the righteousness of God without the law is manifested, being witnessed by the law and the prophets; Even the righteousness of God which is by faith of Jesus Christ unto all and upon all them that believe; for there is no difference: For all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God; Being justified freely by his grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus: Whom God hath set forth to be a propitiation through faith in his blood, to declare his righteousness for the remission of sins that are past, through the forbearance of God; To declare, I say, at this time his righteousness: that he might be the just, and the justifier of him which believeth in Jesus. Where is boasting then? It is excluded. By what law? Of works? Nay; but by the law of faith. Therefore we conclude that a man is justified by faith without the deed of the law. Romans 3:19-28
What this passage makes clear is that there is but one standard for all people on the earth for salvation, faith in Jesus Christ. It is this idea of a standard that separates Biblical salvation from other religions, including reincarnation. The religions that incorporate reincarnation have a process that must be followed in order to achieve their idea of salvation. From the above passages in the New Testament we find that the Bible has an event, two really, the first is the sacrificial death and resurrection of Jesus Christ (Who was delivered for our offenses, and was raised again for our justification. Romans 4:25), the second is acceptance of that work by faith (Therefore being justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ: Romans 5:1).
We are also confronted by the statement of Hebrews 9:27, “And as it is appointed unto men once to die, but after this the judgment:”. This is a clear statement that death occurs only once, and that it is followed by God’s judgment. Reincarnation requires many deaths and therefore is incompatible with this teaching.
If the teaching of the Bible therefore excludes works as a means of salvation, it also excludes a central teaching of reincarnation. The teaching of the Bible also requires a single death, again excluding a central tenet of reincarnation. As reincarnation is to be found nowhere in the Bible I find no reason for accepting the teachings of reincarnation for a guide to spirituality. The teachings of the Bible and reincarnation being mutually exclusive, only the Bible provides a suitable guide to salvation.