A friend recently asked, “Isn’t it unfair to free a person from karma if he surrenders to God, as Krishna mentions in the Gita 18.66?” Here is the answer.
Every action creates an consequence that has to be faced sooner or later. Different actions have different “exchange rates”. Lowest is physical work. Then we have intellectual work. Then comes emotional work. Finally comes ego as the pledge.
In the world also, people are paid based on this. Physical work is the least paid (eg. breaking stones). Then comes intellectual work (eg. software engineer). Then comes the people whose work is involved in managing the emotions of people (eg. people managers). The highest paid people are those who put their reputation (which they would have taken a long time to build) at stake. They need to deliver on promises by getting the team work, etc. (eg. product managers).
This concept can also be seen in the traditionally attributed value to food. Food got by hard work is pure. Purer still is food got by begging, because it is earned by paying the ego as the price.
So, when a person surrenders himself to the Lord and completely foregoes his ego, that is the biggest price a person can pay and as the result all karma is paid off by that. To the extent that a person surrenders to the Lord, to that extent his karma is paid off by that action done not through the body or mind, but through one’s individuality itself. So, it is not unfair to say that the karma of a person who has surrendered himself is written off.
Also, when a person has given up his individuality by either surrender (Bhakti) or by knowing his own real nature (Jnana), then there is no one to take ownership of karma phala – past, present and future. Thus all karma gets dissolved. In fact, when it is understood that there was never a real individuality, the very concepts of freewill, karma, etc. get dissolved.