Alternatively, we might spell that “monkie business” or perhaps “monkee business.” As many know, monkeys are a member of the primate family, and bishops are often called “primates,” which begs the question whether bishops specialize in “monkey business.” Perhaps similarly, the erstwhile rock band called “The Monkees” had a major hit (actually written by Neil Diamond) called “I’m A Believer,” which has been altered into a Christian pop song, “And then I saw His face, now I’m a believer …” Can Christians monkey with songs like that, and if they do, will they have to face the music? Worse yet, if they get up to “Monkie Business,” someone might throw the book at them! (Monkey Business is a children’s book, one of whose character is the “eefil’ Dr Hubris Wildebeest Klench.”)

In his commentary on the 45th Psalm, Luther warns that Protestants run the risk of adopting new ways of “works righteousness” which rival those undertaken by monks in monasteries. Luther writes,

“In rejecting the works of the old monks, they bring forth new monks. Let us not be too secure against this pestilence, either. Each one of us bears in his breast a great monk. That is, each would like to have such a work in which he could glory: ‘Behold, I have done this. Today I have satisfied God by my prayers, by my good works, so I can enjoy greater peace of mind.’ It has happened to me, too, that when I have carried out a work of my calling I am much happier than if I had not done it. In itself, to be sure, it is not wrong to be happy, but this happiness is without faith and impure and is of the sort that would take the conscience captive and disturb a person. Because the conscience is a most delicate thing, it cannot be guarded sufficiently against this vice of presumption. For that reason let no one be secure. We who confess Christ should walk in fear and grow in faith, and acknowledge that we each bear in our breast a monstrous and disgusting monk, that is, a foolish and carnal delusion of works, the ruin of faith.”

So, have you ever felt good about doing a good deed? Of course! We all know that there is something nice about doing good deeds, when we get around to doing them. Furthermore, good deeds often come with rewards. Sometimes the rewards are built into the deeds, like earning a merit badge in scouting or receiving a certificate for community service which we can then hang on our bedroom walls. To double the benefit, if we do enough community service, we can also save a lot of money on wallpaper! Think how environmentally friendly that would be. Perhaps that is actually a third benefit, but can we monkey with the environment?

The notion of “good works” has bedeviled humanity since its plucking of the forbidden fruit in the Garden of Eden. That fruit would supposedly give human beings the knowledge of good and evil, or is that “eefil”? The irony of Adam and Eve’s deed is their thinking that one could know good from evil if one disregards God will and does evil. Viewed differently, would Adam and Eve have done evil if they had known the difference between good and evil? If so, then one could then argue that if God had instructed Adam and Eve about the difference between good and evil, then perhaps they might not have done evil. In short, it is all God’s fault that humanity is the mess which it is, right? Such thinking by sinful, human reason is truly the monkey business.

According to Luther, the “monk” in each of us is the flesh of each of us. That flesh lives contrary to the spirit of God which through the gospel created faith in our carnal human lives. In other words, in our fleshly selves “we are by nature sinful and unclean,” but when the Holy Spirit calls us through the Gospel, enlightens us with his gifts, and sanctifies and preserves us in true faith, then having become thereby “good trees,” we bear good fruit, i.e. we do good works.

In God’s eyes, that which is “good” is done out of faith in his son, our Lord, Jesus Christ. That which is bad is not done out of faith but instead for any other reasons. So, of all the “good deeds” which you do, by that criterion, how many “good works” do we actually do? Like other Protestants, Lutherans have devised all manner of schemes to try to answer such questions, and all those schemes seem based on following some law or rule or the like.

Fortunately, there is another approach, a gospel (good news) approach, which is much simpler and better. I call this “proclamatory ethics.” This means that our “good works” are based neither upon their own apparent qualities nor upon our real or feigned motives. Instead, a gospel-guided “proclamatory ethic” seeks in its deeds to proclaim the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ to others, i.e. deeds done in faith for faith. In so doing, “our” good deeds are not ours. Instead, they are merely an extension of the gift which God has given to humanity in Jesus Christ. In that sense, it truly does feel good to do such “good works” because they were first done in Jesus Christ for us sinners to do, in turn, for others remarkably as “little Christs,” as Luther would say. Such deeds done as good news to others are, indeed, truly good.