This passage always seems to get people into discussion mode:
James 2:14-26 What good is it, my brothers, if a man claims to have faith but has no deeds? Can such faith save him? Suppose a brother or sister is without clothes and daily food. If one of you says to him, “Go, I wish you well; keep warm and well fed,” but does nothing about his physical needs, what good is it? In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead.
But someone will say, “You have faith; I have deeds.” Show me your faith without deeds, and I will show you my faith by what I do. You believe that there is one God. Good! Even the demons believe that—and shudder.
You foolish man, do you want evidence that faith without deeds is useless? Was not our ancestor Abraham considered righteous for what he did when he offered his son Isaac on the altar? You see that his faith and his actions were working together, and his faith was made complete by what he did. And the scripture was fulfilled that says, “Abraham believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness,” and he was called God’s friend. You see that a person is justified by what he does and not by faith alone. In the same way, was not even Rahab the prostitute considered righteous for what she did when she gave lodging to the spies and sent them off in a different direction?
As the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without deeds is dead.
The key to the understanding is on the equivocation with the word “faith.” In the “faith without deeds [or works] is dead” line, “faith” is inauthentic faith.
Said another way, real faith will lead to real works – i.e., good works done for God’s glory. Inauthentic faith will lead to no works or works done for self-glorification. Either way, inauthentic faith isn’t faith at all.
But if you do good works but don’t have genuine faith, then you are just as spiritually dead, because the works aren’t really “good.” They are done for your glory and not for God’s. Works without faith is just as dead.
Romans 3:10-11 As it is written: “There is no one righteous, not even one; there is no one who understands, no one who seeks God.Romans 3:23-24 for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus.
But there is good news!
Romans 5:8 But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.Romans 6:23 For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.Romans 10:9 That if you confess with your mouth, “Jesus is Lord,” and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.