What does “works” mean to James? James 2:14-17 shows the sorts of things he has in mind.
14 What good is it, my brothers, if a man claims to have faith but has no deeds? Can such faith save him? 15 Suppose a brother or sister is without clothes and daily food. 16 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? 17 In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead.
Here’s the scenario: a brother or sister, and one cannot discern from this text whether this is a messianist brother/sister or a Jewish brother/sister, has either insufficient clothing (James hyperbolizes with “without clothes” — like his brother he hyperbolizes) or insufficient food. How does one respond?
Here is the problem for James: the only legitimate, Christian, Jesus following response is to do something about it by doing something for the one without enough clothes and the one without enough food.
In my judgment, the problem here (today) isn’t quite as graphic as this text: the problem is the comfortable no-poor zones we find in the suburban sprawl, the sheltering of ourselves from those in need, and the distancing of ourselves from those in need.
There isn’t enough space here to observe the number of times Jesus’ own practice exhibited this practice, but the Beatitudes and the parable of the sheep and goats are good places to begin.