The question is asked: how can justification take place without the works of the law, even though James says: “Faith without works is dead”?
In answer, the apostle distinguishes between the law and faith, the letter and grace. The works of the law are works done without faith and grace, by the law, which forces them to be done through fear or the enticing promise of temporal advantages. But works of faith are those done in the spirit of liberty, purely out of love to God. And they can be done only by those who are justified by faith. An ape can cleverly imitate the actions of humans. But he is not therefore a human. If he became a human, it would undoubtedly be not by virtue of the works by which he imitated man but by virtue of something else; namely, by an act of God. Then, having been made a human, he would perform the works of humans in proper fashion. Paul does not say that faith is without its characteristic works, but that it justifies without the works of the law. Therefore justification does not require the works of the law; but it does require a living faith, which performs its works. - Martin Luther