There are some who use this passage in James as a proof text for salvation by works. They fail to look at the passage below or they choose to ignore it because it seems to contradict what they want to teach.
For if Abraham was justified by works, he has something to boast about, but not before God. For what does the Scripture say? “Abraham believed God, and it was accounted to him for righteousness.” Now to him who works, the wages are not counted as grace but as debt. (Romans 4:2-4 NKJV)
We know the Bible does not contradict itself. So how are we to understand these two passages that seem to do just that?
They are two different perspectives. In James, a Christian is justified before other men by their works. If they say they are a Christian but don't live like it, then their faith is a dead faith in the eyes of other men. In Romans, a person is justified before God by his faith instead of his works. So next time the cults come knocking at your door trying to quote James to you and convince you that it's your works that save you, show them Romans and explain the two perspectives.