The Christian Reformation was, in part, a reaction to the Catholic Church’s emphasis on works in order to receive forgiveness. Like most reactions, it went entirely too far.
The resultant theology focused on faith and the grace of God and abandoned the notion of works. Any system requiring works, any works, in order to be saved was deemed unbiblical and “Romish.”
The result was an aberrant Christianity little better than the one it claimed to reform. The Catholic faith excused poor behavior, teaching that such could be atoned for by works of orthodoxy. The resultant reformation behavior excused poor behavior because they leaned solely on the grace of God.
Both were journeys in the wrong direction.
But neither were journeys that had not been made before. Some in the first century Church atoned for poor behavior by works of law – ie. “I observe dietary restrictions and the holy days, therefore my behavior doesn’t matter.” Others excused poor behavior by depending on God’s grace (that’s what Romans 6:1-4 is all about).
Every New Testament writer links faith and works. One must go with the other. Faith prompts faithful behavior. Works must spring from faith.
Particularly in James chapter two, the works have to do with how we treat one another, and whether we discriminate among our own. It includes discriminating against our own. James writes to Christians who mistreat one another in order to provide the worldly a place of honor in the Church. He says: “You might as well be a murderer or an adulterer before the Lord, for such discrimination violates the law of God – the same law that forbids murder and adultery.”