In fact, one who tries to justify himself before God by his earthly actions will cause himself to be judged according to his actions and be justly condemned for falling short of what God requires, which is a life without sin. We are repeat criminals with criminal records that cannot be erased by any token good that we might do in this life, much as in a human court the accused cannot be excused by merely pointing out that he also did or will do something good.
The sinless life that God requires was only found in Jesus, who showed such great love for us that he paid the penalty that we deserve, even though he was guilty of no wrongdoing. By his sacrifice on the cross, he erased our criminal record of sins once and for all. God is not asking us to prove our worth by adding good deeds to our criminal record, but rather to turn to him in faith to receive his mercy and grace on account of what Jesus did.
According to the Bible, faith is "being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see." (Hebrews 1:1)
It is not something mystical or difficult to understand.
"What does the Scripture say? 'Abraham believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness.' [Genesis 15:6] Now when a man works, his wages are not credited to him as a gift, but as an obligation. However, to the man who does not work but trusts God who justifies the wicked, his faith is credited as righteousness." (Romans 4:3-5)
Men (and all the rest of God's creation) cannot see the heart. We can only judge a person's faith by his actions. His "faith" alone is useless to us. We are justified 100% by works before men and all creation. Our faith in God is demonstrated to all of creation by our actions.
Please re-read the above two concepts. They will allow you to understand why many scriptures clearly talk about justification by works (such as in James' epistle) and why many scriptures clearly talk about justification by faith alone (such as in Paul's epistle to the Romans and his epistle to the Galations). Be assured that there is no conflict or contradiction. There is no reason to compromise or seek a "happy medium" between the two. If you understand that faith (and only faith) justifies you in the sight of God, and that works (and only works) justifies you in the sight of men and all creation, then everything will make sense.
With the above in mind, let's examine the passage of the Bible that is perhaps the greatest stumbling block of all, and perhaps the most misused by groups that counterfeit the Christian faith:
"What good is it, my brothers, if a man claims to have faith but has no deeds? Can such a 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? [...to who? --GDW] 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 ancester Abraham considered righteous for what he did [...by who? --GDW] when he offered his son Isaac on the alter? 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 [..by who? --GDW] as righteousness' and he was called God's friend. You see that a person is justified by what he does [...before who? --GDW] and not by faith alone. (James 2:14-24)
One must read through this several times to see what might otherwise have seemed at face value to be a contradiction, if one reads too hastily and does not carefully think through the implications of what is being taught. "Faith" is what the Creator requires. "Works" is what those of God's creation require, as a demonstration of the "faith" that is professed by those who say that they believe God.
Consider the parable of the sheep and the goats in Matt 25. Jesus turns to the goats and says "I was hungry, and you gave me nothing to eat. I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink...", whereas he turns to the sheep and says "I was hungry, and you gave me something to eat. I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink...." On the day of judgment, Jesus will demonstrate to you (and to all of creation) the validity of your faith by what you did.
Member of God's creation, test your own faith to see if it is genuine. Mere head knowledge, mental assent, vain professions, recitations, and the like will not justify you before anyone. Only true faith will justify you before God. It is "confident belief, trust." It is "being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see." And let all creation witness the evidence of your faith by what you do.
I grant this work to the public domain.