James 2:14, "What use is it, my brethren, if someone says he has faith but he has no works? Can that faith save him?"
James is the first general letter within the epistolary literature that relates a teaching and explaining a truth.
Faith - Greek (pistis)- faithfulness, steadfastness, assurance, belief, fidelity, them that believe.
Work - Greek (ergon)- deed, business, involvement, doing, labor, work (trade).
Save - Greek (sozo) - keep sound, heal, make whole, preserve, do well, save one's self.
In other words - with the same intended meaning - If a man says "I believe and have faith in God that He will supply your needs" but does not get involved in helping, or doing business of helping -- can that faith, can that belief makes him a kept-sound person, a done well person or a person of good standing and reputation?
James 1:21 "Therefore putting aside all filthiness and all that remains of wickedness, in humility received the word implanted which is able to save your souls."
Greek word "psuche", flesh soul, earthly life is used in the word "souls". And the intended meaning here is: If you apply (practice) the Word of God you have received, it will make you a good (well being, wholesome, sensible) man. Your life here on earth will be a good example and the best testimony of goodness (of well done work of service).
Faith is the foundation and the content of God's message.
Hope is the attitude and focus.
Love is the action (the work).
Love is giving; giving is love (James 2:15).
"Work" is intend to mean love, or expression of love in James 2:17. (See 1 Corinthians 13.)
From this, we may conclude that James is NOT talking here about eternal salvation of our souls nor how to be saved by faith or work or the combination of these two. He is talking about being good and caring as our expression of our love to other people specially those in needs in this life as a testimony of God's love for mankind.
The author addresses his writing to the first century Jewish Christian communities (who are already saved) residing in Gentile communities outside Palestine.