God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ--by grace you have been saved--and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. For by grace you have been saved through trust/faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast. For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them. (Ephesians 2:4-10)
You cannot earn God's grace, His favor, His approval. We receive God's grace by faith (trust). Now that we have trusted Him and received His grace we can and will do the good works that God intends for us to do. Not only are you not saved by works but you are not approved by works. The works are the result of trusting God's love for you and partnering with Him in life under His yoke.
Just like the evidence of life is a pulse the evidence of trust (faith) is loving works. Works without God is like synthetic life. There may be a pulse but there is no true life. Trust brings life. Jesus said in John 6:47 "Truly, truly I say to you, He who trusts in me has eternal life." Works are the result of having life. If you live then you will do. If you live to God because you are alive in Him you will do the good works He has prepared for you. The burden is on God. Your response to His love for you is trust.
God's great love, His grace for us, comes first. Trusting that He first loves us brings salvation, we knowingly know Him. Good works come third but they don't come without God's continued love, which never ends, and your present tense trust.
Jesus talks in Matthew 7:21-23 about people doing "good works" in His name yet not knowing Him. So it is true that works without trust is dead. If you have dead trust (faith) then you do not trust God because God is life and knowing Him is life and trusting Him is how you know Him. What James (2) talks about is false faith, false trust, because trust in Christ cannot be dead!
What James was saying was "You think you know God, you think you trust God? Where is the evidence? Abraham proved that he trusted God by offering up Isaac his son on the altar. The scripture was fulfilled that says "Abraham trusted God, and it was credited to him as righteousness."
How did Abraham trust God? He did it by action. Trust includes action. Scriptures simplify when we think of them relationally. If you asked me "Do you trust me?" and I said "Yes" then you asked me for help and I said, "You're lying you don't need help" it would be obvious that I don't trust you.
God is Spirit so in order for us to know God in this day we have to "trust that He exists and rewards those who seek Him" (Hebrews 11:6). Because Jesus isn't physically on the earth we have to trust Him in order to meet Him. But that also makes it easy for us to talk about Him without actually trusting Him or knowing Him.
Excerpts from James 2 in The Message: "Does merely talking about trust indicate that a person really has it? Does merely talking about Jesus indicate that a person really knows Him? Isn't it obvious that trust and works are yoked partners, that trust expresses itself in works? That the works are "works of trust"?"
Galatians 5:6 says, "The only thing that counts is trust expressing itself through love." God counts nothing against you but the only thing that counts for you is trust expressing itself through love. Remembering that God is love we could say, "The only thing that counts is trust expressing itself through God." This means your trust in God causes His goodness to come out of you. It is your trust expressed through God inside of you resulting in His love coming out of you.
Jesus said in John 6:28-29, "This is the only work God wants from you: Trust in the one he has sent." Dead trust, dead faith, means you don't know God at all. Dead works means, at best you are acting without communicating with God in a trusting relationship, and at worst you also don't know God at all.
The issue isn't about worrying to balance separate items. It is all a single unit of God and His love that consists of distinct yet flowing portions. At the beginning from love blooms trust and from trust blooms loving works but it lives on as one organism. He first loved us so we trust Him. We love because we trust in His love. God works with us when we trust Him because He loves us. "For in him we live and move and have our being" (Acts 17:28).