Faith is the CATALYST of the Christian life, much like Abraham's faith was always the catalyst of following God's calling, even when it meant leaving home to journey to an unknown land, even when faith meant offering his own son. Abraham's faith gave birth to obedience. Faith is the CONVICTION of the soul, and we stand and live by it.
We are saved by grace (God's part) through faith (the Christian's part). Only when faith is passive does it make "faith only" a false doctrine.
Faith is the essence of the Christian life, "we walk by faith and not by sight" (2 Corinthians 5:7). Faith keeps us walking. Walking is active not passive, the same is true about walking in faith.
We are NOT Saved by our own works without faith or grace - Eph 2:8-9 (Legalism), but our faith is PROVEN by our works (James 2:14-20, Matt 3:8). We will be judged INDIRECTLY by our works, but DIRECTLY by the strength of an ACTIVE faith.
Let me explain. Faith is the foundation of a spiritual house. We build upon that foundation with a house of good deeds that were created by God for us to do (Ephesians 2:10). Without faith, there is no foundation and the house of good deeds will collapse. Without good deeds, there is no house at all, just an useless and unused foundation. Thus, faith is the bedrock of good deeds.
Some use James 2:24 which says that we are not saved by faith alone, and use that verse to refute the denominational doctrine of "faith alone". James is not referring to real faith, but a mere statement of the existence of the Christ, passive "faith" unexpressed by love in their lives. Such so-called "faith" is not real saving faith at all. Even demons confess, and tremble (James 2:19). Faith and obedience are mutually inclusive. Faith is all-compassing and obedience is a by-product of it.
Paul in Romans chapters 3-4 says we are not saved by works, but by faith. Paul is referring to trying to earn their salvation by trying to prove to God their own personal worthiness to earn a heavenly home to God. Paul was writing to Jews who were trying to create their own righteousness by the Law of Moses. It seems that they believed in an legalistic "works only" doctrine, and totally lacked faith in Christ. Thus, Paul and James do not contradict each other.
Some try to make faith and obedience as two separate things, but the reality is that obedience is a direct result of having faith. Faith without obedience is a dead faith, and obedience without faith is not only a dead faith, but it is also legalism. And without love, faith is worthless.
How can we tell if our faith is headed in the right direction? By the guidance of the New Testament, which is often called "the faith", the system of beliefs that defines the Christian walk of faith.
What God looks for is a living, breathing, walking, loving, active and expressive faith. Faith not expressed in loving words and deeds is not saving faith at all.
Faith saves us from the beginning of our journey to its end (Romans 1:17), meaning to be faithful till death (Revelation 2:10). Without faith, it is impossible to please God (Hebrews 11:6).
I believe in Biblical "faith only", not denominational "faith only."
We must study the God's Word of faith for ourselves and not by a sermon or series of sermons by mere men to establish what faith is and what it is not.