No helping the issue is a definition of "work" by some which makes "work" a synonym of "do", and sometimes even "think"; but Greek has many words too.
Now clearly we do not gain salvation by works,
Israel who pursued a law that would lead to righteousness did not succeed in reaching that law. Why? Because they did not pursue it by faith, but as if it were based on works. (Rom 9:31-32)Yet we have much work to do, even Paul tells us this.
Yet we know that a person is not justified by works of the law but through faith in Jesus Christ, so we also have believed in Christ Jesus, in order to be justified by faith in Christ and not by works of the law, because by works of the law no one will be justified. (Gal 2:16)
- For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them. (Eph 2:10)
- Women should adorn themselves in respectable apparel, with modesty and self-control, not with braided hair and gold or pearls or costly attire, but with what is proper for women who profess godliness—with good works. (1Ti 2:9-10)
- All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work. (2Ti 3:16-17)
- Show yourself in all respects to be a model of good works, and in your teaching show integrity, dignity, and sound speech that cannot be condemned, so that an opponent may be put to shame, having nothing evil to say about us. (Tit 2:7-8)
- Our great God and Savior Jesus Christ, who gave himself for us to redeem us from all lawlessness and to purify for himself a people for his own possession who are zealous for good works. (Tit 2:13-14)
- The saying is trustworthy, and I want you to insist on these things, so that those who have believed in God may be careful to devote themselves to good works. (Tit 3:8)
- let our people learn to devote themselves to good works, so as to help cases of urgent need, and not be unfruitful. (Tit 3:14)
Now it is clear that Paul does not equate working with doing or thinking for he tells us what we must do in order to be saved,
If you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For with the heart one believes and is justified, and with the mouth one confesses and is saved. (Romans 10:9-10)Confessing being something we do and believing being something we think.
Israel had it wrong because they were trying to earn their salvation. When Paul contrasts faith and work he is contrasting the gift freely given with the wages someone earns. Much of my activity could be considered work in that we are performing an action; expending energy—we could measure the wattage even and find a manpower to horsepower ratio. When we work for another we are earning wages whether we do that by manual or intellectual labour; or in Pauline terms obedience to God's Law. But we are fully incapable of obeying perfectly. We cannot earn the wages of obedience that we may buy salvation, we are only capable of earning the wages of sin and we don't like what that purchases (Rom 6:23).
Isaiah teaches us as much,
Come, everyone who thirsts,God invites us to buy, but it is not with money we have earned. No, it is without cost. God gives to us freely. Certainly drinking and eating are activities and perhaps work in some men's eyes, but such activity is not earning and the feast is not paid for by us. Let us stop equivocating with the word "work" and consider are we trying to earn our way with God, or trusting him for what he has done? James can say that faith without works is dead because the work he is referring does not result in wages, it is not earning one's salvation. Such work is obedience to a God who saves us. If we are not eating at the feast we can hardly say we have accepted the invitation. Delighting yourself in rich food is not sitting at the table looking at the other guests.
come to the waters;
and he who has no money,
come, buy and eat!
Come, buy wine and milk
without money and without price.
Why do you spend your money for that which is not bread,
and your labor for that which does not satisfy?
Listen diligently to me, and eat what is good,
and delight yourselves in rich food.
Incline your ear, and come to me;
hear, that your soul may live; (Isa 55:1-3)