The key to "faith without works being dead" is that an empty profession produces a different kind of works than those works by Christians who have had a true experience of receiving Christ. However, what James is getting at is that Christians are lying dormant with no works at all. Works should be the automatic expression of our faith because of our love and gratitude to our Savior who paid our sin debt on the cross for us. James refers to Abraham's faith. We see his faith through his obedience to God's command to offer his son Isaac. We all know that God stopped him before he plunged his knife into his son and provided a ram caught in a nearby thicket. It is because Abraham believed God. He was found to be a friend of God.
In the story of Rahab we find that she also believed in the God of the Israelites when in blind-like faith she hid the spies and sent them out of the city another way. She had no way of knowing the result of her faith. From the pages of scripture we find that God used her in the direct lineage of the Lord Jesus Christ. We read in James a previous verse which stated: I will show you my faith by my works. What can we show if nothing is produced in our lives?