You are right.
That is why good works are but a proxy. They are a proxy for love and it is love which brings us salvation.
St. Paul says ...And now there remain faith, hope, and charity, these three: but the greatest of these is charity.
1 Corinthians 13:13
So there is something greater than faith and that something is charity (or love). This is undoubtedly why St. Peter says that love atones for a multitude of sins;
But before all things have a constant mutual charity among yourselves: for charity covereth a multitude of sins.
Now how is love expressed? It is expressed through our actions. Through what we do. That is why James says.....
"But wilt thou know, O vain man, that faith without works is dead?
God sees the heart. He sees the faith and the love. So for those such as the thief on the cross, his "work" so to speak, was his death offered up to God.
Those works do not earn me salvation, or a right standing before God. They are evidence that God has put His Spirit in me, and He is fulfilling His Word
However, we do have our own part to play. We are not simply helpless puppets with God pulling the strings. We have free will.
In the Gospel of Luke we read:
And a certain man said to him: Lord, are they few that are saved? But he said to them: Strive to enter by the narrow gate; for many, I say to you, shall seek to enter, and shall not be able."
Luke 13: 23-24
Keyword: "strive". This is synonymous with effort. IOW, Jesus is saying to the man, "you try your best". From this passage the conclusion is inescapable that our own efforts are an essential component of our salvation. Not sufficient by any means, but necessary.
“That is why good works are but a proxy. They are a proxy for love and it is love which brings us salvation.”
Where is that taught in the Bible?
Context, context, context!!! Who is the speaker, who is his audience, and what is the message? Taken out of context, the words a merely a device to prop up your argument, but does not accurately divide the word of truth.
The Bible is it’s own dictionary.
The Bible is it’s own interpretor.
For example, put Eph2 next to Genesis 2:7 (And God breathed into Adam’s nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living soul.) Totally and completed the work of God. And in addition, God gave Adam work to do. All Adam needed to do was obey.
“Do your best.” Is not in the Bible. “Without Me, you can do nothing.”
When God saves us, we do what we do because we love Him. “We love Him, because He first loved us.”
Just think about our great God, bigger than, and independent of His creation, making Himself small enough to enter our universe, take on our humanity, offer Himself as the sacrifice for our sin, make Himself small enough to live in our small, pityful hearts in order to bring us to Glory, and do it all for His own Glory!! And man thinks he can do anything that adds to his salvation? That without the help of man God’s salvation is incomplete?
We owe everything to God. Our works are as “filthy rags.”
That’s “our works”, not the works God has ordained for us.