Do you want to be shown, you foolish person, that faith apart from works is useless? (ESV)
There is some strong language here in this verse. James is challenging the one whom he calls a foolish person. Likely there would have been some people in the church that were being misled by a false understanding of faith. James is ready to set the record straight. The one who thinks they can have faith apart from works is a fool!
In many of our churches today, James would be controversial, even offensive. I am sure that there would be people who would resign their membership and join the Church of the Happy Handshake down the road. I mean, after all, how dare someone tell them that they are a fool? They go to church to have someone make them feel good!
James makes a distinction here between a genuine faith that is alive vs. a dead, ineffective, useless faith that has no works. It seems that one of the things that the church is good at is declaring that God loves us and wants to offer his grace to sinners. However, we need to also tell people that if they are going to place their faith in God and receive this grace, there is a need for repentance.
Repentance is a work that is connected with genuine faith. We are to turn to God and turn away from our sins. If someone claims that their faith is genuine yet continues to walk in every single sin with no remorse or change you can be sure that the faith they are claiming is dead, ineffective, even useless.
Are you a fool? Or are you faithful? Is the faith that you claim to have accompanied with action? If you claim to have placed your faith in Christ, have you repented of your sin?