Why Do Some People Not Turn to God Until Later in Life?

The sovereignty of God can be found through salvation in Jesus Christ, even if sinners respond to Him advanced in their years or not, they are equal in His sight to those who have toiled all their lives in His service.

Dave Jenkins
Elderly woman reading the Bible in bed

The finished and sufficient work of Christ is for men and women of all ages, cultures, and races (Galatians 3:28). Many people who hear the good news don’t respond immediately and may not respond until they are advanced in years.

There are many reasons for people not responding to the call of salvation — they think they need to start a family or a career, travel, pursue sports, or other social activities. Some think their lives will be so different if the Lord isn’t involved, so they think salvation is a buzz kill. Others, still,  are proud and refuse to acknowledge the Lord.

Some prefer to live comfortably through their efforts, so they see no point in turning to the Lord Jesus. Then there are those who do not acknowledge sin at all, and some who think they can earn salvation by their good works, so they never turn to the Lord Jesus in faith.

The Parable of the Vineyard and the Age of People

In Matthew 20:1-16, Jesus taught a parable that shows the different conditions of people at different times in their lives:

The master of the vineyard hires workers to bring in the harvest. Some workers start early in the morning and agree to the wage the master will pay them. The harvest, however, is so great that the master of the vineyard must hire more workers as the day progresses up to the close of the business day. The master pays those who started work late the same wage as those who started early in the morning.

This parable speaks to the sovereignty of God as it highlights salvation in Jesus Christ — no matter if sinners respond to Him advanced in their years or not, they are equal in His sight to those who have toiled all their lives in His service.

The Outward and Inward Call of the Holy Spirit

The Lord knows those who are His from all eternity (Ephesians 1:4-5). At the right time, the Lord calls sinners to repentance and faith in Christ, alone. Many hear the call of God but fail to respond, which is why the seed lands on rocky soil rather than the good soil where it can take root and produce a harvest (Matthew 13:1-23).

The outward call of God is essential, but every single person must hear the inward call of the Holy Spirit, for He uses the preached Word to convict people of sin and then enables them to put faith in Christ (John 16:7-15).

We see an example of the inward call of the Spirit in the conversion of Lydia in Acts 16:14. Paul gave the outward call of salvation, but it was the Holy Spirit who gave Lydia the inward call. Until the Holy Spirit gives the inward call, sinners can never correctly respond to the outward call (1 Corinthians 2:14). The timing of the Lord is perfect when He draws sinners to Himself, whom He calls, and when He calls them to faith in Christ.

Every conversion story is unique, but the story is the same in that it is by the Holy Spirit’s leading those who follow Christ to share the gospel that God brings sinners to faith in Christ alone (Romans 10:17). The Lord knows the hearts of people, and He also knows who will respond to the inward call of the Spirit.

At just the right time, the Lord breaks through the barriers of sinners’ hearts, and the inward call irresistibly draws them to salvation in Christ. Those who reject the outward call are without the Holy Spirit (Romans 8:9).

Responding to the Inward Call of the Spirit

The Lord, by the Holy Spirit, calls to sinners through the preached Word of God, but sometimes our pride gets in the way. For some, it takes personal tragedy or ruin before they reevaluate their lives, or a lesson in humility to acknowledge their need for Christ. Some people can take a while to get around to turning to the Lord, and yet it needs to be said that there is a danger in procrastination in regards to salvation.

No one is guaranteed even the next breathe or the next day (Luke 12:20). The Lord is patient, but after death, there is no other change to be saved (Hebrews 9:27), so the stakes couldn’t be higher. Every Christian is responsible for sharing the good news but needs to trust the Spirit to bring people to salvation. If you have someone you are praying for years, please follow Jesus’ advice to “pray and not give up” (Luke 18:1). Trust the timing of the Lord to lead that friend or family member to salvation.

Today, if you are putting off the call of salvation, please stop playing with fire, because since you aren’t promised tomorrow, salvation is now (2 Corinthians 6:2). The best response to the offer of salvation is always to respond to the outward call and not ignore the calling of God by the Spirit to our eternal peril.

The Call of Salvation and the Return of Christ

Some people think that since Christ hasn’t returned now for 2020 years, He won’t return, but this is a mistake and reveals a lack of understanding of the Bible. Some false teachers in the Early Church had this same line of thinking, that Christ wasn’t returning, so Peter wrote to his audience who believed the teachers to address their concern in 2 Peter 3.

The timing of the Lord is very different from ours, and in the case of the return of Jesus, it naturally grows nearer for every generation, even though it may seem slow to every Christian (2 Peter 3:8).

In 2 Peter 3:9, Peter affirms the reality of the second coming of Jesus, encouraging the people of God that the Lord is not slow in His promise to return. The Lord had not come in Peter’s time nor our own yet, because He is waiting for Peter’s audience and people today to come to repentance and faith in the Lord Jesus (2 Peter 3:9).

The Meaning of 2 Peter 3:9

Peter, here in 2 Peter 3:9, is not speaking of all people coming to salvation in a general sense. Peter’s audience is Christians, namely that the Lord is patient with “you” (Christians) and not willing anyone among the people of God to perish but find repentance.

Far from denying that God only saves some, 2 Peter 3:9 highlights that the delay of the Father in the second coming of Jesus is occurring so that the people who are in Christ may repent before it is too late. No Christian should take this as a license not to share the gospel, but rather to share the gospel and trust the Spirit to bring sinners to repentance and faith in Christ.

The Lord does not desire that any who belong to Him and for whom Christ died and rose again for should fail to repent. Furthermore, Jesus will not return until all the people of God are gathered into the Kingdom of God. Peter in 2 Peter 3:10 calls Christians to avoid complacency in sharing the good news reminding them that the return of Christ will come suddenly.

Such a call is a wake-up call to Christians who should never presume on the grace and patience of God, but lead lives of repentance, remembering the mercy of God in Christ has saved them. The more we linger on the grace of God, the more we will long to share the grace of God. 2 Peter 3:9 highlights the patience of God for which sinners should never take advantage of, but should now take advantage of their trust, hope, and salvation in Christ, alone.

A Closing Prayer

Dear Lord, for those who believe in you, I pray they take some time today in light of what is discussed in this article, and that they linger on your grace in Christ, repenting of any unconfessed sin, or apathy in the work of the Great Commission, and that they trust in the perfect righteousness of Christ. 

For those who do not believe quite yet, I pray they know that there is still time today to repent and trust in Christ alone — that your patience is for their benefit. I pray, Father, that they turn in faith and trust in the finished and sufficient work of Christ, alone.

Photo Credit: ©iStock/Getty Images Plus/yacobchuk 


Dave Jenkins is the Executive Director of Servants of Grace Ministries, the Executive Editor of Theology for Life Magazine, and the Host of the Equipping You in Grace Podcast and Warriors of Grace Podcast. He received his MAR and M.Div. through Liberty Baptist Theological Seminary. You can follow him on Twitter at @davejjenkins, find him on Facebook at Dave Jenkins SOGInstagram, read more of his writing at Servants of Grace, or sign to receive his newsletter. When Dave isn’t busy with ministry, he loves spending time with his wife, Sarah, reading the latest from Christian publishers, the Reformers, and the Puritans, playing golf, watching movies, sports, and spending time with his family.


Originally published September 30, 2020.