Question: "Why do some people not turn to God until later in life?"
Answer: The gospel message is for young and old, for men and women of all races and cultures (Galatians 3:28). But most who hear the message do not respond immediately. Some might not turn to God until they are well advanced in years.
Humanly speaking, we can suppose many reasons for not responding to God till later in life—having a family or a career, wanting to travel, or pursuing any number of sporting or social activities. Some may think God won’t mind waiting till their busy lives quiet down so they can spare Him some time. Others are too proud to acknowledge God. Some live comfortably by virtue of their own efforts, and they don’t feel any need to turn to God. Some simply love their sin. And others are so convinced they are earning their salvation by good works they have not yet turned to God in faith.
Jesus told a parable that shows different people being called at different times. In Matthew 20:1–16 the master of the vineyard hires workers to bring in the harvest. Some start work early in the day and agree to their wage. The harvest is so great the master has to hire more workers as the day progresses, right up until almost the close of the working day. The master pays those who started work late the same amount as those who started early. This parable speaks of God’s sovereignty in calling whomsoever He will, at whatever stage in life. He treats those who enter His service “late in the day” as equals with those who have toiled all their lives in His service.
From before creation, God knew whom He would call: “For he chose us in him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight. In love he predestined us to be adopted as his sons through Jesus Christ” (Ephesians 1:4–5). God knows just the right time to call a sinner to repentance and salvation. Many can hear the outward call of God, for the seed of God’s Word is cast all over, but not all the seed lands on “good soil” where it can take root and produce a harvest (Matthew 13:1–23).
In addition to hearing the outward call, individuals must hear the inward call of the Holy Spirit, for it is He who convicts us of our sin and enables us to put faith in Christ (John 16:7–15). An example of this inward call is the conversion of Lydia: “The Lord opened her heart to respond to Paul’s message” (Acts 16:14). Paul gave the outward call, but it was the Holy Spirit who gave Lydia the inward call. Until that happens, we can never respond properly to the outward call. “The person without the Spirit does not accept the things that come from the Spirit of God but considers them foolishness, and cannot understand them because they are discerned only through the Spirit” (1 Corinthians 2:14). It is God who draws us to Himself; He decides whom He will call and when He will call them. His timing is perfect.
God’s plan for us is hidden till God chooses to disclose it. Only in hindsight can we see how the Holy Spirit was active in bringing us to the point of salvation. We may remember something significant a Christian said that made us stop and think. Or we were introduced to people whose lives demonstrated the love and humility of Jesus. Perhaps our circumstances changed dramatically, and we found ourselves in a place not of our choosing. Through seemingly random events, we finally acknowledged we were missing something important, and that started our search for God and a desire to be in relationship with Him. For each believer, the story of conversion is unique, but the common denominator is the Holy Spirit’s leading and the Word of God’s generation of faith (Romans 10:17).
God knows our hearts, and He knows who will respond to His call. When the moment is right, God breaks through our barriers, and the inward call of God becomes irresistible. Those who reject the outward call are without the Spirit of God (Romans 8:9).
God calls to us, but sometimes we don’t hear. God calls to us, but sometimes we ignore it. God calls to us, but sometimes our pride gets in the way. For some, it takes a personal tragedy before they stop to re-evaluate their lives. For others, it takes a lesson in humility before they acknowledge their need. For all those reasons and more, some people take a while to get around to turning to God. The danger in procrastination is that time might run out. No one is guaranteed tomorrow (Luke 12:20). God is patient, but, after death, there is no second chance to be saved (Hebrews 9:27).
Christians have a responsibility to spread the good news, but it is God who brings people to repentance and saving faith in Christ Jesus. If you have someone you are praying for, possibly for years, follow Jesus’ advice to “pray and not give up” (Luke 18:1). Trust God’s timing and turning.
If you are putting off God’s call to salvation, you are playing with fire. God’s moment is always now (2 Corinthians 6:2). We ignore God’s calling to our eternal peril.