Removing Dragon Skins

By Matthew Dickerson

March 7, 2024

Scripture — Psalm 139:23-24 (NIV)

Search me, O God, and know my heart!
Try me and know my thoughts!
And see if there be any wicked way in me,
and lead me in the way everlasting!


Although our outer selves (our visible actions and audible words) reflect the reality of our (invisible) inner lives, our inner selves are not transformed simply by focusing on superficial appearances. Transformation requires getting at the heart, which only God can do. Yet, though the transformational work can only be done by God, and not by our own willpower, we are called both to surrender to that work and to participate in it, which may prove painful as well as joyful. In the imagery of C.S. Lewis, it took the claws of Aslan to remove Eustace’s dragon skin.


In yesterday’s devotion I began to explore a favorite passage from C.S. Lewis’s _The Voyage of the Dawn Treader _in which the character Eustace comes under enchantment and is changed into a dragon. Although Eustace did not perceive himself as being dragon-like at the start of this story, his dragonish thoughts including greed, selfishness, and condescension eventually come to the surface and he is transformed—or, we might say, revealed: his outer self takes on the form of a dragon. In telling this story, Lewis has drawn on some ancient mythic tales to convey a profound Christian truth. For as it was with Eustace, so it is with us. Our invisible inner lives will eventually be revealed in our words and actions.

Furthermore, we cannot change our hearts simply by peeling off a layer of skin. When Eustace finally catches a true glimpse of how unlovely he really is, and how his dragon-like self makes meaningful relationships nearly impossible, he tries repeatedly to peel off his dragon skin. But his attempts fail; peeling off one layer of dragon skin only reveals another layer beneath. And this brings us to another spiritual principle that Lewis illustrates beautifully in this scene. In order to be rid of his dragon skin, Eustace must submit to the great lion Aslan, allowing him to penetrate past the superficial layer of dragon skin and down to Eustace’s innermost self: to his very heart.

Eustace is very frightened by this prospect, but also desperate to get rid of his outer dragon, and so he ultimately submits to Aslan and allows him to dig those powerful lion claws in. The process proves very painful, but also joyous. Lewis describes this scene in the words of Eustace: “The very first tear he made was so deep that I thought it had gone right into my heart. And when he began pulling the skin off, it hurt worse than anything I’ve ever felt. The only thing that made me able to bear it was just the pleasure of feeling the stuff peel off. . . . It hurts like billy-oh but it is such fun to see it coming away.”

Lewis has beautifully illustrated several principles in this scene. Not only can we not change our inner selves simply by focusing on the outer self, but on our own we can’t change our inner selves at all. Although real inner work is something we must participate in, that process of spiritual transformation and renewal requires the work of the Holy Spirit. Lewis also points out in this scene that the process of having our dragon skin removed can be painful. Simply recognizing and acknowledging the depth of our layers of dragon skin is hard enough. The prayer of Psalm 139 is both powerful and often difficult: “Search me, O God, and know my heart! Try me and know my thoughts! And see if there be any wicked way in me.”** **Then giving them up can be even more painful.

Mark Roberts has written about this in past Life For Leaders devotions, especially in his series on Ephesians in 2019.  In a devotion of March 4, 2019 titled “Be Renewed in the Spirit of your Mind” he writes:  “[R]enewal is God’s ongoing work in us. We do not renew ourselves. God does it. This does not happen completely in the moment of salvation. Rather, the renewal that begins when we first receive God’s grace in Christ continues throughout our lives. It is something in which we participate by opening ourselves to the Lord, being available for his renewing work, and following the lead of the Spirit. A variety of spiritual practices—such as prayer, devotional reading of Scripture, and corporate worship—help us to share with the Spirit in our being made new.”

Richard Foster, in _Celebration of Discipline _(which I quoted in yesterday’s devotion also), notes something similar. “Inner righteousness is a gift from God to be graciously received. The needed change within us is God’s work, not ours. The demand is for an inside job, and only God can work from the inside.” And yet Foster’s entire book then invites us to participate in that work through various spiritual practices which can both reveal to us the areas in which transformation is most deeply needed, and also open us up to allow and participate in that transformational work.

One more thing is worth noting about the un-dragoning of Eustace—another bit of spiritual wisdom from the writings of C. S. Lewis.  Although the scene is dramatic, and shows Aslan’s transformation of Eustace from a dragon back to a boy, the narrator makes it clear that this is only the start of Eustace’s spiritual journey of transformation. “It would be nice, and fairly nearly true, to say that ‘from that time forth Eustace was a different boy’. To be strictly accurate, he began to be a different boy. He had relapses. There were still many days when he could be very tiresome.” Isn’t that true of all of us? It is one reason that continuing to do the inner work is so important.


Are there ways you have perceived your own “dragon skin”—that is, aspects of your own character you would like to see transformed? Have you sought to peel off your own skin on your own strength only to find your own self-effort unsuccessful?

When have you experienced God freeing you from dragon skin—piercing deep into your heart and peeling the skin aside?


Take time this week to pray the prayer of Psalm 139:23-24 when you have time to sit in silence and listen for God’s voice.


Search me, O God, and know my heart! Try me and know my thoughts! And see if there be any wicked way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting!  I invite your transforming work in my life, knowing I cannot get the dragon skin off on my own. Amen.

Find all Life for Leaders devotions here. Explore what the Bible has to say about work at the High Calling archive, hosted by the unique website of our partners, the Theology of Work Project. Reflection on today’s Life for Leaders theme can be found here: Search Me, O God.

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Matthew Dickerson


Matthew Dickerson’s books include works of spiritual theology and Christian apologetics as well as historical fiction, fantasy literature, explorations of the writings of C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien, and books about trout fishing, fly fishing, rivers, and ecology. His recent books include:...

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