Early in this treatise [“Temporal Authority”], Luther asserts that temporal authority, with its law and sword, exist by God’s ordinance. Citing Genesis 4:14-15 and 9:6, he says that they have thus existed since the beginning of the world and have been confirmed by the law of Moses, John the Baptist, and Christ [pgs. 85-88]. Luther then divides the human race into two classes, those belonging to the kingdom of God (true believers) and those belonging to the kingdom of the world. The former, he explains, need neither law not sword, but the latter do and are under their authority [85-88]. In light of this, God has established two governments in order to complement these two kingdoms. The purpose of the spiritual government is for the Holy Spirit to produce righteous Christians under the rule of Christ and the purpose of the temporal government is for retraining the wicked and non-Christians by the temporal sword. The world cannot be ruled in a ‘Christian and evangelical manner’ since most people are not real Christians and a common Christian government is therefore impossible. Thus, Luther states that ‘one must carefully distinguish between these two governments’ and yet affirm the existence of both, one to produce righteousness and the other to secure ‘external peace and prevent evil deeds.’ In fact, Luther says, ‘Christ’s government does not extend over all men; Christians are always a minority in the midst of non-Christians’ [91-92].
With these ideas in hand, Luther propounded a novel reading of the Sermon on the Mount’s exhortations to shun violence and retaliation. In opposition especially to those who proposed that Christ commanded these things not to all Christians but only as counsel to those who wished to be perfect [81-83], Luther urges that these commands apply to all Christians, though only to Christians. Christ commands Christians to refrain from violence because the sword has no place in Christ’s kingdom. Non-Christians, on the other hand, are ‘under another government’ and by external constraint are ‘compelled to keep the peace and do what is good.’ Christ sanctioned the sword, but he made no use of it and rules by his Spirit alone, the sword serving ‘no purpose in his kingdom….” [92-93]. Thus, Christians are under a spiritual government that does not bear the sword—hence the commands of the Sermon on the Mount—and non-Christians are under a temporal government that indeed uses the sword to keep order among the wicked. For Luther, the Sermon on the Mount was not intended for some Christians who wished to attain a higher righteousness, but was the norm for all Christians, all of whom are under Christ’s spiritual government.
Luther’s interpretation of the Sermon on the Mount through the two governments paradigm, however, did not separate Christians entirely from the use of the sword or make political life irrelevant to them. He goes on to explain that though Christians have no use of the law or sword amongst themselves, they submit to its rule and even do all that they can to help the civil authorities, in order to be of service and benefit to others. In fact, he explains, ‘If he did not serve he would be acting not as a Christian but even contrary to love….” . This counter-intuitive conclusion leads Luther to encourage Christians to seek out temporal occupations, even those that require using the sword: ‘If you see that there is a lack of hangmen, constables, judges, lords, or princes, and you find that you are qualified, you should offer your services and seek the position….” Luther reconciles these seeming contrary injunctions by emphasizing that Christians should never take up these tasks for the purpose of their own vengeance, but only for the safety and peace of their neighbors. And so, when a matter arises concerning themselves, Christians live according to Christ’s spiritual government ‘gladly turning the other cheek and letting the cloak go with the coat when the matter concerned you and your cause.’ This, claims Luther, brings harmony to the Christian’s life in both kingdoms: ‘at one and the same time you satisfy God’s kingdom inwardly and the kingdom of the world outwardly’ [95-96]. Shortly thereafter, Luther announces the final reconciliation of life in the two kingdoms: ‘No Christian shall wield or invoke the sword for himself and his cause. In behalf of another, however, he may and should wield it and invoke it to restrain wickedness and to defend godliness.’” 
David VanDrunen, Natural Law and the Two Kingdoms (pgs. 56-58).
But how does this square exactly with modern American notions, particularly those of modern American Christians who seem curiously to think they are yet one more special interest group who have certain inalienable rights to their religious beliefs and practices? If Luther is right then it would seem that it’s at least worthwhile to consider whether the efforts of professing Christians to fight for their own religious rights runs counter to what Jesus himself taught on the Mount (the New Covenant version of the Old Covenant mountain). But there are some who contend that the teaching to turn the other cheek is not meant to be universal or to be otherwise interpreted through a plain reading, but rather through the lens of the modern American project built on the pursuit of individual rights and so forth. But this would seem to make relative hay out of Jesus’ own teaching. How? Because it seems to suggest that turning the other cheek has more to do with fighting until you lose then being a good loser—because, remember, the modern Christian who argues to fight for his legal religious rights has a standing doctrine of non-violence, which is what he seems to think turning the other cheek is all about. But fighting until you lose and then being a good loser has more in common with politely giving up in the face of sure defeat than laying aside rights and power. For my part, I must admit this has some great appeal. After all, I too was born and bred on the American mixed diet of political rights and social politeness. But if Jesus had every right not to have to stoop to incarnation and taken off the cross, and if he declined every opportunity to take advantage of his heavenly rights, and if we believers are supposed to take up our crosses an follow him, what makes us think that we should take every advantage of our earthly rights.
This isn’t to be deliberately cavalier or trite about the complexities of being a religious person in a modern state such as ours, nor is it to suggest that we cannot make civil appeals to our magistrate the way Paul did when his Roman rights were violated. Rather, it is to seriously wonder just what the overwhelming New Testament teaching to turn the other cheek and sheath our swords means in a political arrangement that encourages us not to. After all, we seem to have little to no problem denying a fleshy culture that encourages us to all sorts of carnality and sin, or a lazy one that encourages us to “work for the weekend.” The list goes on about how our time and place encourages a counter-Christian ethic. What about a set of politics that encourages us to read the Sermon on the Mount to be, at best, something as effete as non-violence and, at worst, the sort of advice that would actually have Jesus come down off the cross and consequently leave us in our sins? That is, if he ever got around to the incarnation.