The word potential means, as an adjective: possible, as opposed to actual; capable of being or becoming. In other words, to use an example, we can talk about an athlete being a potential success, or a situation being potentially harmful. As a noun, it also means possible, but we no longer use the word to describe. Now we say instead that, "given the athlete's performance, he has potential."
The word in English was derived from the French word, potencial, which in turn came from the Latin word, potentialis. This is a compound word, of which the prefix, potent- is the stem of the word potēns, which is the present participle of the word: posse, which means to be able or have power. So, this explains why something potent is something powerful; while, potential speaks to possibility. Could there be a relationship? Meaning that potential - what you are able to do - is what you have the power to do. In fact, we could go deeper: what you are able to do is based on what you were designed or built to do. So, that your power or potential is limited by the design and manufacturing specifications.
For example, you average minivan will probable never go from 0 miles per hour to sixty miles per hour in just 20 seconds or less. For those buying minivans that should not be an issue; that is not why they buy these vehicles. For those buying an exotic and expensive sports coupe this may be a selling point. This sports car, by the way, will never fit 7 persons comfortably. Let us reiterate, inherent in the design and built is the objects' potential and power.
Can this apply to living beings? A quote from the German scientific genius Albert Einstein comes to mind, "everyone is a genius, but if you were to judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it would look pretty stupid." Most cats are great tree climbers. Most do not swim, and those that do, probably do not submerge. We could safely say that this principle applies to us also.
How about spiritually? Do we have potential to be righteous? Sadly the answer is, "no." "For there is not a just man upon earth, that doeth good, and sinneth not" (Ecclesiastes 7:20). Paul confirms this in Romans 3: 10 – 12,
Romans 3:10 As it is written, There is none righteous, no, not one:
Romans 3:11 There is none that understandeth, there is none that seeketh after God.
Romans 3:12 They are all gone out of the way, they are together become unprofitable; there is none that doeth good, no, not one.
This is why Jesus said in the sermon of the mountain,
Matthew 7:16 Ye shall know them by their fruits. Do men gather grapes of thorns, or figs of thistles?
Matthew 7:17 Even so every good tree bringeth forth good fruit; but a corrupt tree bringeth forth evil fruit.
Matthew 7:18 A good tree cannot bring forth evil fruit, neither can a corrupt tree bring forth good fruit.
Matthew 7:19 Every tree that bringeth not forth good fruit is hewn down, and cast into the fire.
Matthew 7:20 Wherefore by their fruits ye shall know them.
At the harvest the fruit gives witness to the kind of tree or plant it came from; it makes it obvious. If we are to be witnesses for Christ our fruit must be Christ like. The only way that can happen is for us to accept His invitation to abide in Him. Let us read John 15: 4 - 8,
John 15:4 Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself, except it abide in the vine; no more can ye, except ye abide in me.
John 15:5 I am the vine, ye are the branches: He that abideth in me, and I in him, the same bringeth forth much fruit: for without me ye can do nothing.
John 15:6 If a man abide not in me, he is cast forth as a branch, and is withered; and men gather them, and cast them into the fire, and they are burned.
John 15:7 If ye abide in me, and my words abide in you, ye shall ask what ye will, and it shall be done unto you.
John 15:8 Herein is my Father glorified, that ye bear much fruit; so shall ye be my disciples.
When we do not abide in Christ our potential is to do Evil – self centered deeds. However, when we abide in Christ, it is as if we are grafted in the Tree. So, now the fruit harvested is different. When we are grafted we no longer do evil deeds, we do Christ's righteous deeds. Paul explains why this is so in Romans 11: 17,
Romans 11: 17 …and thou, being a wild olive tree, wert graffed in among them, and with them partakest of the root and fatness of the olive tree;
Paul says in verse 11 that "if the root is holy so are the branches." When we are grafted in Christ we partake of His Holiness. So, as long as we are abiding, we now have a potential for "good." But, it is not our "good," it is Christ's good flowing through us. So, it is His potential and His power, not ours. It is only then that we can truly be witnesses for Christ.